we're 1 hour out of new york, at the end of the trip around the world.
so this will be the last story. i hope you all enjoyed them, and the
we went to taxila to see the ruins of the ancient greek city. there's
also ruins for the mauryans, hindu-cushes, parthians, etc. there, but
the best preserved seems to be the greek city. there were 5 of us: latif's
2 brothers-in-law, a friend of theirs (retired brig. general from the
army), and latif and I.
when we got out of the car at the ruins, we saw 10-12 people sitting
on the hillside. now we've been to all sorts of forts, ruins, temples,
and mosques recently, so we immediately knew why they were there: to offer
themselves as guides, and to sell us stuff.
but what stuff they had! first they produced "original" stone carvings,
shards of broken pottery, and carved stone rings. these were very clever
replicas. the local community makes these pieces, somehow ages them, and
these brokers buy them to sell to us tourists. a good business for all.
since we had been to so many historical sites recently, i was well versed
in saying "NIE" to these guys. they backed away. BUT then it happened.
someone showed me a coin. and life for these guys will never be the same.
i used to collect coins. mom and dad started me out in 1976 with some
US books. jay's father jimmy gave me a bunch of old coins from all over
the world. and i have added to my collection ever since. especially since
i've started my international trips. i have lots and lots of coins and
paper currency from all the countries i've visited.
so i asked this guy to show me his collection. out come 5 coins - some
greek, some indian, and who knows the rest? they looked old, and i certainly
didn't have any of them in my collection. i offered $20 US for them. he
wanted $100. eventually he took the $20.
then all hell broke loose. everyone started yanking coins out of their
pockets. gold, silver, copper, stone. you name it, they had it. and a
more willing buyer they couldn't have found anywhere.
i was in a pretty good rhythm. 5 or 6 people at a time would put their
coins in my outstretched hands, and each one would try to sell me theirs.
i looked at them all. and i bought them all. it was a good method: i bought
only $20 lots. they would each ask for more, and i'd offer $20. after
their screams of agony, they'd lower their prices to $40. then i'd hand
them their coins back, and start to look at other coins. this would get
them every time.
oh, i was in heaven. my pocket was jingling with all my treasures. finally,
latif and company pried me loose, and we visited the ruins with our hired
guide. i don't remember much, because all i could think about were my
you should have seen the crowd waiting for me when we left the ruins!
news spreads fast when a heavy spender arrives. but i was prepared: latif
taught me how to say "all my money is gone" in urdu.
did they believe me? not for a minute. but i was strong; it took at
least 5 minutes before i was buying again. this time, they sensed that
the end was near. prices dropped considerably. coins were flying through
the air. latif was my banker; i'd negotiate a set of coins, take them,
and send the broker to latif to get their $20. what a system!
finally, i bought them out. all that was left was 5 people, with 12
coins between them. not enough individually for me to buy: i didn't have
small notes. latif said that i had a $5 bill, and a $20 bill left. a dilemna
for both of us; i wanted the coins, and they wanted my money.
inspiration struck. i offered them $25 for all of the coins left. told
them to work it out amongst themselves. and said that it was all or nothing;
i wanted all 12 coins, and i only had $25. you should have seen them howl.
one guy told me he wanted $10 for his, another guy $3, and so on. but
i held firm; all or nothing, and they had to work it out with each other.
latif hadn't told them that he spoke urdu. which was good, because he
got to hear the whole conversation. the guy with the $10 set of coins
became the boss, and started some very aggressive negotiating with the
other brokers. latif told me later what he said: "here's this idiot offering
us all this money. we should take it. we know he won't give us more. and
you're holding out. what are you, stupid? take his money!"
four of the five brokers agreed, and told me that i could have their
11 coins for $21. but the last guy wanted more, and wouldn't budge. he
had this square one, which was different from all the others, and thought
he could get a better deal.
the boss was really upset at him. "do you know that we're going to lose
this whole deal because you won't agree? you KNOW that your coin is worthless!
just because you think you can get more alone, you're going to mess up
everyone else. who do you think you are, anyway?"
latif by this time is laughing so much that he has to turn away before
they figure out that he understands them.
the boss kept up the peer pressure on the hold-out: "let me show you
how stupid you are. i'm going to give this foreigner a MUCH better coin
so you can see your stupidity. and it will be for the same price". but
alas, he didn't have any more coins. they were all in my pockets. he asked
everyone there, but nobody had any left. how frustrating! so the boss
started threatening the hold-out with all kinds of physical abuse if he
didn't throw his coin in for $4.
finally, the hold-out gave in. the deal went through, and i cornered
the market on coins. at what cost? suffice it to say that i've stimulated
their economy; 15 families will eat well for the next 2 months. and that's
not my only contribution; these guys are now trained in working together.
pretty soon there will be a labor union, bureaucracy, and dues. strikes
and walkouts will follow. minimum pricing, certificates of originality,
i can see it all coming.
i feel sorry for the next american who wanders into taxila.