Points Of Reference
This submission was prompted by an e-mail response (thanks) to my ‘Sucker?’ article.
After nearly a week laid up with ‘flu’ I emerged from hibernation yesterday, shaved, showered, did some work and went out in the afternoon / evening for something to eat and a few beers. I ran into a spat between local ex-pats: one a usually drunk bighead, the other (a friend of mine) a relatively sober ‘nice guy’ but a diva. Of course, it escalated, and now there appear to be two entrenched camps. I watch from the sidelines, and wonder if it is the same the world over where there are ex-pat communities?
Over the course of the evening I spent about 30 Euros on drinks and food. I didn’t drink a lot or have anything special to eat, it was just a typical evening out.
I thought about my lifestyle or rather the cost of it and then about the cost of living of the people I know in other parts of the world – especially my Thai ‘girlfriend’ and the ‘Filipina nurse’.
I had what I thought may be a flash of insight. Maybe not, but at least I think I understand better now what prompts me to be generous (or over-generous, or just plain stupid, depending on your point of view).
One of the best writers on the Stick site talks lovingly of his ‘mia noi’ – his GPS sat nav system. And these things are wonderful. Sometimes they need a little interpretation and human intervention (there was a case last year where a foreign driver of a 44 ton articulated truck got wedged round a bend in a village in my native West Wales and it took two days to get it free) but generally they work fine and – provided the data is available – on a global basis. They work on available data and fixed points of reference.
And that’s where (maybe) I am going wrong. I just don’t have available to me (well, apart from the Stick and other sites) the available data and reference points to orientate myself. I can’t plug my brain into a USB port and click ‘download updates’. Even if I could, my brain would interrupt the process with questions like ‘why?’ Computers and sat navs do not do that.
Human brains also have a sometimes another annoying trait not encountered with computer chips. Feelings. (Although I swear that my laptop can at times be as temperamental as any woman I have known).
Back to the point. I look at my lifestyle here. I have a two bedroom furnished apartment, air-con, about 75 square meters, a balcony with a 180 degree view of the sea. It costs me, I suppose, with all bills for electricity, water, (daily) rubbish collection, communal swimming pool, phone line and internet, perhaps 600 Euros a month, or about a third of my pension. I have a hypermarket around the corner, several 24/7 ‘kiosks’ (local shops) within five minutes walk, and a number of restaurants, bars and the sea just a couple of hundred of metres away. I pay about 2 Euros or a bit more for a pint of beer, 8 Euros for a litre of local brandy, 3 Euros for a packet of cigarettes.
To keep me busy, and in some sort of routine, I work doing maintenance, odd-jobs, the sort of stuff that if you are practical you enjoy. Yesterday I was on my hands and knees weeding a gravel garden. The money wasn’t great, but it gets you out of bed and it pays for the beer. Sometimes we get the bigger jobs and I don’t have to draw on my pension.
That is where I am, that is my ‘point of reference’. I have discarded my previous one, being a married guy living in the UK with a mortgage, etc. I know where I am now.
So how on earth can I relate to an SEA girl – whether she is here, in the Philippines or Thailand? Where can I upload the data so that I can even begin to compute the question of ‘how much is enough – or too much?’
The ‘Filipina Nurse’ living on 40 GBP a month. OK, I stay at home two evenings and I’ve saved that. Stay at home ten evenings a month, save 200 Euros, and what would that be worth to her? To be honest I have no idea. I have no ‘point of reference’.
My Thai ‘girlfriend’: I really have no clue as to what the money I have sent her in the past is actually worth in her terms – but I am sure she will tell me because she won’t be getting any more. Was it a reasonable ‘help out’? Or was it completely over the top? I really don’t know, because I have no ‘point of reference’.
And to come back to the ‘sucker’ bit: I have been lucky in my life. I wanted to give something back. I went on to many sites to explore the possibility of volunteering somewhere. I explained that I could support myself, buy my own 4×4, etc. Most organisations wanted me to pay them. Many were for ‘gap year’ students who wanted something special for their resume. Some were looking for people who wanted a three-month ‘adventure’ trip. Sorry, none of those is for me. I have found a ‘poor’ student nurse who needs a bit of help.
So, am I a ‘sucker’? I don’t know. I only have my own ‘points of reference’.
The excellent Lord Sir Professor Bill Bryson (no, he isn’t yet a Lord, or a Professor or a Sir as far as I know but IMHO he should be) said in one of his books something like ‘you can travel and be cynical of everyone you meet and you probably won’t be ripped off – but you’ll miss a lot of experiences. Or you can be open to everyone you meet, exercise a little caution, and you’ll get ripped off a little along the way, but you really will get some great experiences’. I paraphrase him badly, but I hope you get the idea. I am in the latter category.
In the absence of accurate ‘points of reference’ I can only use my own judgement. Looking back over my life I realise that my judgement has been flawed many times – but really, it’s all I’ve got available. I will update it as best I can with input from others and my own experience.
And so I was a ‘sponsor’ – floundering with no points of reference. And I may continue to be a ‘sucker’ until I learn better.
Sponsor and sucker are synonyms!