The relative value of time

Trip Start Jun 03, 2006
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Trip End Jun 03, 2009


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Flag of China  ,
Saturday, April 14, 2007

How much is your time worth?  It's a question to which everyone has their own answer and to which I know my own answer varies.  Nonetheless, both question and answer raise themselves frequently here in Shenzhen because not only individual, but cultural attitudes to time differ so much.  I'm still trying to adapt my own view of my own time in China to that of the people around me.
 
I remember the first time I seriously considered the question in England.  Life commuting in and around London had given me a feel for how much I value my time and when it is and isn't more valuable to me.  Nonetheless, the first time I remember trying to put a number on it around the time that heavily discounted flights on budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair became available.  Departing from North and East of London as they did whilst I lived to the South or South-West, I sat down and did a few sums involving travel time and cost.  In the end I figured that I had to save 80 pounds or more to make it worth my while to take the cheap flights.  To be honest it surprised not only me, but a few friends I discussed it with.
 
In Shenzhen, albeit with different salaries and living costs this kind of value blows people's minds.  There are examples every day but some that have been particularly prominent have included how much time a taxi needs to save you before you'll spend 20 times the bus fare taking one, or how much do you need to save by flying to or from Guangzhou instead of Shenzhen to make the 2-3 hour bus journey worth it the cheaper flights. 
 
Setting aside my own personal choices, I was fascinated to observe a recent choice by a group of my (very) rich students.  We'd been talking about going to hit a few golf balls at the driving range for ages finally arranged to do so.  As it happens, 5 minutes across the road from school is a rather exclusive and expensive driving range.  One of the lads told us he could get a good deal at another range across town so we headed off in the school bus, although a couple of people went directly by taxi.  Later, after an enjoyable afternoon and a nice price courtesy of his father's discount card, we piled into taxis back to school.  When I sat down and figured out how much we'd saved by spending 2 hours travelling, it was at best 15 RMB each.  To me, that's not worthwhile, but to them it was.
 
Why?  It's fun to figure out, and certainly a big factor in Guangdong in particular is the love of making deals.  This is certainly not a nation of shopkeepers, but rather of traders.  It reminds me very much of my brief experiences of Turkey in that respect.  Getting and making the deal is an important part of the culture and if you factor in the cultural importance of earning and giving face, then getting a deal for somebody else is very significant.  Now, try figuring that into your calculations about how much your time is worth! 
 
Actually, there is one other variable which I have to throw into the ring here, albeit that it sounds like I'm being unkind about the country I've chosen to come and live in.  People here really don't have that much going on by way of a social life or regular hobbies and interests.  Regular outings, clubs, commitments are for whatever reason not so common.  As a result, personal time is just not that big a deal compared to the UK, and hence the relative value of time is so very different.
 
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