Getting to know the person selling an item to you in a market, whether you're in Thailand, Ecuador, or in between...

Heather Ley
Posted January 17, 2015 from United States

In certain places in the world, there exists markets or streets with rows of stands or shops each selling the exact same thing. This is the case in Thailand. I had traveled before and seen this, but from my American perspective, I did not understand how it was feasibly possible for them to all stay in business. Additionally, it is not common for bartering to occur in the U.S. Therefore, I was left confused in how they would stay all in business. Would not all the customers just purchase the items from the person selling them for the cheapest price?

Recently, I watched a lecture online that allowed me to shift my perspective and understand why and how this may work. The lecture by Dr. Brown clarified how shopping in these situations is not about an economic relationship rather first building human relationships. You shop for a relationship with a vendor and then once you have a relationship, you always purchase your items from that vendor. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g30CmzF_4P8 around the time of 1:19:00 - 1:24:59).

I appreciate how this lecture opened my eyes to a different way of viewing the situation, expanding my own contextual attempt to understand the situation. In doing so, it provided me with a fuller, deeper understanding of not only how a different system works but a greater understanding of another culture. I came to value this system as it makes you take time to get to know people, not just simply only have a monetary/product exchange. Further, I enjoyed how bartering can often lead to laughter, typically resulting in us laughing over my poor attempt to barter in poorly pronounced Thai.

It is moments like these that not only will I fondly remember, but I am simply grateful that I am capable of having such experiences. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel and am grateful for the ability to learn about Thai culture firsthand. It was bittersweet leaving Thailand on December 22nd, but I just arrived in Quito, Ecuador. I will be studying here to complete my third semester of graduate school. I am sure I will reference Thailand more in future postings, but I am excited to now get immersed in Ecuadorian culture, especially after valuing all of my experiences in Thailand. And so now begins another adventure “en el camino de mi vida.”

Comments 2

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Sarah Whitten-Grigsby
Jan 19, 2015
Jan 19, 2015

Dear Heather,

Thank you for this excellent piece of work, and the ways in which it explains a very important cultural practice! Many years ago, in the open market in Jerusalem, my sister Annie -- now in Heaven -- laughed at me as I bartered a merchant up, instead of down (because I couldn't bear to underpay for the item) and paid more than he'd asked! You're so right, bartering of this sort is not usually done or accepted in the U.S., and I often cringe when I hear someone bartering, because I always feel for the person who needs to make a living, even though most of us who are buying need to make a living, too! So, thank you for opening eyes around the globe, and may your voice continue to reach out! With Gratitude, Sarah
Yvette Warren
Feb 21, 2015
Feb 21, 2015

This is the difference between builing community and simply making sales. Thank you for this perspective, Heather.

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