To the Woman Who Grabbed My Arm.
Photo by Kai McDonald (@kai.mcd)
Written by Elliott Pak
The Cemetery Salesman
About three months ago, back in Orange County, I was driving home with some friends, and we drove past the local cemetery on the way home. It was during the day, and I remember being a little drunk. Not too drunk. Just a little.
Outside the cemetery, there was this older Hispanic woman selling flowers – right outside the main entrance, so not actually on the main grounds, so I assumed she didn’t work for the cemetery or anything.
First thought that hit my mind was, “wow, that’s smart. Kind of a good use of strategy on a Sunday afternoon – people probably forgot or want flowers there or something, they’ll probably want to leave something for their loved ones.”
Immediately after, my second thought was, “wow, that’s kind of fucked up. taking advantage of people in an emotional state that aren’t thinking clearly – they probably aren’t too worried about the price they were paying for a simple bouquet.”
Either way she’s probably cleaning up.
Me being a little tipsy, I brought up what I was thinking to Nibs in the car – I explained real quick what I saw, and what I was thinking, and then I think I kind of posed the question like this —
“Is doing good business and being ethical inversely related? Are they opposite? Or sometimes the same? Or maybe they have nothing to do with each other? Basically, does doing good business kind of justify actions that might be otherwise considered unethical?” (I wasn’t so eloquent, a lot more hand motions and slurred words were involved)
Like if you’re a good businessman…there’s obviously going to be deals where you’re taking advantage of people and the mindset they’re in – I mean that’s the point of marketing and being a closer and stuff right? Like sometimes you know the flaw to your product but don’t bring it up, or you strategically work a pitch that would make the buyer less focused on the flaws. And for a good business, these people are vital. Selling people on something is a skill. A super admirable skill, in my opinion.
(quick reference for Entourage fans out there – what it reminded me of was a scene where Ari Gold [Jeremy Piven] [best character of all time] was in marriage counseling with his wife, and she’s super pissed about his recent semi-diabolical behavior, trying to take over Hollywood, yada, and he goes on this insanely epic rant, mostly filled with dumb asshole revenge reasons, but finally ends with the fact that the only reason why it matters, is because –
“it’s just. good. business.”
and then she actually gets convinced.
Haha I actually found the scene. You don’t have to watch it, but it’s a great scene. So actually yeah watch it. Til the last second, its good I swear. (nsfw)
Hahaha “can we fuck in here?”
Anyway, so Ari’s just doing good business.
But if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy being in sales, because you don’t particularly like selling people on stuff, like something you wouldn’t pay the same price for, or maybe because you know the inner workings of what’s going on behind it, the flaws, whatever – and because of this, you choose not to sell – does that actually make you a better person, ethically? Because in your mind, you couldn’t possibly sell someone something you know isn’t up to your standards?
A good businessman would most likely say no. Trump would probably call you a pussy.
But some people have that moral compass. I’ve definitely had that feeling.
maybe, hypothetically, in another dimension, I possibly sold “something” to someone, and they didn’t really know much about “something,” or how much it was worth, so I could have sold “something” at a much higher price. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t.
*END THE VERY HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION*
I know there are other people that are like that. Who don’t like to take advantage. And sometimes, I think, these two people clash a lot, because they have a fundamental difference in how they think. (To clarify, I’m saying I think I’ve personally been both examples at some point.)
Let’s throw another layer onto it. The age old, “would you steal bread to feed your starving family” dealio. I mean, just what the quote says. If you’re ripping people off, or stealing, to feed your family in a desperate situation, what the fuck do the ethics police have to say about that?
I realize that the whole point of that thing is that it’s almost unanswerable, I’m just spit-balling, per usual.
Also I realize you’re probably wondering what the fuck this has to do with me traveling. Wow, patience, chill.
The Market Maze of Nightmares
Today I was walking around at a temple in Bali. And then I finished. So I walk towards the exit, exit says go this way. Ok. I go that way. Turn the corner, and there is a fucking MAZE of those little shopping market stalls, you know the colorful ones that all sell the exact same fucking thing.
God damn it.
So I started walking, quickly. I hate these sheep-like crowds. Just power through. People shaking toys at me, saying come in, yada. Literally made like 5 turns through the maze, still going. Turn another corner, this ones a long stretch. At the end of it, there’s a huge group of Chinese tourists shopping, taking up the entire lane. Fuck. Mini-claustrophobia kicking in.
But lo and behold, there was an early right turn I could make, before I hit them, that led down a different aisle. So I take it. The less popular aisle, I assume, which is great.
And I was correct. It was the less popular aisle.
But it was not great.
The second I rounded the corner, every older Balinese woman at every fucking stall in this very empty aisle turned their heads towards me like hungry birds. They all immediately stood up. Mother of God.
Deep breath. I start powering through, dodging one after the other, and finally, I’m nearing the end. I can see the metaphorical light.
Suddenly, an especially aggressive lady grabbed my arm. Like hard. Like this old lady has done some professional grabbing back in her day.
[Power : 8/10] [Reach : 9/10] [Grip : 9/10] [Persistence : 12/10]
“2000, anything” she said quickly and desperately into my ear. Straight up eye contact.
Aaaaaand now, my gut instinct :
- get super annoyed.
- frustration boiling up.
- “did she seriously fucking grab me?” (Is what I’m thinking)
- “why is this FUCKING MAZE so long?” (is also what I’m thinking)
(at this point in writing this I just realized I could write a whole fucking article about how I’m turning into my dad)
I rip my arm away, shoot her a quick death glare, and exclaim, “Jesus fucking Christ.” and push forward out of the maze without looking back.
Shake it off.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes.
(Little bit of background, I hired this guy to take me to like 6 different awesome places around Ubud, people usually just rent a scooter, but I was being lazy and said fuck it. This was only the third stop).
So we drive on, onto other spots, each more amazing than the last. Like seriously, breathtaking. So naturally I forget about the incident, definitely enjoyed myself, whatever.
Anyway, we’re driving back from the last spot of the tour, and we’re cruising through some villages in silence. And I’m not thinking about anything in particular. Just enjoying the local view. I’m dead tired. And sweaty. Just looking out the window. I start seeing little things.
- Cute little kids, leaving school in their little uniforms.
- Older ladies, gathering trash, and burning it. It always smells like smoke in the afternoon.
- Some open shops, lot of shut down trashed buildings though.
- Lots of stray dogs. Like a lot. I won’t go into detail but they are not in good condition.
- People sharing scooters, some three or four to one (fucking nuts. If you’ve been here and remember how they drive, so fucking dangerous.)
- Everyone’s sweating. It’s humid as shit.
- More trash.
- Driver points out to me whole rice fields that are useless because bugs had eaten through them.
- Again, most importantly, just the kids. All so happy and smiley, laughing maybe with their friends or their dad who just picked them up from school.
I’m like falling asleep at this point. So tired from the trekking of the day.
And suddenly, I remembered that lady, who grabbed my arm. I could still feel where she grabbed my left forearm. Up to this point I had just been annoyed with her – just how anyone else would have felt, right?
But after seeing all those things, on a long quiet drive, I had the thought…what was it like to be in her shoes.
Holy shit. My mind flipped.
- she probably has at least two or three or four kids (they all do round here)
- probably lives near a lot of trash. Probably has to burn a lot of trash.
- probably has to walk a long way to get to her stall, or ride one of those dangerous scooters.
- it’s hot.
- this is not a wealthy country by any means.
- kids get hungry.
All the sudden, I could literally see straight into her watery eyes. The desperation she grabbed my arm with. She literally beat like 4 other women in a foot race to get to me. and she said “just 2000. for anything.”
I can see her little stall now. Lots of fun little knick-knacks that any normal person would probably purchase.
(I don’t buy SHIT on vacations just fyi. No way im weighing down my luggage. And usually I just lose everything. So unless its for my mom or something, no go.)
But 2000. For anything.
K so if you didn’t know, Bali is very cheap. A reason why everyone loves it.
100,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) is….subtract four zeros…some more numbers….little more math…like less than ten bucks USD. Honestly probably closer to 8 dollars. That gets you a lot here. It’s the biggest bill.
Which means 10,000 IDR is about a dollar, more likely less.
K so have you guys done the math yet?
I’ll give you a sec.
So 2000. That’s like less than 20 cents, American. She told me anything in the stall. 20 cents.
Cue me feeling like absolute shit. It’s all I could think of for the rest of the ride home. 20 cents. She was so sad that I ripped my arm away. I swore at her under my breath. About 20 cents. She was so desperate. Her aisle was empty of customers.
Course, a lot of what I was thinking was hypothetical. I was imagining her needing to feed her hungry children. Competing with so many other little market stalls, all selling the same thing.
She COULD have just been a mean aggressive woman, maybe her family’s wealthy.But not likely. Not after driving through the impoverished town that much and seeing what I saw.
Hey just to let you know, there isn’t a happy ending. I didn’t ask my driver to go back or anything.
That’s basically the end of the story. Sorry.
Relate and Appreciate.
You know how all those basic girls on vacation are all like “live laugh love?” and they’re all happy, all the time, best vacation ever, omg? Mine has been a little bit more like, “new environment, super high excitement and happiness, learn a lot about the culture, feel like shit.”
But as I was thinking about it more and more – there’s not much else I can do for these people. It’s a rough economy, and I did bring some money in. Going back and trying to fix someone’s money problems, super unrealistic. If I gave her a hundred dollars USD, what would that even help. The country is still quite poor. Not really something I can do anything about.
So I guess the only logical next step (after feeling like shit) is appreciation.
My fucking god I’m blessed. Chances are if you’re reading this, you are too. A lot of the world got dealt an unlucky hand.
I got handed a Royal Fucking Flush.
I was born to Korean immigrants who couldn’t speak English…but then learned. And learned an important trade. And got successful. And relatively wealthy. But I didn’t even have to do any of that. I got to grow up in Orange County, go to great schools, make great friends, and now have the freedom to explore professions and hobbies I’m passionate about.
And you know what…I’m not really helping anyone by sitting here making myself feel bad because I got it better. I’m (trying) to live my life to the absolute fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity that was given to me – it would be a major disservice if I didn’t take advantage of it, to every single person involved in the situation. But I would be a total and complete moron if I didn’t appreciate every aspect of it, from the ground up.
So right now, I’m appreciating.
One day, the dream is to help others in some dramatic huge way right? I hope that’s an end goal for all of you too, after you take care of your family and loved ones. Until I get there, I’m gonna appreciate what I have: that the people I love are taken care of, I got my health, and I got good friends and opportunities. And hopefully I (and you) can get to that point where (we’re) rich and still feel the need to help others that are in need.
Life Isn’t Black and White.
Ok I’m going to try to tie things back a little bit together. Earlier about the ethics and business question – (does good business justify being a dick? Does desperate need justify unethical actions?)
nope I don’t have an answer for that. I think great businessmen are definitely something to be admired, and should attack every opportunity they have. It’s just good business. And of course I believe being ethical is important too. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes today. That’s as deep as my thinking goes. Smarter people than me can figure it out. I guess the point of this whole thing was just to start a conversation, not to answer it.
Let’s talk about it.
And lastly. What got me writing today. All I wanted to say is…
To the lady who grabbed my arm. I’m sorry I got frustrated. I wish I looked at your souvenirs more. Maybe I would have found something for my mom. I hope your family eats well.
Jesus fucking Christ, Elliott.
Background info : I wrote this on my last day in Bali. I can absolutely see why everyone loves it here. But the biggest thing that stuck out was the pure unadulterated kindness of the locals. Just some of the most genuinely nice people.
Anyway. On to Singapore. Talk to you guys soon