Whether to surprise or not

Today, my wife turns twenty five. It hasn’t been a good birthday so far, for she feels depressed that she’s growing old. It doesn’t help matters that I’ve failed to surprise her, while on my birthday six months back she had put together a series of fantastic surprises. In my defence, I treated her to an afternoon of unlimited shopping a couple of days back,which I had assumed was her”birthday gift”.

Anyway, the point is that it had been brought to my notice before I went out somewhere this evening that I’d failed to materialize with a “birthday gift” and I was wondering if I should get something on my way back. It is not like I didn’t have ideas. I had several. But as I went through them one by one I realized that for each of them, there was a credible rebuttal she could come out with for each of them that would make it seem like there was no “thought” behind that gift and the only reason I had brought it was that she was unhappy.

I reasoned that irrespective of what had happened in the intervening couple of hours when I was out, she would still be upset with me at the end of it. Given that she would be upset with me, the odds that the gift I would bring would completely melt her and she would be satisfied would be miniscule. Instead, I would only have to endure more sulking, with the added charge of my trying to bribe her out of her anger.

I guess the big problem with me that I’m too cold and rational most of the time (the few occasions when I get emotional, I go crazy and cry loud enough to bring my whole apartment complex down). So the rationalist in me decided to make the rational decision that the chances of winning over my wife with a superb gift was so low that it would not justify the effort involved in bringing that surprise. So I came home empty handed.

My wife is inside the bedroom now, pretending to read a book that isn’t particularly interesting, while I blog this sitting in the hall, having taken control of the TV and watching the French Open final. I guess I was guilty of not giving myself that chance to turn her over today. But then, I didn’t spend all that mind space in trying to find that superb gift. I told you right, that I’m too cold and rational most of the time. And I write about too many things on this blog.

Expat Living

When you live in a city other than the one you’re comfortable living in, and if you have a lot of disposable income, you try to live like an expat. By that, I mean you will try and use your disposable income in order to insulate yourself from the parts of the city that you’re uncomfortable with. You basically try to take the city out of your lifestyle, and try and live in a way that wouldn’t be different from the way you’d live in any other city.

So for example, two years back I had to relocate to Gurgaon since my well-paying job took me there. And I knew that water supply, electricity supply, security and public transport were major issues there. So the first thing I did when I got there was to find myself a comfortable apartment with assured water supply and “100% power backup”, with round-the-clock security. I also transported my car to Gurgaon to hedge against the bad transport system there. All shopping was done in malls, so I could avoid the heat and dust, and the unreliability of the traditional markets there. As long as I wasn’t driving on those roads in my air-conditioned car, I could have been living just about anywhere else. I had tried my best to take Gurgaon out of my life.

You find people like this wherever you go, except perhaps Bombay (where the cost of living is so high that very few people have “disposable” income), but is perhaps more pronounced in Gurgaon where there are few natives with disposable income so most of the people you’ll meet turn out to be fellow-expats. So essentially a lot of your income goes in just hedging yourself against the city.

Like in Bangalore, you’ll find that “expats” always want to take a “Meru cab” wherever they’ve to go, while us native folks prefer to take the humble auto. I don’t blame the expats – they are yet to learn the skills required in finding an auto here that will take you where you want at a “fair” price, so instead of choosing to learn the system, they get around it by using their disposable income. “Expats” usually shop in malls, try and travel only to those places where they can easily take and park their cars, live in the outskirts where they can get big houses with “amenities” like the one I had in Gurgaon, send their kids to “international schools”, and the like.

So this tendency to live like an expat shows up the cost differential between living in your “own” city, and living in another where you would rather prefer to buy your way around the parts you don’t like rather than trying to blend into the city. And this tendency to live like an expat means that expats will always be expats, which is an accusation (not unjustifiably) thrown at the Koramangala types.

When I returned to Bangalore from Gurgaon about two years back, the thing that struck me was about how comfortable I suddenly was. So many of the worries that had been worries in Gurgaon ceased to be worries now. I was comfortable enough with the system to not bother about any of those. And as I ran across my road and jumped on to a moving bus to take me to the city centre, I realizeed I was back, where I belonged.

Valuation of Parking Space

There’s a unique problem in my apartment building – the building has been built with provision for only seven parking slots in the basement but each of the nine houses here has been allotted a slot, which means there are two obstructing slots. Unfortunately, my slot is at a location where I get blocked by the car belonging to the guy upstairs and so I’m a directly affected party due to this problem.

Currently I’ve managed to get around this problem by parking my car in some corner of the basement but neighbours are cribbing saying it spoils the “look” of the building (as if the look of the basement matters! ).

Coming back to the problem, I was wondering if there exists a solution. Clearly, the shape and orientation of the basement means that not more than seven cars can be parked there in a non-obstructing manner. Now, since every houseowner here was allotted a slot when the building got built, they are entitled to a slot so it is not feasible to request/tell someone to rent their house to someone who doesn’t own a car (2 bedroom houses with parking slots cost some 2 kilorupees a month more than those without parking slots).

Thinking about it, the only solution I realized is by trading a parking slot among affected parties. For example, the slot of my house (B1) is obstructed by the slot belonging to the C2 house. Now, what if my owner tries to buy out C2’s parking space? He can either buy it out outright or he can pay the owner of C2 a monthly fee in exchange for C2 not letting out his house to someone with a car.

And he gets compensated for this by charging a higher rent from me (note that if my landlord buys out the c2 slot, I effectively get two slots, since both belong to me, there is no obstruction). The key to this, however, is the relative pricing of various parking slot combinations.

The key equation is this: if Pn is the monthly rent of a house in this building with 2 bedrooms and n parking slots, then there is a profitable trade between the owner of my house and the owner of C2 if and only if:

P0 + P2 >= 2 P1

If the above equation doesn’t hold, the amount by which my owner gets compensated (by me) for the second parking slot will not suffice to pay the owner of C2 to not let out his house to someone with a car, so the trade I described above cannot take place.

But then, according to Coase theorem, irrespective of initial allocations (here C2 has a parking slot that blocks B1’s slot) there exists a trade in which each party gets the desired outcome. Is there a contradiction with the equation I’ve written above?

Now, thinking about it, the value of both my house and C2 is not actually P1 but a number P1′ which is less than P1. P1′ takes into account the pain of having an obstructed parking slot (I get pained because I can’t take out my car when I want; C2 gets pained because I disturb him every time I want to take out my car), and so effectively both my house and C2 would be overvalued if we were paying a rent of P1.

And if we take P1′ into consideration rather than P1, I’m sure the following equation holds:

P0 + P2 >= P1′

The only other problem here is that when taking a flat on rent, you are unlikely to check for details such as if your parking space is blocked, so it is likely that the deal will take place at P1 rather than at P1′. However, once you move in, you figure out the pain and the owner of the apartment will feel the pinch when his tenants clear out at a rate faster than he would’ve expected which ends up reducing his long-term average rental income. And the deal I described above will take place if and only if he figures out why the fair value of this apartment is P1′ and not P1.

Coffee in America

I could have finished this post in one word  – “horrible”. But for the sake of blogging and detailed description, let me sacrifice brevity, like I usually do. I’m writing this after having drunk a cup of absolutely atrocious self-made coffee. Yes, it is proper traditional filter coffee made using Coffee Day Ultra Rich powder, but somewhere I seem to have messed it up. And the quality of this coffee, the first time I’ve made the brew after returning from America, reflects the general quality of coffee they make in America!

I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had good coffee. One was at a friend’s place in New Jersey, where I had traditional South Indian filter coffee out of a steel tumbler. Another was the Turkish coffee at The Hummus Place in Greenwich Village which I’ve talked about in my previous post. That is it! Maybe the odd capuccino somewhere but I can’t remember anything else specific.

The funny thing about America is the size of the coffee lOTas. The average coffee cup in my office was some 400 ml, and each time I would put it under the machine and ask for capuccino it would get filled up! It was extremely disorienting for someone like me who is used to several small doses of coffee during the day. There was another dispenser which dispensed decoction but that was horrible, too. But later on I started drinking from that since I could then control the volume of each dose!

I think I have mentioned this in some other post but another problem in America is they give you hot black coffee and COLD milk. Again extremely disorienting for someone who is used to coffee made with boiling milk. I’m told that the typical American puts such little milk in his coffee that the temperature of milk doesn’t matter. Just that I found it hard to digest (not literally).

Then there was this coffee maker in my apartment. I had to google to figure out how it worked and then realized that an essential part of making it work was to buy filter paper (the first time I’d come across this thing since high school chemistry lab). Since I didn’t have enthu to buy the said paper, I just made do with the two complimentary sheets that had been kindly provided in my apartment. Needless to say the coffee came out to be horrible and I didn’t use the machine again.

One of my regrets of my America trip is that I didn’t order coffee post my several Italian meals. Maybe the Italian restaurants would have made coffee much better than what was available in the rest of the country. And one of the amusing things i remember from the trip is the length of the queues at the Starbucks outlets! That made me realize that people actually go to Starbucks for coffee unlike us here who use Cafe Coffee Day as a convenient hangout location!

Yesterday I did my bit to make up for all the horrible coffee that I’d endured during my America trip. Had two awesome cups of filter coffee at a friend’s place, and then three doses of “sugarless strong” at three diffferent darshini-level places. Unfortunately this morning’s mess-up (now I realize I put 2 spoons of powder into the filter instead of the usual 4) has taken me back to square one, of American quality coffee.