“We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without.”
- Immanuel Kant
Have you ever wondered what exactly you lack in life today that you CANNOT do without? This is aside from the basic necessity such as house, food and clean water etc.
Could it be the internet and smart phones, pads, computers that comes with all the different apps that can make our life so convenient, that you cannot live without with? Or is it the luxurious and branded items you long for each and every day?
Our life today – So much but so little!
In today’s life, imagine with a few clicks, taxi will be here in few minutes, Macdonalds or all sorts of fastfood or even your favourite hawker food will be at your doorstep in less than an hour. Just by typing of keyboard, you can have the world library of information at your disposal. This is in contrast to my time in primary/secondary school when schoolmates and I will have to meet up in "physical" library to research for information to do our project work.
By using facetime, skype or many other different live video chat apps, you can see and chit chat with your loved ones and even strangers over smart devices thousands miles apart across countries, and furthermore with such low cost. Emails almost entirely replaced snail mails except for the need of keeping originals. Pen Pal is almost non-existence today. You may ask why we need a Pen Pal when we have a Facebook with pictures and instant messages.
Well, maybe it is for the thrill of not knowing who your Pen Pal is and how he or she may look? Or maybe it is for the forward looking excitement of waiting for weeks to receive the letter and unravel the mysterious reply.
Even landline phone when I rarely used as a boy to call my friends because I was worry that their parents will scold me over the phone, are today mostly replaced by mobile text messages. I still remember vividly that in order to have friends outing at nearby playgrounds or community centres, I would walk to friends' HDB’s void decks and started shouting their names for them to come out of their house. Sometimes water bombs” were dropped first before friends appearing!
Kids today are mesmerized by internet and video games. The fun days where we used to get ourselves dirty, sweaty or even fighting on the playgrounds are long gone. No more 10-cent ice-packs to quench the thirst, no more “goli games” to win some additional allowance to my meagre pocket money. Of course there are times I lost too and feel really sad. Then there is also the thrill of catching spiders in the bushes flanking the railway tracks and putting them in “fighting ring”, something that is almost extinct in today’s childhood days.
Looking back, these are times that are nostalgic and I really enjoyed.
My life then - So little but so much!
Today, we hear no rooster crows at dawn to jolt us awake. Instead, alarm clocks or simply our phone alarm to greet our morning. A hot comfortable shower is just a matter of seconds with the help of a heater. When the weather gets too hot at night, we switched on the air condition to have a perfect night sleep.
You may not believe but it is true that up to the mid 90s, my family of up to 6-7 members including children my mother babysat, are still squeezing in our 2-room HDB (1 living and 1 bedroom) rented flat with NO heater shower, NO washing machine and NO air-conditioning. Apparently also with just one bed that my mum is sleeping because of her rheumatism!
Yes, I am not kidding. In fact we did not even have a radio until some kind soul gave us a second-hand portable cassette tape radio in the 90s. It was analogue, and I always had so much trouble getting the “needle” position at the right frequency for clarity. We had also never purchase our own TV. It was generously provided by our relative. Initially it was a second-hand black and white TV and later because a relative struck 4D, she is actually so kind to contribute to us a 20” color TV.
Being the youngest, I was always tasked to run errands for my dad. This is so annoying because it was often during times when I had to miss my favourite TV programs. No video-tape recording back then for us, let alone Youtube today that you no longer worry of any missed programs.
I also remember that sometimes there will be power cut off. Instead of grumbling on the inconvenience, I will be so happy because I will then light up candles with siblings and neighbours along the corridors and play with torchlights too.
Although we were poor, but when I was in kindergarten, my mother who doted me so much, will almost every day without fail, buy a toy/sweets for me. Be it 50c “doraemon” or 10-20c “toy soldiers” or even few times, second-hand toys she picked up near our house’s rubbish chute which still appear brand new, I was always happy!
My siblings and I did not have our own beds until I was in my late teens and my elder siblings in their 20s. We slept on mattresses that we will lay on the floor during bedtimes. My father did not even want a mattress complaining about the heat and prefer to sleep on the bare floor.
To have a hot shower, we had to boil water in a kettle and pour it into a PVC bathtub, and then scooped water from it to bath. When the days got warm, I will just shower off the tap connected to a long rubber hose, and this is not even a proper shower set. Otherwise, we will scoop water out of the “traditional Chinese water tank left behind from our Ah Gong” (just like one in the picture below), to bath or to flush the toilet in order to conserve water. Every cents count back then!
For studies, we never have a proper study room or a study table, so as to speak. It was normally me “planking” on the floor or using the sofa with a wooden plank as a table that I did most of homework on. The homework can also be done on a foldable dinner cum study table that I will fold and bring to and fro the bedroom and kitchen. While without a conducive environment to study, my siblings and I did have relative good results for our PSLE or O Levels. My brother scored an astounding 3 A-stars and 1A for his PSLE with 258 points, and I surprised with single-digit points for my 6-subject L1R5 O levels. Not too bad for me who was pretty much a “hooligan” spending all my times with wrong company then.
Despite lacking a lot of things in the 1970-90s what a household will have today, I still consider myself to have a very happy childhood days. I am not even referring back to the 1950-60s and before when people lack even more things, and yet still possibly to lead a warm and happy life.
With technological advancement, we had achieved so much efficiency in the history of mankind. The world's economy has increased and increased over the years, so is the cost of living!
Somehow technology brings so much convenience but also because of technology, we lost so much of human compassion and human personal touch.
Honestly, do we really think that we are better off today compared to the yesterday years?
And also the next time when we think of what WE DO NOT HAVE, perhaps we should first think of WHAT WE CAN DO WITHOUT?