Monday, July 17, 2006

The cost of labor

I heard a tidbit last night that I'm fascinated by. There's a huge privately-held company in India that offers a savings plan, similar to automatic payroll deduction at home. The difference is that here, someone will physically come to your home or business, EVERY day, to collect the agreed-upon savings amount, which can be as little as 20 rupees, or U.S. 50 cents. Every day, seven days a week, all year round. At the end of the year, you can collect the whole amount plus a little interest, or leave it to accrue more interest.

It's amazing what an inexpensive cost of labor lends itself to. Across the street from where I'm sitting is a man who's job it is to repair broken umbrellas. (They're the exact same Chinese-made crap umbrellas we get at home.) So you see old rusty, patched - and functioning - umbrellas here. And people make gravel by hand, and the delicious plate of momos I had for lunch cost 50 cents, as did today's haircut. On mountainous road construction sites you'll see a guy sitting on a car-sized boulder with a hammer and a wedge, manually splitting it into pieces so it can hauled away. I saw a rusty old radio being painstakingly soldered back to life. Back home we're likely to throw away a $100 VCR if it breaks, and just buy a new one. Amazing.


p.s. My "few days" in Kalimpong are coming to an end, a month after arriving. Here's my tiring travel plan, starting tomorrow: Five hours to the Nepal border to renew my Indian visa. Two hours to Siliguri, to get on a 40-hour train ride to Jammu, followed by a 12-hour bus ride to Srinagar. Some days later, a two-day bus trip to Ladakh. I'm tired and thrilled thinking about it.

There are ten photos below. They were taken at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim at the annual Lama Dance festival. Or something. The ceremony and dances were so rich in meaning that none of the tourists understood a damn thing when people tried to explain it to us. Beautiful, though! All the dancers, except maybe the last photo of the acrobat, are monks.

(The End)