Sunday, April 21, 2013

Decade of Decadence: The 10 Year Anniversary Series

They say that an empty vessel makes the most noise. And that people who know little, will crow about what little they know.

I am that empty vessel, so hear me crow and shit.

May 15th will mark the 10 year anniversary I have been in the media. Until that date, sans a few days when I go home to vote and my 4-day vacation in Thailand - partly to celebrate my 10th year anniversary - I  will fill this blog on what little I know this past decade.

I came to KL in 1998, to enrol in UM. I chose UM because I took SPM - and scored like crazy - during the global economic recession. I got an aggregate of 8 and where my seniors managed to land scholarships to Europe and the US at 18 aggregates (the lower the number, the better), my superior results got me nowhere. There was no money to send an unconnected son of a teacher to any of the western countries.

Yes, we are related to some powerful people, but my family has an arrogance and stubbornness which sometimes frustrate even me.

I was stuck here. So I applied to the one university WITHOUT a dress code - UM. I did not choose it for its superior academic whatever or its location. I knew ITM required shirts, tie and black shoes for their matriculation students, same goes with UTM, UPM, USM, UKM and whatever else.

I had just spent the previous five years wearing a stupid fucking tie every day except Sunday and a formal Baju Melayu every Friday. I mean, fuck you. I wasn't going to wear a tie or iron my clothes.

I asked around, and UM was the only university that allowed me to go to lectures wearing sandals, flip-flops or whatever. I also went to class wearing shorts at one point, but the predominantly Mohammadean community started laughing and admiring my fair thighs.

So there I was, alone and not rich, in the capital, armed only with my wit, and my will.

I spent five long fucking years eating roti canai and - for the occasional treat - Maggi goreng. I hear lots of Chinese students want to get into UM and I was like, "What the fuck for?" I gained countless kilos from eating whatever cheapest food I could find. Really cheap shit. I bought the occasional snack based on weight.

Loaded on carbs all day, every day. It wasn't by choice. I discovered then that my family was poor. They couldn't afford my education.

I don't hold it against them. They did their best, and I played whatever hand I was dealt to the best of my abilities.

Life in UM was one of survival. I needed enough food to keep me going. It felt like living in the jungle.

I had a budget of RM6 for food every day. This meant either RM3 for lunch or RM2.50 and the rest for dinner. Breakfast was an occasional dream.

I watched as the rich kids threw their money away on expensive food and unnecessary stuff. Some of them even drank or partied. There was no party for me. There was only survival.

I stayed at one point, at a 900sqft apartment with nine other students. Nine fucking students. Some of them drug dealers and one was a thief. The rich kids would get the 3-4 bedroom 1440 sqft apartments and have a room all to themselves. Three people in an apartment - my mind boggled at the thought.

I made some friends, and with their help - logistics, mainly, cause I had no transportation the first few years I was there - I also landed typing jobs due to my proficiency with languages.

They paid McDonald's wages, which was RM3.50-RM4 per hour at the time. We prayed in the meeting room. Oh, I prayed five times a day back then. Every day, five times, I would get down on my knees, place my head on the ground and thank God for my life.

Cause you know why? Other people had - and are having it worse.

I grew up in the swamp, motherfucker! My neighbours were and are worse off. They make a few hundred bucks a month to feed families of eight or more. In the best of times, when rubber prices go up, they can make maybe up to RM3,000 a month. Imagine eight people having that amount to survive in the modern world.

Look at their food, man. One of my neighbours buy tiny day-old shrimp - the cheapest shit they could find - and make what is sold in La Bodega as gambas paco alcalde - shrimp in a red sauce, but with more chilli instead of tomato.

They cook the thing, and all you could see on the dish was a red paste. The shrimp were tiny and they were very few - too few to feed eight people, or more.

My parents often told me of the kind of food they had to eat back in World War II - the skin of bananas, soft barks of certain trees, mushrooms. The kind of shit these people eat are just one level up.

I usually shop for clothes every five years. Means everything I buy must at least last five years. I scoured shopping malls and bundle sales, looking for quality. I recommend LL Bean which I bought at FOS for RM12 as it is outdoor wear, but tailored to be office wear. The quality of the material is outstanding.

I still have those shirts. I still have my jeans from when I was 17, patched up and now disintegrated from constant washing.

Now, I'm an old man, and I see kids nowadays wasting all the opportunities and convenience which they have taken for granted, as I am sure the previous generation saw mine do the same, with our fancy RM2.50 meals.

So the election is coming up, and the current Government is saying they did good on all fronts. I do not deny they have tried, and some of the initiatives bore more fruit than others.

However, to say that life in Malaysia is easy, or even that we have enough food for everyone - I cannot say that. At the very least, tell it to the hardcore poor.