I’m not good at backgammon, but i do enjoy a game, so the small wooden set looked like a good souvenir from my Asian trip. Compact, lightweight, a delicate light wood inlaid with a darker one, just the right size to fit into my pack, ideal!
The Indian Quarter in Singapore is crowded, with stalls back to back, each overflowing with colourful silks, aromatic spices and sacks overflowing with chillies and dried fish. There are places to eat, places to drink in the ever cloying humidity, places to trade and places to catch up on the gossip. As i browsed, the lady who owned the stall came over asking me if i was interested, and the game began.
Bartering is a game played by slightly mysterious rules: it’s a matter of value and a matter of pride. It’s a game that i don’t have much experience with, but i needed to learn in a hurry.
My previous experiences had taught me well (experience through trial and error, after all, being one of the best methods of learning if you’re as stubborn as i am). Buying a communist era poster in Kuala Lumpur has consisted of her naming a price, me halving it, and her walking away happy. I got the feeling that i’d paid ten times over the odds. By contrast, trying to buy a Chinese teapot in the same KL market, I got the feeling i’d offended someone by offering half, and he refused to sell. Perhaps sensing my inexperience with the whole thing, he had started with a twenty percent ‘discount‘ and i’d tried to lower it too far from there.
Or maybe i just don’t have a good poker face.
I ended up with the backgammon set for $40 Singapore dollars, from a starting price of $65. Whether she subsequently shut up shop for the day or considered it a fair price, i couldn’t say, but i’m certainly happy with it as a reminder of the colours, scents and bustle of the Indian marketplace.
Bartering is about reaching common agreement, but as with all agreement, it’s surrounded and enmeshed in context and history. The ‘truth‘ of any learning is emergent, a product of our collected experiences and knowledge. There is no ‘right‘ price we are aiming for, no universal truth, except that which we are all happy with. Learning, like bartering, can be about finding the middle ground, especially in social learning contexts where the truth is emergent from the community.
A thing i love about travel is that it broadens our horizons, it exposes us to experiences and contexts that fall outside of our typical everyday reality, it forces us to learn. The concept of bartering is one thing i’ve learnt that i’ll try to incorporate into my mindset around social learning. The ways we form agreement, the ways we find the truth in what we learn together.