A few years of absence does help to put things at home into perspective.
And the first thing is embracing the many hardware of home, be it the transport system or the convenience of services. Even if it’s only the façade, the cleanliness, orderliness and some modern-looking skyscrapers are at times pleasing to sight and enough to fulfill one’s vanity desires. The luxuries of a fairly comprehensible transport network in operation for more than 15 hours a day at an affordable price (although at an accelerated inflation rate); cheap eateries at all corners of the island day and night, some even with 24 hours service; a labyrinth of retail shops in business for the day and night and most days of the week; the novelty of Sunday full branch banking services at some places etc….. it became a drag each time at the thought of returning to the UK. No doubt, I cherish very much some of the conveniences mentioned above and the safety too.
The Cost of Convenience
The incident to which I was forbidden entry to a shop in Durham, northeast of Britain, at 4.30pm in the evening--half an hour prior to the closing time struck me hard. Not only for the inconvenience that it caused, but the revelation of the luxury of the working life of retail employees in the UK.
Short working hours and with a minimum wage protection. And it doesn’t just stop short at retail services only. And you know what I mean.
While eateries in the UK can afford to close at 3pm on a Sunday—prime time for business in our context, and restaurants operating half day, many of ours run round the clock for business. Special mention to our hawkers who man many hours a day behind their stalls in a small and a high-temperature working environment to provide us with (still) affordable food anywhere anytime; while UK retail businesses can close for the day on the dot, ours allow customers to go on with their shopping well after closing time; our transport workers (bus drivers, cabbies) throng through the chaos of our traffic and endure long working hours too; employees of Sunday banking burning Sundays at work; being instructed by multi-million dollar ministers to work “cheaper, faster and better” is further challenged by the influx of cheaper manpower from overseas.
Scratching beyond that surface of convenience, such “luxuries” are enjoyed with a growing sense of guilt. Especially when the thought of it at the expense of our fellowmen (working cheaper, faster and better) creeps into mind.
The Big Picture
The years of absence, especially, saw the increasing growth of senior citizens working at foodcourts, fast food restaurants, toilets or making a living by sales of tissues and collection of cardboards; disabled people too took part in the “professions”—sights that are phenomenally rare in the UK society despite their “poor” infrastructures.
In a span of 5 years, this “efficient” growth of such strata of our society paints a big picture not, as we are often been instructed to focus at the big picture over small personal inconveniences?
A big picture of a nation obsessed by tangible values over the intangibles…epitomized by our minister who toyed with the idea of housing our senior citizens in land-cheaper Malaysia while our island could afford large no. of golf courses and private properties; where the collective contributions of our citizens towards nation-building is negligible saved for the elite and politicians; where ethics and morals are bartered for political and social securities and monetary returns; where future generations will be debt-laden for the necessities in life—family time, accommodation, transport, jobs and retirement; where quick fixes are used for long-standing issues with no sustainability and accountability.
Such BIG pictures struck fear right into my heart.
Indeed, comparing to the Sahara dessert, we live in absolute heaven. We can spend our lifetime, habitually using the plights of citizens of other nations with not the slightest intention of bettering the lives of those, but instead unabashedly, to glorify our “economic success” and justify our mistakes, notwithstanding the fact that the definition of success itself is disputable.
Is that not ill-mannered, narrow-minded and shallow of us?
Of being more preoccupied with self-glorification than learning the strengths of others so as to aspire to be better. No, we chose complacency instead.
And not forgetting that the act of comparison is always selective.
When I witness our poor being so much poorer than the “poor” in the UK (who has access to free medical care, free housing and benefits) and ironically we have more rich than the UK (we have the most number of millionaire in proportion to our population), it is unsettling for we, as citizens, to be instructed again, to accept that growing income-disparity, a global trend, as a normality, therefore leaving the issue to the wind.
While being mindful and appreciative of what we have, at the same time, we cannot allow these possessions, tangibles and intangibles, to bribe us into the apathy of the universal stand of morals and principle.
The Cost of being A Human
Denouncing socialism or welfare system does not eradicate the need of taking care of our senior citizens or the less fortunate strata.
Having spent more than four decades of achieving the psychological level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, living by the calculator to measure the cost of every human, from discouraging the third child to encouraging more births with monetary incentives; from streaming the more-abled students from the less-abled so as to utilize our resources; from monetary incentives to attract talents into the political arena….but a minister who owes his salary to the public calculates his own worth to the last cent will understand no value of any human lives besides himself. Are we any better in our heartware than 4 decades ago?
And we bear witness to a MP who told us that money brings proportionate dignity and respect; and a multi-million-dollar-minister who scrimped on a $30 allowance for the needy.
But ethics and morals, the fundamentals of any civilized and healthy society, are priceless. We cannot continue to blanket the abnormalities and injustices of our society, or leave them to providence, in exchange for the ever increasing cost of “political stability” and “social security”. Where the cost would be borne by the future generations, in tangible sense, for instance:
(i) Longer and bigger housing loan for public housing at a 99-year-lease.
(ii) Prices of new public housing and medical cost increase in many folds while median income remains stagnant in the last 20 yrs.
Need no rocket science to prove that cost of living outstrips our incomes, rising tangible cost impact quality of life, retirement funds for ourselves and our children: that is the intangible cost. Working longer hours to keep reins of the tangible cost is adding burden to our intangible cost definitely.
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When we begin to realize political and social securities fail to compensate the deep sense of insecurity inside our peoples on our future quality of life and retirement, we know that GDP alone cannot suffice in measuring the quality of our lives. Frighteningly, it plays no role in ethics either.
Surely, a successful nation is not defined by the number of hubs or the number of eye-dazzling architecture, but by both tangibles and intangibles. And only such a nation is truly worthy of respect, which again is neither quantifiable in dollars or cents.