Let’s start with my privileges.
I’ve never been homeless. I’ve always had a roof over my head.
When it rains particularly hard outside (like it does now in November), I think about the homeless.
What will they do? Where will they find shelter?
I hope they are safe.
I’ve always had at least one meal a day. Even on the days when that meal is a few pieces of stale bread, I am thankful. I’m kept alive for yet another day.
Enough food is a privilege I’m reminded of daily. I try not to overeat, to remind myself to eat to live, and not otherwise.
I’ve always lived in homes with running water. Showers and clean drinking water are easy to come by.
I can take a shower when I feel like it, which is usually twice a day.
When I was 16, I joined a mock UN conference where I learned how children were dying around the world because of one thing: dirty water.
I came to realise at that very moment, how privileged I was to have never had to drink a cup of dirty water in life out of desperation. And then die shortly after, quenching my thirst at the price of my life.
I went to school for 16 years. My parents funded the first 12 years, and my university funded the last 4. I never had to pay money for tuition.
I have a degree in chemical engineering which probably costs a good six figures to get over my lifetime.
Education doesn’t stop at school, of course.
I’ve always had enough money for courses and books to learn something new every year, or every other month.
Six years ago, I met a pastor who dedicated her life to helping poor children in rural China.
They did not have clean water. Everyone in the village drank from one machine. Even then, the water isn’t as clean as I get from my home tap.
But yet, that was not their biggest struggle.
Education was. And that was why she was there – to help them become literate.
She was much more than just a teacher, though. She lived with them, helped them and became part of them.
She told me, “Lu Wee, these children value their education so much. They would treasure their single pencil, so much that if they lost it, they would cry like they’ve lost one of the most important things in their life.”
A single pencil was their gateway to learning.
And here, I have so much more than just a single pencil. I felt quite privileged indeed.
I’ve always travelled in cars. As a kid, my parents would drive me around. Now, I use my own car to get from place to place.
I live in a small town, so parking comes quite easily to me. I don’t endure traffic jams all that much either.
I save a lot of time in commute.
As I grew older, I realised one privilege I never did when I was younger. And that is this:
My parents never held down jobs.
They have always been self-employed.
It gave me the impression that I could always find a way to survive if I try hard enough. That mindset is priceless to me as an adult today.
More than that, I have the privilege of using my mother’s business premises to support my own. If I had to start from scratch, things would have moved a lot slower.
At 15, my mother introduced me to Buddhism.
I had decided to be an atheist pretty early on, but Buddhism opened my eyes to the reality of life. It was also, not a religion.
I learned a lot, but at 15, the most important lesson I learned was this:
You are not your things.
You are not your desires.
So after my 16th birthday, I renounced a life of worshipping things and started living minimally.
It was hard at first. But after a few years, I stopped having the intense desire to buy things to make myself happy.
So I’ve always had enough. I never want more clothes, more toys, more… and more.
Even on the drier years when I had less than RM100 to my name, I never felt “poor” for things I wanted to buy.
This shift in mindset made me immune to being sad about not having.
Thinking back, I only have my mother to thank. For loving me so much she wanted to see me grow into a better, kinder person.
Being my mother’s daughter is my biggest privilege of all.
Now, my poverty:
I used to wish I had a more responsible father. Someone who didn’t gamble so much. Someone who didn’t drink so much.
Someone who was more sensible with money and didn’t put us in a 7 figure debt.
Someone who didn’t smoke or wasn’t late to pick me up from school. Someone who talked to me kindly, not through shouting.
Someone less violent.
Someone more responsible.
I used to wish in secret I was adopted.
I used to hate him.
And then, I grew up.
I started to see a broken child through my father’s life. How hard he has been trying to feel loved.
He shouted at me because it was the way he felt he could be heard.
He was bad with money because nobody took the time to teach him not to be.
Through my father, I learned how to love broken people.
To stop asking why. And just do what I can to love them now.
In a weird way, my poverty became my privilege too.