Sticker Shock


It’s been two and a half years since I’ve been back in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was always an expensive place to live, but now that I’ve been living in Thailand for two years, and South America for a year before that, I am stunned by chronic sticker shock at simply being here. I’m afraid to leave my brother’s house, for fear of being bankrupted before I can find my way back home where living within my means is not only possible but easy.

Driven by halitosis and headache, I ventured forth to a nearby drugstore to buy toothpaste and aspirin but after looking at the prices, almost left without either. Most of the toothpaste choices were housed in cartons with elaborate, colorful printing complete with holographic stickers. I’m sure the packaging cost at least as much as the carton contents, and the combined cost of those two came to about seven dollars for the average tube. This was about seven times what I was prepared to pay.

Likewise, the bottles of aspirin that they were pushing ranged from eight to thirteen dollars. I finally found one with “normal” 340 mg tablets, which can be divided by four into the dose I take for a blood thinner. The coated 81 mg tablets cost twice as much as the ones I bought. But it was hard to find that bottle of “normal” aspirin, as it was crowded out by the fancier versions of a simple, inexpensive drug that lacks the sex appeal of its enteric-coated brethren. I had to kneel on the floor to select that bottle from the bottom shelf.

As expensive as everyday items are, rents are much higher. The average rent here is between two and three thousand dollars a month! Any less than that and it’s a bargain, protected by rent control. In Mae Rim Thailand, I’m paying $110 a month for a small house. I don’t have a car and drive a motor scooter around, often sightseeing in the nearby glorious mountains. I never visit a supermarket, because fresh and prepared foods are available everywhere, for prices so low that I no longer bother to ask the price of anything I eat.

If I were to try to live in America, I would have to find a place with subsidized housing, free lunches, senior discounts, a place where nobody else wanted to live, probably for good reason.I’d have to apply for food stamps. But I would be hard pressed to find anywhere even remotely as attractive as Mae Rim, where lunch costs $1 and where noodle shops abound.