Sunday, September 16, 2007

Economies of Travel

In manufacturing, the concept of "economies of scale" describes how (almost) any given product is easier and cheaper to produce in mass quantities than in small batches. The idea is pretty much accepted as axiomatic, and is only now being challenged from the marketing/advertising side as market fragmentation begins to mean that people are looking for less "mass consumption" products (check out Converse's "design your own sneaker" site as a good example).

But that's not the point, the point is economies of travel - the longer you stay in an area the cheaper it becomes. I went for an Ayurvedic massage today, and realized on the road back that my transit to and from the clinic cost be 150 rupees (about $2.20) vs the 600 rupees it has cost on every prior trip.

Why? Because instead of two 300 rupee taxi rides (there and back) I have now figured out how to do the journey in 3 minibuses and one short taxi ride, netting a similar time investment (maybe a half hour more) and a 450 rupee savings - there is one segment I am still working on, but that leg may fall from 120 to 12 rupees on my next excursion.

So that means my trip is costing a pittance, right?
I wish! Travel was SO much cheaper 10 years ago, when every bus, taxi, travel agent and restaurateur didn't shake their head apologetically and say "sorry, petrol prices." And sure, sometimes it is an excuse to jack the price up for the tourist, we all know that happens sometimes and accept that it will happen on occasion (hopefully not too often).

However, sometimes it is just the truth. I keep meaning to snap a pic of the petrol cues here. When a station gets a fuel shipment, the cars stretch seemingly to one horizon and motorcycles stand 4 to 6 abreast on a cue reaching toward the other. Yesterday I lost count at 76 cars waiting at one station near Sundhara (downtown KTM), and I didn't consider trying to count the motor bikes any more than I would consider counting the stars in the sky....

No, the trip is costing a fair bit. Daily costs at the moment average:

Accommodation: 300 rupees US$4.60
Food: 500 - 1000 rupees US$7.70 - 15.00
Transportation: 0 - 400 rupees US$0 - 6.00

Now US$20 - 26 may not seem like a lot, but this doesn't include yoga course costs when I am doing them, nor does it include incidentals. It really adds up when you have no job and when you add course fees!

A Sucker Born Every Minute
Nor does it include souvenirs, something I have traditionally spent next to nothing on in my travels. I have a few nice pieces from a trip to Bali in 2001, but these were not costly.

Yesterday I bit the bullet big time...

They say a sucker is born every minute, and maybe i was the sucker for my moment on that summer day back in '74. But yesterday I finally broke down and purchased a beautiful antique oil lamp from a shop near the Patan museum. The weighty, 20 cm cast-bronze figure is a nondescript man in court attire bowing slightly while joining his hand to signal "Namaste" - it is truly beautiful to see the flickering flame play on his features and his greeting, which is framed by the halo of his shadow on the wall behind.

Purchasing the Namaste man was spendy, but his price was dwarfed by a sublime gilt, cast-bronze Buddha that caught my eye as I negotiated the sale. My Buddha is 20 cm tall, sitting in padmasana, with one hand in his lap and one gently touching terra firma - invoking the earth mother's sanction as a demon challenges his right to sit on the ground beneath the bodhi tree at his moment of enlightenment. A classic pose. The gilt is rubbed off with age at places, and this scarring adds to the weight and gravity of his presence.

Antiques? We make Antiques here!
Now, amoung all of the "antiques" in the world, why did I agree to pay a hefty sum for these two, both of which are direct copies of pieces from the Patan royal palace, and were cast 50 - 70 years ago. Sure, the soot on the oil lamp and the worn gilt sheen of the Buddha look old enough, but I am more than aware of how easily a patina of age can be added to these items.

No, I had two reasons:

1) I had spent the better part of a week exploring every shop in every alley of several neighbourhoods, and had never seen anything that looked like these. No one is selling an oil-lamp anywhere near this physical weight nor in this posture and with this charisma. For its part, the Buddha is made unique by the fact that he does not sit on a lotus leaf, meaning his hand actually reaches down and touches the literal ground it sits on;

2) I was drawn to these pieces instinctively, enough so that I broke a 10 year habit of not purchasing this type of product and instead bargained long and hard for a transaction that I am very happy with.

The bottom line, however, is that I decided what these pieces were worth to ME - antique or not - and decided that I would be happy to exchange X dollars for them. This means that I cannot be upset even if tomorrow I find the same piece, looking the same age, with the same weight, in some tourist shop for half as much.....

Now all I need is a home to place these pieces in (you are invited to see them and have a cup of tea and a game of crib when I do).

But I guess the big news is that I am soon headed for India...more news on that as I learn more!

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