Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 1 is a compilation of 10 short stories from 10 different authors.
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English Pages  Year 2019
Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 2 is the successor of Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 1: a collection of per
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Ethnological and socio-economic study of the Indian population living on a rubber plantation in West Malaysia, based on
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From Introduction: "It would be a longer story than all the Stories from Wagner put together, to tell where these
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Page 6: alphabet for the Belize Kriol English language.
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When the government decides to spend money, it simply creates the necessary funds for itself–as if out of thin air. That
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Money Stories Vol. 1
Curated by SURAYA ZAINUDIN
Copyright © 2019 Suraya Zainudin Communications Published by Suraya Zainudin Communications Subang, Selangor ringgitohringgit.com Cover design & illustrations: Yvonne Low http://yvonnism.tumblr.com | https://www.instagram.com/yvonnism Layout: Anna Tan teaspoonpublishing.com.my ISBN: 978-967-16886-0-1 Printed by: Angel Printing House 56-1 Jalan PJS 11/28A Bandar Sunway Metro 46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher and copyright owners. It is also advisable to consult the publisher if in any doubt as to the legality of any copying which is to be undertaken.
CONTENTS Foreword and Acknowledgements 1 Look Out for Naila, World! – Jouhari Ali
2 In Memoriam – N.T. Cloever
3 Necessary Expense – Sarah Anne
4 Cigarettes – Eu Leon
5 An APP-xpensive Mistake – Sumi S
6 Condo – Aina Izzah
7 Managing Finances While Doing A PhD – Juntaki
8 My Family’s Experience with Ponzi Scheme – Jonathan Kam 67 9 How Much is a Mother’s Job Worth – Chan Ai Sin 10 For the Greater Good – Suraya Zainudin
FOREWORD AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First of all, THANK YOU FOR BUYING THIS BOOK. You have no idea how much it means to me. Money Stories Vol. 1 is not just a passive income project (no shame in admitting this!), it’s also an act of reclaiming the personal finance topic for everyday Malaysians. I don’t know about you, but I grew up thinking that money is a shameful topic to discuss, let alone share publicly to the world. I was led to believe that the only people who are ‘clever with money’ are the people who understand the jargon-heavy pages in finance and business sections in the newspapers. That’s not true at all. It took me a long time to unlearn this. In doing Money Stories, which contains ten fiction and non-fiction personal finance-themed writing work, you and I are basically agreeing that yes, everyone has money stories, it’s not an exclusive subject reserved to ‘experts’ who study banking and financial planning and economics. These are not your usual money stories, too—the ten Malaysian authors (including yours truly) tackled multiple genres, including fantasy and alternative universes, but all of them share the same theme: personal finance. I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to: Anna Tan, my editor who turned these stories from good to great; writers Jouhari Ali, N.T. Cloever, Sarah Anne, Eu Leon, Sumi S, Juntaki, Aina Izzah, Jonathan Kam and Chan Ai Sin for their clever interpretation of the theme; Yvonne Low for the illustrations; and everyone who is supportive of this project from Day 1. Enjoy the stories. Reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions or simply want to chat about your money journey.
LOOK OUT FOR NAILA, WORLD! Jouhari Ali Every parent loves telling stories about their children. How smart and well-behaved their children are. How proud they are of them. I am no different. A lot of times, the parents would also share and show party tricks they taught their children. Here, I am different. I am here to tell you what my daughter taught me. Through unfortunate events, Naila’s mother wanted a divorce just a day after her second birthday. I complied. Usually, in a Muslim divorce, the mother would always get custody of the children. Second in line would be the child’s maternal grandmother. Only then the Syariah courts will consider giving custody to the father. During the divorce process, we were asked by the court what was to happen to Naila. Naila’s mother received full custody, but she agreed to let Naila live with me. I was overjoyed. My living situation then was not what you would call “normal”. I was living with three other guys, friends of mine since college. They were all young and single men. But thankfully they were more than happy to accept Naila and me. For a few short, amazing years, Naila was living with me and her three wonderful uncles. 1
Soon enough, the guys got married and moved out. If you don't count our cats, Naila and I were the only two left in the four-bedroom house. The rent was ridiculously cheap, so we just kept staying there until I bought an apartment. A new place for us to call home.
Look out for Naila, world!
Naila was seven years old when we moved into the new apartment. She had just started Standard One. There were no lifts, but there was a small pond and a jogging track. We got the best view of the pond from our apartment's balcony on the fourth floor, where we could often see a few anglers. Once in a while, the group would start screaming out loud like Ronaldo had just scored a goal. Naila had never experienced fishing before and was naturally curious about what they were doing. A father and daughter moment, I thought. My father had taught me how to fish and this would be an amazing opportunity to pass the knowledge to her. One day, I got us fishing rods and supplies, and off we went to the pond with our new gear, bait, and a small bucket. She was so excited about her first fishing trip, even though the pond was just a few metres from our building. Before we started, I went over the safety precautions. I showed Naila how sharp the hooks were, what to look out for, and how far she needed to be from the edge of the pond. I told her to always follow one rule: never stand closer than your body’s length to the edge. Why? Because, if you were to fall over, you would still fall on land, not in the water. There were additional rules. For safety reasons, Naila was not allowed to bait the hook or cast the line, but she could reel it in if anything bit. I could see fishing lose its appeal to her with those kinds of rules. After a while, she seemed more interested in digging for worms along the bank of the pond. I told her that’s a great idea—we wouldn’t have to buy worms the next time we go fishing. As Naila dug for worms, she invited other children passing by to join her. Most of them did. Soon enough, our group became a digging party as kids started to get the word out that they were allowed to dig for worms, and there was a responsible adult (me) watching over them. Naila forged many friendships that day. A man, all docked in fishing gear, noticed the excitement and came over. Naila struck up a conversation with him too, and offered to sell the worms she just dug up for RM1 each. Even though Naila had no idea what the going rate for worms was, she had business in mind and was brave enough to market her wares like it was second nature. I simply thought she was cute. My mouth dropped when the man made a counteroffer. He said he would pay RM1 for two worms, but they had to be big ones. I didn’t say
a word during the whole negotiation, but I thought the guy was cool for playing along. The kids came into a huddle and decided RM1 for two fat worms was indeed worth their effort. The man bought four worms and nodded my way. I smiled back. We both knew he did not need the worms. He could have gotten fifteen for RM2.50 at the shop just across the street or he could also have dug them up himself for free! Naila and her friends made RM2 that afternoon from their only customer. I was proud of her. She made her first business transaction like a champ and I was there to witness it, just a few feet away, frozen in amazement. Later that night, Naila revealed that her worm business was more exciting to her than her fishing career (she caught one fish). Not trying to give her false hopes in the profitability of this venture, I explained how the worms were not really worth that much and the man was just being nice. Naila was undeterred. She told me she and her friends were planning to dig up more worms to sell to other anglers the next day. Predictably, her first business venture was not successful. Not from the lack of trying—it was just a simple case of supply and demand. Anyone could have dug the worms up for free, plus she was selling it above the market price. Still, she had fun making friends while digging up those worms. The ones that were still alive by the time we went home were put back in the ground by a tree. Let me tell you about her second business venture: selling ribbon bracelets. By that time, she was eight. Naila was supposed to bring ribbons for her school’s art class, so we went out to get some. Picking her up from school the next day, I noticed a clear plastic bag full of coins. From what I could see, there must have been around RM10 worth of coins. I asked her where she got the money. I thought she must have won a ribbon-making contest at school or something. Instead, she said that she had learned how to make ribbon bracelets in art class, made a few, and sold them at fifty sen each. Again, I was shocked and amazed. I admit I was sceptical. “Everyone brought ribbons to school, everybody learned to make the bracelets, and you managed to sell them today?” 4
Look out for Naila, world!
Naila explained how her ribbon bracelets were in demand because she innovated and used two ribbons of different colours. The teacher had taught them using ribbons of only one colour during the class, but now, her classmates could make custom requests for ribbon bracelets with two colour combinations. She did not stop there. When a customer asked for a colour she did not have, she would trade some of her ribbons with someone else. Even though she had competition, she had an advantage—Naila could make a bracelet out of any colour because everyone would gladly trade their ribbons with her. Some even volunteered to make the ribbon bracelets as her orders grew! “Teachers are OK with this?” I asked. She laughed and said she sold a few to the teachers too. This brought me back to my primary school days. I had been a timid, scared little boy. Here I am now, blessed with a daughter who somehow made a week’s worth of allowance in one day. The next day was just as impressive. After I picked her up from school, she asked if we could stop by a store and pick up some super glue. She explained that some of the ribbons she sold the day before came apart and she wanted to fix them for her customers. At eight, this young lady knew how to stand behind her products and provide warranty and customer service! I was more than happy to get her the glue, and we got a few types just in case. I’m not sure if she knew how important her business decision was. Imagine if there were another art class project and she decided to go into business again? Her customers would gladly buy from her instead of her competition because of her warranty, customer service and product innovation. The next day, I asked about her ribbon bracelet business. It turns out that she got even more orders and no competition! At lunchtime, she sat at one of the benches and operated her business in full swing. When a child makes their own money, something happens to their appreciation of money. When Naila gets to pick out toys or clothes at the store, she actually looks at the price tag. Even at her young age, she understands what those numbers after RM mean. Naila understands value, too. She demonstrated how it was cheaper to buy a box of pencils than a single one. Any parent would feel blessed 5
to have a child that actually takes the price of an item into consideration when they want something. If you have seen the shopping behaviour of other children, you might know that their final choice is usually influenced by the packaging and how much air time the product had on TV. But not my Naila. While picking her up from school one Friday afternoon, I noticed a tear in her relatively new school bag. She had the habit of not zipping her bag properly and after a few weeks, it tore. I thought she would ask me for a new school bag soon, and it would be a good opportunity for me to give her the “take care of your things” speech. I waited for that request all weekend, but it never came. She never asked for a new bag, and by Sunday, this horrible father forgot all about the torn bag. Monday came, and I took her to school as usual. While she was walking into the school compound, I noticed that she had taped up her bag with electrical tape. Those black elastic tapes, the ones that electricians use to tape up wires… the only type of tape that was plentiful in my toolbox. My heart twitched. I thought I was going to teach her a lesson about taking care of her things. That morning she taught me that she’s a lot smarter and stronger than I gave her credit for. Later that afternoon, we bought a new school bag. I wish I had said something about the tape incident but I didn’t. I felt like a horrible father. I was ashamed of myself while being so proud of what she’s grown up to be. Here is a little girl who was raised by just her father and his friends, taking on what our cruel world had to offer head on. Yet she never complained that her bag was falling apart. She taped it up so her books wouldn’t fall out. Somehow, Naila grew up to understand money and thrift better than kids her age. I can’t exactly point out to how she turned out that way. I will not claim that I had anything to do with it. Children can understand the value of money. Children do understand the importance of making money and saving money. But, of course, money should never be their problem—that’s the burden of the adult. If you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, you’d almost always get the kind of jobs that help people. Go ahead, give it a try. You’ll hear doctor, teacher, soldier, fireman, policeman, and there’s always that one kid who wants to be Spiderman. 6
Look out for Naila, world!
I asked Naila the same question when she was nine. She told me she wanted to sell cars and have her own car business. I was happy to hear that. She was already thinking about businesses, not jobs! I asked her why she wanted to sell cars, of all things. She told me so she would be able to give me one.
About the author Jouhari Ali is a part-time freelance writer, who lives a minimalist lifestyle with his nameless cat in Puchong, Selangor. He spends his daytime scheming on his future blockbuster script while working to pay the bills during the nights.
IN MEMORIAM N.T. Cloever Dr. Mera’s Log, 04-07-207X. 12:17PM The experiment is a success. Subject 21 underwent gradual neural recovery. By injecting modified growth hormones designed to recover key neural cells, we were able to recover the subject’s neural pathways at a steady pace. Extraction side effects are slowly becoming undone: the subject showed signs of immediate memory recovery. Pathways were observed as being ‘blocked’ from recalling memories with a strong emotional connection, potentially subconscious trauma the brain has conceived. A full recovery has yet to be seen—possibly hindered by poor physical condition—otherwise the results are there. Amplification of core neural function via growth hormones yields positive effects upon application. Will further observe the subject over the course of the year. Decades of research have finally resulted in a great discovery, and we are all here to witness it. The advent of neural data as a commodity has raised critical concerns of ethics and morality: the commoditization of the poor, the largest source of extracted memory for the fuel market. Applications for the fuel are endless but to what extent should we as scientists continue to pursue this path until we create a dependency on such unethical 9
practices? We extrapolate the price and use of this fuel from a standard of living, the poor, and all demand, supply, and research depend on their sacrifice. To offer such unethical sacrifices as a ‘service’ to the poor as a means of escape and trade has always been a debatable issue to this day. With this success, we can confirm: we can save the memories of the poor. They don’t have to live by worthless bread, traded for their birthdays and precious moments. Once this process is fine-tuned, we can remove its side effects and ensure greater living conditions. Addressing minimalising risk of false memories, Subject 21 has specific records of memory that we can test for confirmation. Though sources are not properly documented, with my authority on the subject, I can reassure the team that we are on the right track. This is sufficient evidence, more or less. Either way, we shall await the tests to see if they’re working. Dr. Mera What is wealth without memory? It was the last line on her notes, the question she’d carried with her for decades. Dr. Mera tapped her pen on the paper, lost in thought. The train arrived at Central Station and, picking up her things, she disembarked. Leaving the building, Mera froze. Out in the pouring rain, she stood, staring at the ragged man sitting by the pillar. Her papers scattered on the wet cement. There he was, her next experiment. Her final one. The one she’d been looking for. He was staring up at the grey sky, mouth agape, as if trying to quench a perpetual thirst. While the world rained on his grey hair and his tattered olive coat, he sat there. Still. Motionless. The lack of life in his eyes told the tale: This was a man who had nothing to lose. She took a few seconds to collect herself. Grabbing her papers from the floor, she filed them neatly and took a moment of meditation: breathing in and out. This was her chance to try it out. She walked over to the man, and stood in front of him. “Hello there.” No response. “My name is Mera,” she continued. “I am here to help you.”
The man had nothing to say. She offered him her umbrella and his mouth closed when she covered his only source of water. The rain poured harder, and it was too much for her to bear. “I have food. Come with me,” she offered. A little bit of light came back to his eyes upon hearing that magical word. He mouthed it, as if mute. Food...? 11
She nodded. He moved, raising himself at a slow pace, until hunched up. He had been carrying his burden of hunger for God knows how many days, living on scraps and leftovers. The outcast had wandered and begged for money. All he wanted was food, shelter and water—the simple things everyone had, but did not want to share. What else was needed? *** He drank his glass of water, and filled it to the brim again from the water jug. Downing it for the fourth time, he gasped for air. Fresh water was hard to come by. He wanted to thank the stranger for showing him such generosity, but he couldn’t find the words. He glanced up at the woman then averted his eyes, nodding constantly at every glass. The lady stopped him. “It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything. Just drink, it’ll be fine.” He came back to his senses as he ate and drank. As he did, he started to take notice of his surroundings: a large apartment with a few rooms. She must be rich, thought the man. I wonder how much she had to lose to get this much. “What did you sell?” he said, when he finally found his voice. She turned to look at him. “All this?” he continued. “You sold something great, didn’t you?” She did not reply. “Your family? All of them?” The air grew thick with sadness. There was no need to save face in the city of Noztalgia, the only place you could sell your memories for cash. The more personal, the better. The stronger the emotional connection, the higher the price. Childhood memories were all the rage, and lovers’ moments too: it helped with the process. In this city, the rich were their own people. If you wanted to join them, you had to be successful, smart or desperate—or a combination of all three. Until one breakthrough came: harnessing the power of memories. Memories were now a commodity, a currency, and a source of power. Energy, implants, behaviour of people: the applications were limitless. The problem was where would you find memories to spare? Who would consent to losing a part of their lives?
“What’s that?” The man stopped eating and pointed at a soft-looking purple bear, patched up with different fabrics, on the couch. The patches were sewn poorly, and the insides were coming out. “Oh...” her voice trailed off and her eyes widened. “That was a present from my family. I moved far away from them a long time ago.” “Don’t you want to throw it away? It looks beat.” He shrugged. “That’s not happening. It means too much to me.” She walked over to the couch, picked the bear up, and smiled. “She’s all that’s left of my previous life.” “Your previous life?” he echoed. Must have been before she became a doctor or whatever. He had noticed the white coat hung on the back of the door, with the striking insignia on the chest. Everyone knew about the white-coats and blue-coats: they worked at the largest medicine research centres in the city. ‘The brains, they were called. The man continued eating his steak, albeit sloppily. “There’s a piece stuck on your cheek,” she said, “Mr...” “I can’t remember,” he said without looking up. “I’m sorry?” “I said, I can’t remember,” he replied. “I sold it away. My name.” He wiped his cheek and continued eating. A moment of silence came, and a slight sniff was heard from the lady—a tear fell from her eye. “Sorry, I just... I didn’t know...” her voice trailed off. “It’s okay, I did what I had to survive,” he replied. “It was for my—” She looked up. “...oh. I forgot what it was for,” he said. “Could’a been anything.” “You know what doing that could do to you?” “Yes. But I needed the money.” As he finished his meal, the lady went into the spare room. She laid out a set of men’s clothes and new sheets for the bed, then moved out all the boxes outside. “...what are you doing?” he asked, looking at the outfit, and then at her in surprise. All of a sudden, the woman was just going to give him a room? “Use them. No one else is,” she said. It was a set of old-fashioned pyjamas, striped, like the kind a father would wear decades ago. Though they were old, they still functioned, despite the patched up holes in the pants. Once again, sloppily done. “...Well?” she asked. 13
He nodded and thanked her. “I’ll use these.” Disappointment flashed across the doctor’s face, a certain sadness that wanted to hide itself. One tended to notice these flashes when on the streets, begging and begging and seeing the sour look on those faces who won’t help. You learnt to toughen up and beg from the next one. Not everyone wants to help after all. When she went to clean the dishes, the man stripped and put on the outfit. The feel of cotton against his skin, something he hadn’t experienced in what seemed like decades. It felt like the first time he put on clothes. Perfect for the end of autumn. She threw his old clothes in the washing machine, which intrigued the homeless man. He never saw it in the slums. He watched the clothes roll around inside the mysterious machine, when the doctor returned with tea. “Why are you being so nice to me?” he asked without turning away from the washing machine. She said nothing for a while, pouring a cup for him. Then, out came the words: “Do you want your life back?” He turned to look at her. It sounded ridiculous. Here he was, in the apartment of some stranger, a middle-aged woman, offering him - a meagre old man - his life back. “What do you mean?” he asked. “There’s nothing left for me out there. I have nothing to my name, and I don’t even know it. I’ve been wandering the city for only God knows how long, what life do you speak of?” He sipped the tea she’d given him. She frowned. “Will you wander for the rest of your life?” *** Will you wander for the rest of your life? The question echoed in his mind over and over. He kept rolling in bed, under warm blankets and pillows, but with a cold mind. “What else is there to life?” he whispered to himself. I just want to survive. The poor wanted money, food, water, and a roof over their heads. The rich had money: it was a simple trade. Memories ended up becoming a vital commodity in the slums. People begged in the Central
District by day and escaped their struggles at night by forgetting them, storing their horrors into canisters to be sold. There was a market price, and the quality of memories stored meant you got your money’s worth. The memories were extracted and sent to the labs to be converted into liquid fuel. Like oil, squeezed like a sponge from the mind, memories had a concentration. Since the extraction process pulled the memory thought of at that moment, what the people were thinking about affected the purity of the fuel. According to research, memories that evoked a greater emotional state resulted in higher concentrations of fuel. This included traumatic incidents, and moments of sorrow as well. But only the purest forms of fuel could be found from ‘selling’ your family via memory, in return for a hefty amount. At what cost? It varied. People lost their minds and they lost their childhoods. Memories are interconnected with our way of life, and not all machines could pinpoint their memory extraction well. Kids forgot their birthdays, couples forgot each other, and parents even forgot the names of their children. *** A flicker of light woke him up. The blur of scientists passing by, chatting and adjusting machines that made the sounds, the bright lights of the lab all turned on him. He realised he was in a clinic, a larger one than usual. Strapped to a chair, all eyes were on him like a lion at the circus. Others were spectating from behind a glassed wall: leaders, generals, and reporters were ready to witness something amazing. Whatever it was, he was in the middle of it. “Where am I?” he asked out loud, his voice shaking. He tried to move, but the straps held him down. The Doctor, with clipboard in hand, appeared before him. “We are here to give you your life back,” she said. “Don't worry, it’ll be worth it.” The room started to boom with a deep sound, with machinations in the background working together. Drenched in sweat from the shaking, he was afraid of what would happen. Please…no more...don’t take any more from me… He had nothing left to offer, the husk of a forgotten man, a past life, and no memory. There 15
was no fuel left to be extracted from him, no significant memory to be traded for a price, only emptiness. A heavy pressure fell on his mind, as if the weight of a building had fallen on him. Nauseous, he began to cry out for help. The lights in the room went out for a few seconds, and with it the crying. When it came back on, the air had changed: the audience stared at the strapped man, his eyes wide open. They waited for reaction. *** Dr. Mera’s Log, 04/07/207X. 6:02PM “Someday, you will find me again once you are older. I know you can.” Those were Father’s last words. We had no other choice, I knew that; he gave me away to a better place. He paid for school with the rest of his life: all that he remembered. It started off minimal, bits and pieces that he couldn’t remember. Fractions of his newborn, fading away: even meeting his wife. Then he forgot it all. He forgot me and Mother at the grave. We visited her all the time, and gave her what little we could offer. By then, he forgot who this was for. Her grave stood alone for years to come. This was the drive behind me getting a white-coat. I wanted to stop people from turning their lives into currency. First, it was for the people around me. What luck I had when I ran into my previous life, sitting by the pillar outside Central Station! But, that’s all in the past now. Decades of work just for this day. I am here to report the results. My work here is done. He sat in the same throne that took him away from me. Now, I’ve modified it to return him back, to return what was his. Slowly, but surely, he’s coming back. His name. His wife. Their child together. It is wonderful. Observations will continue for the time being. Dr. Mera. ***
It was all coming back. The lonely stone on top of the hill, with markings on the front. The fading portrait of a woman. Who...? Slowly, his eyes relaxed. A sense of calmness swept over him—he controlled his breathing. The scientists were wary of his every move: anything could go wrong. It was their first time trying this on a human, highly experimental. They only needed a confirmation: the man blinked a few times, and nodded at the Doctor. He motioned for her to take the mask off his face. The Doctor came with clipboard and pen. “How do you feel now, sir?” she asked. “Great. I’m feeling great.” He smiled for the first time in his recovered life. “Good. What is your name?” she asked. “...Joe. It’s Joe,” he replied. Another moment, a flash of purple: something sewn from whatever was left over. It was a companion, to help with grief: he’d made it for a girl to make sure she was not alone. A girl? His own girl. A doll that he’d made. “That’s good to hear. Just to confirm, we’re going to need you to start doing some tests—” “Claire.” He looked at her. “My little Claire.” She froze. The others stopped in their tracks. The heart rate monitor filled the silence. The corners of his eyes wrinkled. “You found me, didn’t you?” he whispered. His question was met with tears rolling down the Doctor’s cheeks.
***ENCRYPTED MESSAGE | TO: SUBJECT 21*** Joe. It’s been 20 years. Your clothes are here. I found them while searching for you. I can cook your favourite steak now. I’ve had plenty of time to practice. The bear needs sewing, and so does my life. It’s been alone all this while. Now, we are together. Don't leave me behind again, okay? If you do, I’ll find you again. Another 20 or 40, it doesn’t matter. I’ll find you again. But for now: Welcome home, Father. Claire.
About the author N.T. Cloever is the creative pen name of Norman T. Chella, a polymath on culture, society, and communications. As Norman, he is a freelance writer, speechwriter, public speaker, and voice-over talent. He pulls wisdom from different kinds of fiction and nonfiction sources and turns them into actionable steps for the right audience. This can be in any format: video, audio and/or pure writing. N.T. Cloever was made as a way to do the same in a creative manner: turning lessons into stories, and delivering worlds to the audience. He narrates his stories at the Tempered Fables, a short story podcast available on iOS, Android, and various apps including Spotify. Cloever takes readers and listeners on a journey through his mind, and leaves them with wisdom to use in everyday life. We are always in need of wisdom after all. You can find all of Norman's works at Grey Nautic.
NECESSARY EXPENSE Sarah Anne The harpy’s wings stretched to match her high-pitched whine as she tossed the stack of mail over her cup of cold instant coffee. “What do we have to skimp on this month?” a drowsy voice floated to her. She turned to the growing ripple at the rim of the large pool tank in the corner of the room, and smiled as the merman rose. “Nothing, dear. Just the landlord sending another ‘reminder’ about avoiding water damage. I swear; why did that gargoyle agree to rent to merfolk if he was going to be this paranoid about moss?” She groaned, stretching her wings out once more. “Well, we are in an apartment with a family of wood gnomes living below us,” he chuckled, tapping the thermostat slightly. “Did I wake you? I’m sorry,” she flew into his arms, nuzzling against his cold scaly chest. “Nah, the water is just feeling a little warm again,” he floated backwards into the water, pulling her with him. Her wings spread out, enjoying the water soaking into her feathers. The water was colder than the room, but she knew a freshwater merman needed mountain-cold water for the best habitat. The water they were in now felt almost roomtemperature.
Damn, that meant the outside pump needed replacing again. She gritted her teeth at the memory of the sleazy yellow troll who had sold the parts to her, boasting at how even the merfolk consulate ordered their parts from his business. Liar.
In response, his arms tightened around her and he started to click and hum a soft song. She stared up into his face, apologising silently again, but was met with a sleepy smile that was almost impossible not to kiss. She raised her wings and splashed the water around them, making him laugh and pretend to pull her deeper into the water. Wrapping her legs around him in an attempt to pull him out of the water, she felt her talon brush against something unnaturally smooth and waterproof under his hip fin. “Wha–what happened?” she cried out, moving his fin to reveal a large bandage on the underside of his fin and legs. “Ah, work accident,” he sheepishly chuckled and straightened himself, pushing his lower half away from her. “That’s the third time in two months! What’s happening in that diner?” She tried to pull him back to inspect the wound, but he twisted out of her reach. “It’s fine, sweetheart. I got worker’s compensation.” He smiled and swam around her in teasing little circles, pulling at her wings. When she didn’t respond, only staring at her feet down in the water, he gave up and hugged her tightly. “I’m fine, really. It’s just a scratch,” he hummed into her hair. She kissed him tenderly, wishing whatever slightest pain he felt away. The clock chimed on the wall, signalling the evening hour. The night market was open. They dislodged from each other, groaning at the chores that awaited them. She gave him one more kiss before leaving the pool and shaking out the water from her wings. She had to be careful drying herself off all the time in this house. Another broken lamp would be one more unnecessary expenditure. “Do you want to come with?” She fetched her bags for groceries and tidied the mail she had strewn all over the table. “I’m fine, darling. I’ll just nap a bit more. Got the graveyard shift tonight.” He sunk back down into the pool until only his head showed. She stared at the pool in its entirety, remembering its temperature and the nature of its inhabitant. “Would you like me to buy some ice?” she asked. “It’s alright. The night makes the water cooler. We’ll deal with it tomorrow. Happy shopping!” He waved her off.
The journey down to the fifth-floor platform was noisy with whole families gearing up for the nocturnal day—night schools, marketing, graveyard shifts. She nodded apologetically to the wood gnomes lingering in the hallway, who quickly tried to reassure her of some new mangrove wood they had to help with water logging; and almost flew out a hall window to avoid the landlord coming up the main staircase. “No flying indoors! And fix that damn pump of yours! It’s making a mess on the side of the building!” he called after her as she zipped by him. She waved over her shoulder with her armful of empty bags, shooting another apologetic smile to the old crone slowly squeezing herself against the wall to get out of their way. “Almost there,” she muttered, sighing at relief at the sight of the fifth-floor platform. All manner of winged residents were taking off, headed to wherever they had to be. Clutching the shopping bags in one talon, she took off. The wind was chilling to her damp wings, but soon warmed up with all the urban emissions. Bright, twirling lights flashed by her, marking all the places she couldn’t land for a quick rest in the flight path to the city. She was tempted to land on the monorail dredging past, like some of her other winged brethren who twittered and sung to her to bend the system and join them. Everyone was going to the same stop anyway. The red and blue split-second flash she spied emanating from the ground level made her think twice, however. The paranoia of getting ticketed made her stay true to her mode of transport, leaving the tweets and hoots behind. Another unnecessary expenditure, and a rather big one at that. The big green, white, and blue supermarket sign loomed in the distance, greeting the myriad of nocturnal patrons. At least another 20 minutes airborne journey. Quite purposefully, she veered right and downwards, to the community below the rail. She descended quietly, much like an owl. A couple of grounders, sleepy goblins and tired imps, jumped and squeaked in surprise at her sudden landing. “Sorry!” she called out, tucking her shopping bags under her wing to keep them clean. She walked-hopped along the dismal underpassage, avoiding little bits of uncollected trash and litter on the street. She kept the tips of her wings up, her gaze focused on the many old neon signs lining the alley. 22
The flickering and intensity of the lights in the area quickly induced a headache, and she resorted to looking at eye-level cues for her destination. A simple red and white fat cross was almost hidden from view, outshined by a blaring, flashing sign for dragon-made dumplings. She ducked from the main waiting line for takeaway and practically slid into the narrow door of the clinic. “Hi,” she greeted a tired troll nurse at the pharmacist desk. The nurse looked up, studying her wings. “You’re back rather quickly,” the nurse said, recognising her wing pattern of black feathers with silvery streaks. “Yeah, something needs fixing, so I need cash.” She shrugged. “You and everyone here, honey,” The nurse gestured for her to take a seat at the row of yellow plastic chairs. Her timing was lucky. The tiny clinic was almost empty—the day crowd having finished all their business and the night crowd still taking their time. Another harpy waited before her, her wings small and tawny. In her wing-arms, she cradled a small egg, most likely her own. She smiled at her kin, and settled down. The waiting room was chilly, and the cold surfaces nipped at her feet and elbows. She stroked her wings, mentally running through what she needed to buy from the supermarket later. She also pondered on buying a new pump filter. Going back to that troll made her anxious, and for good reason. That one could out-charm a vampire, given the chance. But the tank needed fixing and she wondered how her love managed to get quality rest. Perhaps that was why he kept sustaining injuries at work. How long had he been enduring that uncomfortable temperature? She buried her head in her hands, scolding herself for not noticing sooner. Looking back now, she’d noticed he kept tapping the thermostat almost habitually while he was in the pool. The harpy next to her leapt to her feet so quickly she nearly stood absentmindedly as well. A scrawny werewolf in a doctor’s coat stared at the both of them, and nodded to the tawny harpy. She ran into his room quickly, and he smiled at the nonplussed nurse before closing the door behind him. The chilling cold made her sleepy, and she couldn’t help but imagine this was like one of those high-end refrigerated coffins the mod vampires 23
trended after conventional freezer cases. She wrapped her wings tighter around her, encasing herself in a feathery blanket. Opposite her, the nurse nodded off over a furniture magazine she must have thumbed through at least a dozen times. The door to the doctor’s office creaked open and the tawny girl exited as quickly as she had gone in. It was a fleeting glimpse, but she noticed how red the girl was in the face, and how she wasn’t cradling her egg anymore, but held a fat red envelope in its place. The girl was on the verge of tears, but remained composed enough to sign off with the nurse before running out into the night. The doctor cleared his throat, welcoming the next patient into the room. She folded her shopping bags neatly into a pile and left them on the yellow chair. The doctor’s room was no less cold than the waiting room, although the patient’s seat had been warmed by his previous visitor. The doctor sat heavily in his swivel chair and waited for her to get comfortable. “Feather sale?” he confirmed. She nodded. He gestured for her to splay her wing-arms out, and flipped through a thick clipboard to her records. “Two previous extractions, a covert and an alular. I’d say the value lies in the one that makes up the pattern,” he studied her wings again. Holding up pictures of her previous two transactions, he pointed to the potential feathers that would complete the set, grouped near her joints. Her face contorted. Those would hurt. She selected a particularly long one from her scapula, hoping that it would be worth a little more than the previous two. The doctor assured her it would, given its length and many silvery streaks. She got onto her stomach and felt the doctor slide the chosen feather into a plastic sleeve. The thing about feather extractions—it was quite similar to pulling a tooth. Without any hesitation, he plunged a needle full of numbing agent into the root of the feather, and waited for too short a moment before attempting to wiggle the feather loose. She gritted her teeth, a stinging pain building in that feather’s follicle in protest at the sudden dislodging. Her hands clasped the sides of the bed, and she suppressed the grunt of pain building in her throat. With a few more firm yanks, the feather came loose, and pain filled its cavity. The doctor practically slapped an alcohol swab on the wound, his focus fully on the feather and its intactness.
When she managed to sit up again, he thrust a red envelope her way. Ignoring the pain, she opened the packet and counted its contents. “Wait, there’s one-kay short from last time?” She waved the envelope back at him. The doctor stared back, his gaze laced with indifference. “You’re not the only harpy that comes here now. Sorry, the trade has dropped. With your pattern, I can throw in another five hundred for completing the set, though.” He ducked down, grabbed a smaller envelope, and stuck it into the larger red one. As she counted the contents of that one, he cleared his throat again. “You know, we accept eggs now. It’ll draw in much higher prices than feathers. One goes for forty-five-kay,” he offered, his voice dropped low, as if he was conscious of the gravity of a proposal like that. An egg. A would-be child. She shot him a look, hoping her glare overpowered the horror that sparked it. “Just saying.” He raised his hands. She tucked her money under her wing, wincing at moving it. The doctor rose and opened the door for her, waving her off to the nurse. She avoided his glances, too embarrassed at the sight of her feather in his paw. The nurse documented the transaction, shooting her a sheepish sympathetic smile. Upon collecting her shopping bags, she left in a similar manner to the tawny girl before her—tears in her eyes, and a stinging pain in her gut. Spreading her wings, she took off quickly, eager to leave the alley behind. She resumed her flight to the supermarket, all the while grimacing at the pain in her back. She felt the air fill the gap of the lost feather. The throbbing ache persisted. The envelopes swung around in one of her shopping bags. She landed a bit more clumsily in the light of the supermarket, passing the bagged envelope from talon to hand. She tucked the envelope securely under her wing and headed straight to the frozen foods. She quickly located a pack of frozen carrots and pressed it to the wound, holding it in place by folding her wing tightly against her. She repeated the shopping list to herself again:
Vegetables—frozen carrots (8 bucks), water spinach (6 bucks a bunch, she bought two), arrowhead (7 bucks’ worth), sprouts (13 bucks), Fruits—peaches (12 bucks’ worth), apples (a bag of six for 4 bucks), pears (6 bucks’ worth) Meat—fish (25 bucks’ worth), rabbit (15 bucks’ worth), meal insects (5 bucks a bag) Cleaning products—tank sanitation tablets (a box of 100 for 28 bucks), nest pest remover (17 bucks a bottle), general floor cleaner (16 bucks a bottle), glass cleaner (8 bucks a bottle, she bought two) She paused and pondered over a can of crab meat. He would enjoy that. Her bill was already at 184 bucks. The can cost 12. 196 didn’t seem like such a big difference. But she still had to allocate some for the new filter pump. She slapped a wing to her head, calculating that cost in. The supermarket sold pumps for at least 1,200 at the size she needed. That troll would sell it to her at a 1,000. Defying herself, she swiped a can of crab meat into her cart and trudged off. The envelope became noticeably lighter, and she stuffed it almost angrily into the bag with her groceries. Balancing the now-full bags in both her talons, she took off begrudgingly, feeling the throbbing pain in her back reignite. The sound of whirring and the smell of grease and oil so thick it made you gag marked the chop shop. She landed on a light pole nearby, unwilling to take her groceries down to that level. Tying the bags securely to a foothold bar, she retrieved the red envelope of money and landed with what she hoped was an intimidating and impressive swoop. The chop shop fell silent at the casting of her winged shadow into the garage, but quickly resumed their work. She stood awkwardly for a few moments, folding her wings behind her. An imp screeched, calling a green-skinned goblin to attend to her. Immediately, he began pitching to her, rattling off services catered to harpies. Frames for nests, perches, cages if they wanted one, flying accessories, everything accompanied by a quick fascinating showcasing of the many different graded metals the shop had to offer.
Soon enough, however, the large lumbering yellow troll recognised her and silenced the goblin, sending him off to reorganise a pipe rack. “Angel! Welcome back! How’s the water pump I sold you two moons ago?” He grinned so wide she almost took a step back. “Why do you think I came back?” she straightened, puffing her wings out. “Aww, Angel! Come to tell me to expect more customers as per your recommendation?” He flashed that nauseating grin again. “No. The component you sold me malfunctioned. Again,” she said flatly. The yellow troll made a big show of being shocked and confused. How could the component degrade so quickly? It was merfolk consulate grade! Something must be corroding it from the main system. Was she getting a high supply of chemically treated water? There were organic components in the filter sensitive to things like that. How ‘bout the pressure? Upflow could potentially wear out the valves in the pump. Or maybe a neighbour tampered with it? Or her landlord? He was wearing her out with his ramblings. His excuses, combined with the dull pain in her back and the sickening envelope hidden in the folds of her wings, were exhausting. She resisted the urge to screech in his face, a primal habit, and instead grated her talons on the tar road. “I’ll figure it out. Just get me a new one.” She waved him off. The troll smirked, excusing himself to an office space just next door. She waited with borderline anxiousness, and turned to survey the condition of her groceries. A curious imp had crawled up the light pole, and was about to make off with her canned crab meat before she shrieked and flapped ferociously, startling it away. Pain shot down her back, and she regretted not just flinging a loose brick. The red envelope fell to the ground, right at the yellow troll’s feet. Before he could bend down, she snatched it up and tucked it back in the folds of her wings. “Hey now, Angel. You aren’t … selling yourself, are you?” She declined to answer, focusing instead on the white box he held. “This one lasts. Warranty 6 months. I promise.” He handed it to her, surprisingly gentler in speaking. “One-kay, like last time?” She opened the envelope and started dividing the remaining cash. Unsurprisingly, he nodded, albeit silently. She packed his fee into the smaller envelope and traded it with the troll for the box. He even helped 27
her tie some wire around it for easy carrying. His obnoxiousness returned as he bid goodbye to her, giving her the usual spiel of recommendations and product guarantee as she flew away. She reached her apartment complex a little after midnight, hoping he had already left for his work shift. To be safe, she flew past the landing pad and up to the roof first. Plopping her shopping safely onto a ventilation box, she fluttered down to the water pump hatch with the white box. The leakage was obvious, discolouring the blue wall around it a sickly grey. It was simply good luck the landlord hadn’t charged her for the water damage yet. Carefully perching on top of a cable pole, she unboxed the new pump component and figured out which way it needed to be inserted. Juggling the box, the component, the act of popping open the hatch, and the pain throbbing down her back, she clung on to the wall like a bat and fixed the water filter. The new component filled with water, a clearer and more satisfying sloshing sound travelling through it. Checking all the gauges once more for good measure, she wiped down the hatch with the packaging paper and closed it. Upon landing at the now-quieter platform, she shook her wings out and preened, trying to remove traces of her having visited the doctor’s alley, the chop shop, and the water pump hatch. The pain in her back still lingered, but the satisfaction of having accomplished her mission gave her strength to not focus on it. Her shopping bags sat nearby, plump, with the red envelope buried under her fruit and vegetables. Discarding the box in the community bin, she gathered her shopping and happily trotted back to her quarters. “Welcome home!” he greeted her cheerfully, splashing about in the tank. She froze for a moment, her hopes of him not being home stinging her like the pain of her extracted feather. Her wings bristled, paranoid of still having traces of workshop gunk on its tips. “Hi, love. I thought you already left?” She tried to saunter in as nonchalantly as possible, plopping the bags noisily down on the table. Her grip on the bag of fruits and veggies refused to lessen, and she was nearly paralyzed with fear that he would see the red envelope. “I was just about to. But the water… got better?!” The surprised chuckle in his voice made her try to force a smile to match his. He rose 28
out of the pool, his scaly skin glistening with moisture. “I was going to take a look at the pump outside but I guess I don’t have to anymore,” he smiled and wrapped his arms around her. Quickly, she flung her arms around him, burying her face in the crook of his neck to hide her face screwing up. His hug, although comforting, was crushing her wings together. The pain of the empty feather gap became almost unbearable. “Are you okay?” he asked. The genuine confusion in his tone made her feel sickeningly better. “I have to tell you something,” she said breathlessly, wiggling her wings out of his hug. He waited expectantly, a puzzled smile on his face. His dark eyes gleamed, reflecting her in his gaze. She absolutely hated how confused she herself looked. She could get away with this. “I did speak to the landlord about what could be wrong with it. I think he did something?” she shrugged, feigning as much confusion as she could. His stare lingered on her for length that made her want to squirm out of his arms. She hated how quiet he could remain to get things out of her. Finally, she noticed his gills pulsate in a deep breath. “Huh. Never took him for a handyman. I guess he takes building maintenance more seriously than he lets on.” He chuckled. “Right?” She grinned back. “Go to work! I gotta put the shopping away!” She tapped his chest hard and pulled him in for a kiss. She twisted away from him before he could say anything else and grabbed the rest of the bags. “Do you need me to—” he tried to say, but she cut him off. “Nah, babe, I’m fine! Go—go on to work yeah.” She busied herself with putting away the shopping, beginning with the cleaning products. His cold touch to her back took her by surprise, but she managed to swallow the yelp. He cupped her neck and turned her face to him, planting tender kisses from her forehead to her mouth. For a moment, she thought his eyes flickered to the bag of produce, but he kissed her again, erasing the thought. “Okay. Satisfied. I’ll see you when I get back, yeah.” He grinned sweetly. She leaned into him, snuggling, and watched as he went around the apartment, collecting his things.
“Have fun at work! And don’t get injured this time,” she added with real concern in her throat. “Don’t worry. If that kitchen boy dumps a whole frozen chicken in the fryer again, I will full out siren screech at him,” he puffed out his chest. She laughed, and waved goodbye as he left the apartment. Once he shut the door behind him, she exhaled a loud sigh of relief. The red envelope was emptied, its contents stashed into a plastic bag and into a nook high up in the ceiling above her perch,. Upon recounting, her frets were confirmed. The collective hoard fell short of the price she paid to buy the pump. She tossed the incriminating envelope into the little stove she lit for cold winters. Once it was reduced to indiscernible ash, she finally truly felt at peace for the night. *** He stood in the ugly neon light, frowning at the emptiness of the doorway beside the crowded restaurant. It was unnerving, how littleoccupied the white waiting room with yellow chairs was, save for a drowsy troll nurse at the counter. Sidestepping the line for takeaway dumplings, he shivered upon coming in contact with the cold, clean floor of the clinic. “Wow, you’re back. Like clockwork,” the nurse remarked to him. “Eh, you know. Diner pay ain’t covering rent for two.” He pursed his lips in a mock sulk. The nurse waved him over to the chairs, but he didn’t take a seat. The scrawny werewolf doctor was leaning expectantly in his doorway, a cup of steaming coffee in his hand. “Scale sale,” he identified himself. “Ah yes. Please.” The doctor swept his arm, inviting the merman in. The thin wooden door clicked shut behind him.
About the author Sarah Anne is an aspiring writer, with an affinity for monsters and mythical beings of the night. She has already published one story - a cheesy teen romance in local Malaysian anthology Champion Fellas under the title “Pretty Punches”. You are welcomed to figure her out through her blog of short stories (https://perfectionsglassgraveyard.wordpress.com/), Instagram (@sakailoves), and Twitter (@sakailoves). She has been reading before she started walking, and has been writing "Saya Sebatang Pensel" more times than she cares to remember. She also has recently rekindled her passion for drawing, and one day hopes to present the unique myths and legends of Malaysia to new generations.
CIGARETTES Eu Leon “It’s hard for me to quit smoking because I was brought up to never be a quitter in life. Quitting isn’t my life’s principle,” is a line I’ve used with people asking me if I ever thought about kicking the habit. More often than not, it brings some laughs. However, it’s no laughing matter where my expenses are concerned. Before continuing any further, I’d like to point out that it costs eighty-five cents a cigarette, with a pack of twenties (20 cigarette sticks) going for RM17. Now that is cleared out of the way, let’s start my daily breakdown. I’ll start with pooping. On average, passing motion costs RM1.70 (the price of two cigarettes) a day—I normally excrete twice. Maybe you’ve heard this myth before, that having a cigarette helps with defecation—it turns out to be true for me. A cigarette is a must whenever I’m bombing toilets, and I generally do it two times a day. Ask any smoker and, chances are, they’d tell you the same. Some would even agree that it’s syiok giler. On the bright side of things, the smell of smoke can sometimes mask worse smells like, say, digested durian and petai. Next, it’s my meals. I have 3 meals a day, so that’s one cigarette after each. RM2.55 all in all. It’s dessert. If you were to compare it with overpriced cakes at hipster cafes, it’s a bargain. (Bad joke?) When it comes to traffic jams, it really depends on how long I’m stuck in one. I’d kill time with a puff(s) and I’d say an hour in a jam costs 33
me two cigarettes (RM1.70). I’d sneak an extra if there were drivers who suddenly cut into my lane without a turn signal or any drivers of that sort. I think we can all agree we’ve all been there before. Having a “Yum Cha” session with friends who smoke can be tricky. If a friend is as a heavy smoker as you, it’ll be hard to keep tabs. Somehow or other, we’re thrown into a world of our own, and that bonding session is only going to spur us on to chain smoke (smoking a few sticks consecutively). And if you’re with a heavy smoker who loves smoking your cigarettes, that’s going to cost you half a pack easily (RM8.50). Ask any smoker and they’d share my sentiments of having people puffing from your pack through the night to be annoying. So, a little advice for all of you “social smokers” out there: if you’re planning to take more than two to three cigarettes from a smoker, buy yourself a damn pack, or better yet, don’t smoke at all. Boredom is one of the triggers for a smoke too, especially when it comes to waiting for a significant other or anyone in particular. It can revolve around anything, really, like waiting for a friend, girlfriend, family, or simply waiting for your turn at banks or the JPJ office (or any government institutions. Haha). I’d usually kill myself slowly just to kill time or, as I like to term it, commit “recreational suicide.” If you were to try to make “cents” of it all, I’d say it’s another RM1.70 (two cigarettes) for each wait ranging from 15 minutes to an hour. Moving on, stress can be correlated with an increased amount of cigarette intake. Many put it to be psychological when it comes to this, and it’s true. I liken it to stress-eating. Some people eat more when they’re stressed, smokers smoke more when they’re put into a similar position. The cost for this can range anywhere from one to five cigarettes, depending on the level of pressure one is going through. On average, I’d say it costs RM2.55, sometimes more. I think it’s safe to say that for many people, work is a huge contributor to this. Putting aside an environment with smokers, sometimes it’s just nice to step away from a job to have a few minutes to yourself, or even have small talk with a fellow smoker. To the latter, I like to think most smokers are friendly. For example, we’re always more than open to lend a light if we have a lighter!
There’s a general perception at work that smokers have more “break time” for each cigarette break. Many think of it as an excuse to “ular”, or skip a few minutes of work. I’ll have to admit that I’m guilty of it to some degree. Having five to ten minutes to yourself from a busy day is one of the small things in life I appreciate. But if my work is up to date, why complain? 35
With all that being said, I smoke, on average, a pack a day, so that’s RM17 down the drain daily. Multiply that by 30 days, and it’s a RM510 monthly commitment. Compile it into a yearly figure, and you’ll get RM6,120. I know how senseless it is to throw away that much money every year. This is putting aside miscellaneous triggers prompting me to smoke, like the amount of time stuck in a traffic jam, waiting, who I’m with, and stress levels. It’s important to point out that RM6,120 is a ballpark figure and it may be higher. Why? Well, there are mixed reasons, such as social events. When parties and whatnot are concerned, alcohol is always paired nicely with cigarettes and when I’m too much in the moment, I tend to be a chimney. I’d guess it’d be half a pack (RM8.50) if it were to be a long night of partying. Let’s just be clear that I do not do this often, but when it happens, it’s a bigger hole in my wallet (and lungs too). Other reasons, like awkwardness, can play an important role too. Imagine being in a situation whereby you’re with a group of people who rarely talks. That’s the time I’d sometimes excuse myself for a break from it all to go out for a smoke. I’d string along some smokers on the way, and during that smoking session, it normally helps to foster some bond, which brings me to my next point—sales. It’s common to find sales people who are smokers and there’s a good reason for that. One factor contributing to this is that you’re able to single out a particular client who smokes to have a talk somewhere away from distractions. Imagine being among a huge crowd and a potential customer of yours is a smoker. Offering him/her a cigarette outside while you both chat helps big time in building sales relationships. Of course, there are sales people who do not smoke at all. For those of you in that group, congratulations! If you’ve reached this part of my musing, kudos to you! I’ll be moving on to the second part: Why are there smokers? I can’t answer for everyone, but for me in particular, it started off as curiosity in school. When that’s added with peer influence, trying a stick or two is easy. During those days, a pack of fourteen cost RM5.50. It wasn’t until a few years later that they banned anything less than a pack of twenties. Cigarette prices having been increasing since, but by then, I was already deep into the addiction. Chances are, cigarette prices are only going to increase again. 36
I regret starting the habit but, as they say, old habits die hard. I’m curbing my intake for the moment but to say that I could stop completely remains to be a yearly resolution I postpone time and time again. I hope that I speak for smokers everywhere that smoking is more innate that most people think. I agree that it’s more of a psychological than physical addiction, and it’s no excuse for my bad habit, but quitting isn’t as easy. Some of you lot might be thinking, “Wait… I’ve known smokers who went cold turkey (stopping completely) and they could do it.” Sadly, I’m not one of them, and there are only a handful of these sort of people. You’d also need to consider that there are also cases of them reverting to their old ways, or sticking strictly to social smoking. I’ve talked to those who’ve gone through cold turkey successfully, and the thing they emphasized on was a stronger reason to quit than to continue smoking. Some wanted to be a good father, some had a health scare, some wanted to save money, but it all comes down to a personal reason. Sadly, I’ve not reached that level yet, just like many of other smokers out there. Let’s just put it this way. If smoking was that easy to quit, the tobacco industry would bankrupt instantly, and if that were the case, I’m positive that the government would lose tonnes of revenue. Why? Because every pack of cigarette is taxed at RM4. Trust me, I used to work in a cigarette company and that was how much it cost during my time. Yes, smoking is bad. Yes, smoking risks the health of those around you. Yes, smoking is a waste of money. Yes, I should quit. Everyone knows the hazards and if you don’t there’s always the google god. You have understand that I’m just doing my civic duty for the younger generation; the more I smoke, the less cigarettes will be available for the youth to smoke. (Bad joke again?) I’m not advocating smoking. On the contrary, I am against anyone starting the habit. It’s not cool. For those who are already stuck on smoking, I hope this piece of mine resonates with you that you’re not the only one trying to quit. Believe me when I say I know how hard it is to stop. As I write this, I’ve committed to trying to quit again, and hopefully, this time round, I’ll be successful. The pyramids weren’t built in a day, just as for people like me, quitting takes more than a day’s attempt. Good luck, smokers! And to non-smokers, believe me! We’re trying our best to not kill you with our second-hand smoke. 37
Maybe this year will be my year to finally kick my habit. Remember when I mentioned that it’s a solid personal reason that’ll overpower the urge to smoke? Well, I might have just found one or, specifically, someone.
About the author Eu Leon is a salesman in a coconut manufacturing company. When he is not writing e-mail proposals, he sometimes writes for pleasure. When he is not reading emails from customers, he sometimes reads fiction. Apart from that, he enjoys sleeping, eating, and spending time with family and friends.
AN APP-XPENSIVE MISTAKE Sumi S Friday, 18th of February 2016 I heaved a sigh of relief as I checked my bank account online on Maybank2U’s website. The refund I had been waiting for had finally been banked in. That Friday night, I slept like a baby for the first time in days. The storm had finally passed and it was an incident that I would never, not even in my worst nightmares, like to relive. Sunday morning, 13th February 2016 Lazy Sunday mornings were a time for sleeping in, and sleeping in was all I cared to do after a stressful midterm week at university. Getting in those last ZZZ’s before the ongoing rush of classes and assignments to complete on Monday. For a brief moment, I heard my door open and my brother ran in trying to wake me up and then ran out again. I was annoyed and tried to go back to sleep until at noon, my Mom came into my room, and demanded that I wake up and go to the bank to withdraw some cash. “Huh? What money? I barely have any allowance,” was my protest as I struggled to stir awake.
“Your Dad banked in some money for your allowance, hurry up and eat your breakfast and go to the bank right away. Some of the money is for me.” Deciding to not argue any further, and ecstatic that I finally received my allowance, I washed up and proceeded to have some breakfast. I 40
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decided to check Maybank2U for the amount of money my Dad had banked in for my allowance and see how much of it was allocated for my Mom. As the browser loaded, I was shocked to see only RM200. “Mom! Dad didn’t even bank in much money, what are you talking about?” I huffed, annoyed that I had been woken up mistakenly just for a miniscule amount. “He banked in RM1,000,” she replied. I refreshed the browser again—only to have the same bank balance of RM200 staring back at me. A sinking feeling stirred in my gut and I checked the Transaction History page. Indeed, there it was, evidence of my Dad’s transfer of RM1,000; part of which was meant for my allowance and another part of it was meant for my Mom. With a shaky breath, I called out to my Mom and told her that though Dad had banked in the specified amount, all there was left in my account was just RM200. Immediately, my Mom’s eyes widened like saucers. “Gullu!!!” she yelled, “No wonder he was in such a hurry to go Fahim’s house!” I was confused. Gullu, as he was affectionately called, is my nineyear-old brother. How could a child, of all people, have used up RM800? I calmly told her that it was impossible. Though my brother did use my App Store account, it is always password-protected when there are purchases involved. “No, it is definitely your brother. I am bringing him back at home now,” yelled my Mom as she left the house to retrieve him. The sinking feeling in my stomach grew, if my brother had spent such an exorbitant amount of money on apps, then how the heck was I going to get back the money? My Mom arrived a couple of minutes later with my brother. Normally, Gullu is a talkative and bustling child, but today he was deathly quiet. “Did you buy any games on the app store?” I asked but didn’t get a reply. He was quiet which meant that he did. “Answer your sister! Did you buy any apps?” More silence followed, and then he spoke “But they never asked for a password so I thought it was okay!” I snatched his iPad out of his hands and asked him “Show me what you bought that cost 800 bucks.”
He opened up the app and showed me the recent purchases, bought around 15 minutes ago. Not one, but TWO $99.99 value packs had been purchased in the app, amounting to approximately 200 U.S dollars. It was at that moment, right there that the sinking feeling in my gut completely consumed me. My mind just went blank and, for what felt like an infinite moment, I just didn’t feel present in my body anymore. I mean, how on earth did they not ask for a password, especially for a purchase that cost more than RM800? “What do we do now?” asked my Mom. Instead of replying, I ran to my room straight away and quickly searched for Apple’s Customer Service Hotline. I dialled the number as quickly as I could, only to receive an automated response stating that they were closed on Sundays. I ran back to my Mom and told her that we needed to leave for the nearest Apple store in KLCC right away. “They might know what to do and how to get the money back,” I said, trying to convince her. I was more likely I was trying to convince myself. Throughout the drive to the KLCC, I kept praying internally, ‘Please please pleeeease Jesus Buddha Allah or Satan, whomever is hearing my prayer and whomever gets the job done of answering my prayer, pleeeeease let everything be alright again!’ Every step I took towards the Machines store felt painful and slow. I patiently waited for our turn behind the service counter whilst repeating my internal prayer for help. When it came to my turn, I looked around hesitantly and felt hyperaware of people around me, afraid that they might eavesdrop on my complaint. I proceeded to calmly explain my situation to the consultant and watched in dread as his expression and those around me turned into horror and half-hearted sympathy. “You have to call them tomorrow and explain your situation. Don’t yell or be angry otherwise they’ll be less likely to help you. I’m sorry but there is nothing else you can do besides calling them on Monday,” he advised. I thanked him and tried to avoid eye contact with the eavesdroppers as I walked out of the store. “What did he say?” my Mom asked. I couldn’t bring myself to speak. “What did he say? Don’t make me repeat myself twice!”
An APP-xpensive Mistake
Instead of answering her, I looked directly at my brother and shook him. “Why did you have to buy 100 dollar apps? Now how are we going to get the money back?” My Mom yanked my brother out of my hands and yelled at me, “We’re in public, this will wait until we get home. Now, what did he say?” I couldn’t bring myself to look at her and tried to hide my tears, “There is nothing that we can do today. We just have to go home and call the customer service online tomorrow.” Unlike the drive to KLCC, the drive back home was not made of insistent prayers to divine or demonic entities. I was filled with rage and despair instead of pleas. This Sunday was supposed to be my day off, instead I had to deal with this unforeseen inconvenience. “Call your Dad,” said my Mom as she tried to shake me out of my rage. I had completely forgotten about my Dad and grew worried at how angry he might be. “Wait what? Why? He’s not even in Malaysia right now,” I protested. “Call your dad and tell him what happened as he might know how to solve this.” My hands shook with terror as I reached for my phone and dialled his number. “Yes, Sumi?” he said. “Dad…” I hesitantly cleared my throat, “Something just went wrong” “What? What did? Did you receive the money I had transferred?” I cleared my throat again. “I did… but Gullu accidentally spent RM800 worth of apps and now there is only RM200 left in my account…” There was a long pause. My Dad did not say anything and I thought this was it, I better find a new family to live with now. “How does one spend RM800 on apps? Bloody bastard, this is all your bloody fault!” he screamed and hung up. I trembled as I put down my phone, I was absolutely shaken. Never in his entire life had my Dad ever raised his voice at me and today he just cussed me out. “What did your father say, Sumi?” asked my Mom. Still astounded at my Dad calling me a bloody bastard, I just couldn’t bring myself to reply. When I finally did, I yelled, “He just called me a 43
bloody bastard! This is all stupid Gullu’s fault, he never ever should have been born!!!” and threw my phone at the dashboard in anger. My Mom kept quiet about the ordeal, until a couple of minutes later she screamed. The day had turned from bad to worse as the phone I had just thrown hit Gullu’s nose bridge instead of the dashboard. My brother’s nose was bleeding quite profusely but thankfully we had already reached our apartment complex and was able to ice it. “No matter what he did, he is still your brother!” screamed my Mom. Unable to bear with her anger, my anger, and the overall day’s events, I ran to my room and locked myself in. My Mom left with Gullu again, this time to a nearby clinic to get his nose checked out and bandaged. After they left, and I had heard the main door shut, I just completely let myself go. For the first time that day, I let myself experience all the anxiety and dread built up within me to its fullest; I cried and cried, trying my best to release all the pent-up emotions. But the more I cried, the worse I felt and, in that moment, I just felt completely alone in my despair. My Mom and my brother came back home an hour later, and thankfully, Gullu was alright. I didn’t speak to both of them, though, and spent the night locked in my room. Monday morning came by and I purposefully missed my 8am lecture. I wasn’t in the mood get back to the daily grind of classes and assignments, not until I had fixed this mishap. Wasting no time, the first thing I did that morning was call Apple’s Customer Service Hotline. I was determined to get back my money, and hopefully place myself back in good standing with my family members. When the customer service associate came on, for a moment, I was paralysed, but I came back to my senses and explained my situation to them. After two or three transfers, they finally directed me to the right associate, where I had to re-explain my situation again from scratch; explaining that my brother had made some unconfirmed purchases by accident. Thankfully, they mentioned it was alright, though this may be the first and last time I could allow this to happen. The associate did let me know that it would take up to seven working days for the money to be refunded into my bank account. I didn’t care about the length of time—I was just too happy to get the RM800 back. When the phone call ended, I breathed out all the anxiety and dread that had engulfed me since yesterday. Finally, the nightmare would be over. I was so happy that I could finally let this misfortune go, so happy to get back to my life. I let my Mom know that we would get our refund 44
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back in a week and whilst she was relieved, she admonished me again for yesterday’s mishap. When Gullu came back from school later that day, I apologised to him; that I really didn’t mean to hit his nose and he apologised as well for spending money on the apps. A week later, I received my refund from Apple. *** I have never forgotten that hellish Sunday; how a mistaken app purchase could bring about such turmoil in a matter of minutes. Money-related misfortunes are terrifying, and if anyone reading this ever finds themselves in the same situation, the most important but counter-intuitive suggestion I can give is to STAY CALM. Seriously, in hindsight, I should have known better than to throw my phone at the dashboard and to raise my voice against my parents. Panic clouds your judgement, and clouded judgements do not give rise to good solutions. When it comes to financial mistakes, people’s tempers and anxiety levels rise high and everyone is on their toes. Displaying your anger or lashing out at any anyone is just fuel for fire. The second suggestion, and I think this is very important whether or not you’re in a financial mishap, is to be NICE. Customer service associates do want to help, it is their job to fix any issues customers have. If I was unpleasant or demanding, if I had spoken in a brash and hurried manner, I probably would never have gotten my refund back. At the risk of sounding pseudo-philosophical, this experience shed a bit of light as to how terrifying it is to lose money. Although I did get a refund, I often stop myself and think about what would have happened if I hadn’t, if the customer service associates had refused me. I shudder at these thoughts, and am just glad I lived through this experience. Needless to say, no family member of mine purchased many apps after that.
About the author Sumi S is a full-time student in the U.K currently pursuing her studies in psychology at an undergraduate level. Unfortunately, she is not telepathic and cannot read minds. An avid reader of books (though the time is now spent devouring scientific literature) and an amateur writer, she grabbed this chance of showcasing her App Store misfortune in hopes of preventing further app-related mistakes. Thanks to the incident, Sumi is now very careful in managing what little money she has and tries to not succumb to the pressure of sales, though online shopping may win the struggle at times.
CONDO Aina Izzah For my mother The flesh stank of mud, grass, and faeces but the organs inside were cold. Farrah heaved, slowly trying to regain a steady breathing as she slumped beside the immobile animal; a dead pig with its belly slit, displaying its intestines. The iron-scented blood and odour of coins pierced her senses, the key on her palm heavy after she’d retrieved it from inside the beast’s stomach. It didn’t bother her that she’d had to win the game by burrowing her hands inside a pig’s corpse because it was like cutting through meat, but she’d been taken aback by the pungent stench and the maggots crawling on the animal’s skin. The alarm went off and the dim lights in the room brightened as the game show host came in, clapping his hands. “Well done, Miss Farrah! You and other two contestants, Darryl and Ria, are successful in this level,” the host, Rajah, exclaimed and made a show of his dark blue robes while he cantered towards her as if in a dance. Farrah rolled her eyes and nodded at the pig’s glassy eyes, “So the others didn’t have the guts to do this?” Rajah shook his head and grimaced at the carcass, “I guess they don’t like white meat. Now, as promised, for winning this level, you will 47
receive a lump sum of RM2,000. Again, you have the choice of keeping the money for the contest or transferring the dough to a bank account for the personal use of your family and friends.” Farrah stared at the blood crusting under her fingernails as she pondered her decision. For the last three months, Farrah and ten other contestants had been participating in a game show called ‘Condo’ that would be aired on national TV, where they were required to stay in a seven-storey condominium in the middle of a treeless nowhere. The competition was quite simple; each contestant was given a room and required to participate in games organised on each level. If they won, they would be given a certain amount of money. They could choose to keep the money in their own care until the end of Condo to raise a minimum of RM10,000 to qualify for the final stage at the top of the condominium, or they could write the money off to their relatives and even strangers for their use. It may seem a bit odd for a competitor to decide on the latter, considering the prize was RM1 million and a penthouse in a condominium similar to the one they were currently staying in, but the economy was bad, jobs were scarce, and there was a spike of homelessness in the country, causing many to cave to unique alternatives like game shows and reality TV to make money. Farrah had had to leave home for work because she had younger siblings to feed and her mother couldn’t afford to hire a maid or a nanny. Condo had come to Farrah’s knowledge unexpectedly in the form of flying brochures in the middle of the street opposite the building Farrah had been heading to for a job interview. Farrah turned to the four cameras situated in every corner of the room and said, “I think I’ll give this one to my mother.” After all, she had kept all the money she’d won in the last five levels. “Great, we’ll make an arrangement for that. Clean up and rest, because tomorrow is a big day on the sixth level. You’re so close to the finish line.” Rajah’s eyes twinkled and, on cue, displays of fireworks were featured on the room’s white walls. An invisible audience screaming “Hurrah!” cracked the speakers. Farrah surprised herself by smiling at Rajah who quipped as he left, “Oh, and don’t forget the key in your hand. You’re getting a new room with that. How exciting!” Farrah almost slipped on the sticky pool of blood on her way out. She passed the camera crew and the producer as she waited for the lift to
go to her new room on the sixth floor, cheers still looping in the background. *** There was always a denseness on Farrah’s shoulders when she was in a new place, almost like unfamiliarity had taken the form of a shadow and settled itself in the surroundings, making Farrah uneasy as she lay on the hard bed with a silk blanket. A large mirror had been fixed on the ceiling, overseeing everything. She sat up in the darkness. The only light in the room were tiny red dots from the cameras inside the room. Those dots had become her friends for the past few months, being cut off from society and forced further into loneliness when there was barely any communication with other contestants. Farrah sighed. When she had arrived in Condo, the first level had seemed quite innocent—the rules of that stage was to survive on RM10 for three days. The allowance was to be spent at the market inside the condominium where they could buy food, beverages and toiletries. Farrah did well in that level, eating ramen, drinking only water, and even fasting for a few meals, but as the contestants climbed upwards in the high-rise, the challenges became more difficult—one of the challenges had been for the participants to raise RM100 on their own within two hours. Since there were actors in the building living as the contenders’ “neighbours”, some of them had elected to beg for the money, steal, sell an item from their room, and even more controversially, offer sexual services to the actors. Anything was allowed as long as they could cough up RM100 in the limited period. Farrah had sold her grandmother’s gold necklace to an elderly actor playing a retired lecturer with a hobby of gardening cacti, even though it was worth more than a hundred bucks. For the other stages, Farrah had been careful in her decisions and she’d made sure she had enough money for the final level. From the monitor hanging in her room, she could see the amount of cash she’d collected: RM10,525. The interview that she’d missed, when she’d gone to the production company for Condo’s auditions instead, had been for a sales assistant position at a retail store. She had graduated with a diploma for teaching, but those in the academic sector had been leaving the industry since many potential students were unable to maintain the tuition fees and
chose instead to break prematurely into their career phase in order to aid their family’s financial problems. Farrah gazed outside her window overlooking the desert to the show crew’s trailers. White lights blazed among them, mimicking that of spectators in a stadium, as if they were not alone. “I want to go home,” Farrah whispered to the lights. One of them flickered in understanding. *** “Would you like me to repeat the rules of this stage again? Are you not clear?” Rajah’s brows furrowed at the three participants’ faces when they nodded in unison. Rajah sighed and held his arms out as if he was holding out the layout of the game for them. “On the sixth level, each contender must choose between two doors. Behind one door is a briefcase with RM3,000. The other door leads to a person you must rescue before the whole room is flooded with water. Now, bear in mind that you must unlock both doors to win, but you can choose which door to open first. Whichever door you choose, you will only be given seven minutes. If you decide to open the door with the briefcase first, you will still win RM3,000 even if you fail to save the person in the other room. However, if you settle on saving the person first, the time given is still 7 minutes for you to rescue him and get the briefcase in the other chamber, though, if you fail to do both, you will not get the money.” Farrah raised a hand, “Are you trying to tell us that there is a risk of someone drowning?” She realised then why the costume maker had given the contestants swimming suits for the challenge. “No, I’m trying to tell you that there is an opportunity to win RM3,000.” Rajah smiled but his eyes darkened in annoyance. The sirens blared to initiate the game and Rajah pointed at Farrah, “Farrah will start first!” Darryl and Ria were ushered out of the set and Farrah was brought to a grey hallway lit up by lights on the walls. At the end were two doors painted red. Rajah’s steps were silent behind her but she could hear his cheery humming and the shuffling of the crew and producer. Rajah stood beside her when they reached the doors. “As you can see on the screen, the timer is set to seven minutes. Have you made your decision on which door you would like to unlock first, Farrah?” 50
Farrah turned to the entrances separated by a thin wall. The floor near the doors was sunken, which she guessed was so the water wouldn’t overflow into the foyer. She didn’t know who she had to rescue but she couldn’t let a stranger drown. “I’m going to save the person in the room first.” Rajah clapped his hands. “An honourable choice. When you hear the sirens, the door will open. There will be a set of keys hanging inside the room which you can use to release the chains of the person inside. The water will start pouring in after the first minute. If you succeed, you will use one of those keys for the briefcase in the other chamber. Do you understand?” Farrah gulped and nodded as she prepared herself, hoping she wouldn’t panic once the water came in. “Good luck, Miss Farrah!” Rajah yelled over the deafening alarms. The door opened, and Farrah ran into the room to see a man with a black bag over his head, chained to a chair. She grabbed the seven keys on the wall and almost sliced her finger on the rusty chains. “Are you alright?” Farrah asked the masked man. His retort was a muffled mumble. The water came down like heavy rain from holes in the ceiling after Farrah released the first two locks and the wetness seeped into the fabric of her suit. Farrah’s breaths were fast and icy. She tried to calm herself by counting downwards from a hundred while she continued to push keys into the small locks, unclasping one after the other. The man moved as the chains loosened around him and, after Farrah opened a lock which immobilised his arm, he took the bag off his head. He was one of the contestants who had been eliminated in the previous stages. Farrah couldn’t remember his name; she only recalled how he’d failed on the third level of Condo when they’d had to raise RM100. “Be quick, will you?!” The man tried to shake himself free as the water reached his waist. Farrah yelled, “Can you stop? I still need to open two more.” The timer beeped at the fifth minute and Farrah hurriedly freed the imprisoned man from the final lock before trudging through the piercing cold waves to open the next door. “You have two minutes left, Miss Farrah!” Rajah called after her, standing in the hall connecting the two rooms. A quick glance showed her he was now wearing rubber boots and a transparent rain coat to protect him from the water. Without thinking 51
and in the chaos of anxiety, Farrah kicked down the other door and ran into the next room which held a briefcase chained to a lone table. She used the only key left in her hand to unlock the chain and almost laughed when she lifted the heavy case. Outside, the cameramen focused on her expression as she kneeled on the wet floor in exhaustion, her suit clinging to her skin and the briefcase almost slipping through her trembling fingers. The sirens boomed to signal the end of the seventh minute and Rajah congratulated her for completing the test while a crew member gave her a hand and wrapped her in a heated blanket before bringing her to recover and change in another room. The challenge would continue with Darryl and Ria. *** All the lights were suddenly on in her room and Farrah groaned when she sat up on her bed. Her body was aching and her head throbbing. There was a knock on her door but Farrah was too tired to move so she waited until the person opened the door himself. It was the producer. He waited at the doorway for Farrah to allow him in and she did so with a wave of her hand and a question, “You couldn’t wait until tomorrow?” The producer shook his head, “I’m afraid not. You’ll be going against Ria tomorrow in the final stage on the seventh level and I need to tell you something that will affect that.” Ria, unlike Darryl and Farrah, had made the choice of opening the door to the briefcase first. Even though she could not free the person tied to the chair, she still won the money with her conscience safe when the chained prisoner was released before the water reached his shoulders. The producer dragged a chair across the maroon carpet and positioned himself at the end of her bed while Farrah gathered her blanket around her. “I see potential in you, Miss Farrah. The crew loves how you navigate through the games and the sponsors seem to picture you as an ambassador for their brands after seeing the raw footage of you in the challenges; you are simply likeable and we need that in our show.” The producer lit up a cigarette, a luxurious habit since cigarette prices had rocketed a few years ago. The aroma of the smoke was alien to Farrah. “We need you because you are our kind of winner. You choose to win by the book, you would rather make sacrifices than put someone in danger, and that purity is something that we need now. This is why we 52
made Condo; to show people that there is always light in the darkness.” The producer puffed the words in the air and Farrah mouthed them. “I don’t understand. What do you want with me, sir?” Farrah asked though she somehow guessed what was coming. The producer tapped the cigarette and the ashes fluttered on his shoes like the dying leaves in her neighbourhood. “We will make sure that you’re a winner. What we want in return is your loyalty.” Farrah could hear the lenses in the cameras zooming in. “What do you want me to do?” The producer stood to leave with only a short stub left burning through his fingers. “I want you to listen and nod. I want you to be the most loyal dog there is.” *** There was blood in her eyes and rage in her voice when Ria screamed, “Why are you doing this? Why can’t I compete?!” Rajah’s frown seemed rehearsed, as if he’d been practising for this moment in front of the mirror. “Miss Ria, I’m afraid the rules are that you have to collect the most amount of money for you to qualify for the finals, with a minimum of RM10,000.” He turned to Farrah and his eyes lit up, “And Miss Farrah has the highest collection at RM13,525, meaning she alone will go on the seventh level at the very top of Condo.” Ria pushed away the camera in front of her and stomped towards Rajah, “You said the contestants would be eligible for the final level if we had a minimum of RM10,000. I have RM13,451 in my account!” Rajah shook his head solemnly and pointed to the screens around them where the recording of him explaining the challenges and the regulations played. Farrah could see the part when he mentioned the rule that the contenders must have a minimum of RM10,000 for the seventh level had been edited out and replaced with a recently shot scene of Rajah exclaiming that, instead, the participants must have the highest collection in their accounts. The tears on Ria’s cheeks darkened her skin as if imprinting her emotion through her eyes, and the moan escaping from her throat was that of a wounded animal at the end of her line for survival; desperate and somehow dying. “Miss Farrah, if you could follow me to the seventh stage,” Rajah said, motioning for her to come with him. She’d just taken a step when she was jerked from behind as Ria 53
yanked the back of her shirt violently. It took a couple of people to get Ria off of Farrah, who covered her face from Ria’s claws and bites. Farrah kept her eyes closed in terror, listening to Ria’s shrieks as she was held down in the lift. Rajah snapped his fingers at a nearby paramedic to see to Farrah’s bleeding cuts and smeared lipstick. She was given a glass of water before they brought her to another lift to the seventh level. The lift’s doors opened swiftly to reveal a windowless red hall with many red lightbulbs on the walls. “Welcome to the seventh and final stage of Condo, where you will get the opportunity to win RM1 million and a penthouse. Everything you have done and gone through here in this building for the past three months has been for this; for you to stand proud in this very gallery and to bring home joy and prosperity. Miss Farrah, are you ready?” Farrah took in the vibrant colour of the room and nodded slowly. “The game today is quite simple. As you can see, there are two briefcases on the table there.” Rajah grinned as if he was sharing a secret with her, “One of those cases has the money in your account, which is RM13,525, while the other has RM2,000, or the cash you wished to transfer to your family. You must choose one. If you pick the case that contains the most money, you will win this round and you will be the first winner of Condo.” Rajah, the crew, and the producer left her in the hall and went to a backroom where they could supervise her task from behind a one-way mirror. Even though Farrah couldn’t see them, she could still hear them speaking over the microphone. “Alas, there is a twist, Miss Farrah,” Rajah warned through the speakers, “For as long as you are in this gallery, the temperature will rise and lights will grow brighter that they might even blind you. Time is ticking and the heat is rising. I only have to say that you must choose well and fast.”
The countless lights were turned on and Farrah could feel the humidity evaporating the coldness from the air conditioner as she walked quickly to the table in the middle of the hall where two burgundy briefcases were placed. Pearls of sweat beaded on her forehead and trailed at the back of her neck. When Farrah breathed through her
mouth, it was only hot air. The highest level of Condo was not the paradise she’d envisioned, but a furnace of invisible flames. Last night, before the producer left her to sleep, he’d thrown his burnt cigarette down beside her bed and said, “Whatever you’ll be facing tomorrow, you must choose right.” In the darkness under her blanket, she’d thought he meant that she must be right in her decisions for the final stage. However, at this moment in front of the desk, she realised his instruction was actually much simpler. You must choose right. It was not the rising heat burning her back but the producer’s sight on her that Farrah felt when she placed her hand on the case to her right and looked at her reflection in the large mirror where a crowd waited behind the glass. “I choose this one.” The lights began to dim in seconds and there was only bearable warmth in the room when the crew came in cheering. Rajah applauded and danced around her. “Congratulations, Miss Farrah! You are the winner of Condo!” Rajah gave emphasis to each word and it made Farrah giddy when the crew took turns shaking her hands and patting her on the shoulder. Over the next hour, Farrah packed her bag, the producer tailing behind her with schedules for their meetings, discussions about contracts, interviews with reporters, and talk shows until they entered the lift with the view of the desert outside. They were alone in the small lift, their silence was buried under the hum of the lift music until it was broken by Farrah. “Was it what you imagined? Was this show your vision for a light in a dark age?” The producer scoffed and shrugged, “I only wanted a game show just to keep the production company afloat. You’re going to delight the audience and other producers.” Farrah stared at the crew and the actors near the gates as they loaded the equipment and props in boxes and into trucks, while the participants carried their bags into the bus which had brought them to the building months ago. They’d come unprepared for the games, with only a drive to go back home winning. “You shouldn’t take any of this personally because you were just in the right place at the right time, Farrah. You should instead see this as an investment for your family’s well-being.”
A shadow passed by the lift’s frame. She thought it was fallen debris, but the reaction of the people below seemed unconvincing of her assumption when she and the producer could hear screams. They quickly went out of the lift as soon as the doors were ajar and pushed through the horde that was gathering and running about on their phones either making calls or recording the incident. “Let me through!” the producer yelled. The crowd parted for him and Farrah, letting them through to the centre. Lying on the concrete pavement, below the signage advertising Condo as an ‘exciting upcoming game show’, was Ria; her eyes were open and still, her lips were pale and her hair matted with blood. “She jumped from the balcony of her room,” Darryl gulped. A cameraman was shouting on his phone for the police and an ambulance. The producer ordered the crowd to stand back and not touch the body that was already losing its colour until the medical officers arrived from the nearest city. Farrah knew there was nothing they could do since it was impossible for Ria to have endured the fall. Rajah wailed from inside his trailer, watching the spectacle from behind the safety of the windows, whilst the others stayed afar in vehicles and in the building. “It’s a terrible accident,” gasped the makeup artist and she shivered when she saw the blood browning. Farrah fantasised that she was in Ria’s consciousness when she stood on the railing of the balcony, looking down at the persons on the ground marking the end of Condo. Desperation gripped her mind because she would return to her family empty-handed—the agreement she’d signed with the producer was only for the payment for partaking in the show, which was far less than the prize money. Ria had calculated the probability of the media being interested in her tragic death, the producer not wanting to air a show tainted with such a controversy, and her family reaching out for compensation to cure their loss and tragedy. “It’s not an accident,” Farrah whispered under her breath which only the makeup artist heard. Their gazes met when she finished her thought, “It was an investment.”
About the author A law graduate seeking to expand her writing career & an anomaly constantly expressing views on films, music & politics on Twitter (@ainaizzah). Had an experience of reviewing the local art scene under the website, The Daily Seni & written poems for school students for the Utusan Pelajar issues by Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad. Published several poems with the UK-based publication, Burning House Press & a short story titled, ‘The Divide’ in The Tudung Anthology by Matahari Books.
MANAGING FINANCES WHILE DOING A PHD Juntaki PhD standardly means Philosophical Doctorate, the highest level of Higher Degree Education conducted through a series of research modalities in universities. However, those familiar with the processes involved in such a tremendous commitment may be content with naming it “Permanent head Damage”. Intellectual devotion may not be the only challenge in such endeavours; PhD students are also expected to learn how to manage people. This includes supervisors, research participants, administrative personnel, technicians, fellow research students, competitors, deans, friends, family, and loved ones. A PhD can be very costly, affecting an individual’s ability to maintain stability financially, physically, and mentally. When enrolling into the appropriate institution, a potential PhD student needs to consider the cost of semester fees, living expenses, and research expenses. In order to fully gauge the advantages and disadvantages of universities available, one has to balance between fees, student rights, and the quality of the university’s services. Some universities are more student-oriented, while others may not be as much. The “thesis”, considered the holy final outcome of your hard work, mostly focuses on doing a literature review of current trends, a methodology of collecting your research work, analysing the data, interpreting it via discussion, and concluding your findings for the benefit of society. 59
At the time when I undertook my PhD studies, the situation in Malaysia went through a series of economic downturns, severely limiting my financial reach and effectively obstructing the flow of my PhD work. Pulling through my PhD was by far the most difficult challenge I had to endure, costing thousands of ringgit in addition to the rising and costly semester fees. Here, I will attempt to elaborate how I was able to
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effectively manage my finances during my PhD, from managing research funding allocation and personal allowances, to travel expenditures. I hope this information will prove useful for future PhD candidates who are determined to pursue a degree of their own. There are several things one needs to consider BEFORE enrolling in a PhD course. The top three things involve adequate funding, time allocation, and high degree of commitment. A PhD can be done fulltime (3–4 years) or part-time (5–7 years) with minor, optional, or mandatory courses depending on the country in which you pursue your PhD. Higher quality universities would, of course, be more expensive. Part time versus full-time, which is better? It depends on your social standing. The semester fees will be significantly cheaper for part-time PhDs, but generally require longer semester enrolment to complete. Private organisations are usually less supportive of postgraduate academic pursuits such as Masters or PhDs, since they value management skills and work experiences more from their employees. Most university academics are sponsored to pursue a PhD since it is part of their job requirements. They usually get a salary, a scholarship allowance, and research wages during the course of a PhD. This is the time where the money can be invested in fixed deposit accounts or Bumiputra-based investment schemes like ASB1, ASB2, and Tabung Haji. For those not in the academic line, I strongly suggest you pursue your PhD part-time. This is because opting for an academic leave will result in losing out on seniority, time-based salary increment, and promotion opportunities. Doing a part-time PhD will have better advantages, but may be taxing on your personal life. Only consider studying full-time if you have a spouse who is also pursuing a sponsored PhD in the same foreign country. Consider working online or enlist in part-time jobs if this happens to be your situation. It is very helpful to have extra income to support your personal and professional pursuits. In order to secure funds for your PhD research, there are a few avenues one might want to consider sourcing from. The first is faculty funding—each faculty has a pool of research capital, with schemes usually ranging between RM6,000 to RM10,000, for PhD students to apply for. This is the best option for postgraduate students since these schemes cater for rising young researchers working on smaller projects. Community-based award schemes are also friendlier and focus more on society rather than academic contributions. A PhD student should eye 61
this type of grant support scheme, ranging from RM8,000 to RM15,000, if their thesis does not revolve around fundamental groundwork. Higher level funding support includes internal grants at the university level and external grants from industrial support or government funding. However, these are usually not geared for PhD level as it requires a large programme conducted in teams. There is bountiful award money geared at fostering leadership, expressing outstanding contributions, and generating public interest in your work—this is another way of securing small and sporadic sources of funding, by winning awards for postgraduate competitions. I have won several awards which give out small sums of money that I add into my emergency funds for research purposes. This includes the famous 3minute thesis competitions, innovative award, student leadership awards, best poster presentation, and video compilation. The amount for each prize is very small and negligible, merely amounting to RM200 to RM1,500, but accumulatively, they can make mountains whilst improving your curriculum vitae. However, the majority of PhD students work part-time as tutors, examination invigilators, and teaching/research assistants, as well as correct exam papers and support academic workshops to fund their research. Whilst such work pays handsomely, positions are generally very competitive. One can expect about RM40 to RM100 per hour as the normal wage in this professional line. The most expensive part of the research process is during the collection of data phase, followed by the analysis phase. Research materials and consumables take a large portion of the funding allocation. In addition to that,large amounts of money would also be required to take up advanced courses in order to learn how to to analyse and interpret your data. Research costs in the arts and social sciences stream may be considered fairly lower than the science stream. This is due to funding required to purchase, maintain, and utilise instruments and lab equipment in science stream. However, the arts and social sciences stream may still require funding such as travelling expenses for data collection and multiple library fees to access various different literature. Sometimes, you may need more than one subscription because the library may not have all the journals, books, or proceedings you require. Library subscription fees are usually around RM100 to RM300 a year, and each library will have different catalogues. Science stream candidates should aim for a less “ambitious” method of research for their PhDs. 62
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For instance, consider refocusing your research objectives into linking societal impact and sustainable community developments, instead of solely trying to achieve novelty. This is especially important during a time where research allocation in Malaysia has been severely cut and is hard to come by. In general, research methods can be of quantitative and qualitative in nature, with each having its own pros and setbacks. It is generally cheaper to conduct qualitative researches. Such research often takes a significantly longer duration to analyse but may not be socially acceptable on its own in a science stream PhD. Quantitative research, on the other hand, is more “robust” and easily understood, but will cost more in order to acquire the skills required to analyse, interpret and, conclude on the data available. In both cases, PhD students are expected to allocate close to RM3,000 to RM4,000 for attending courses and consultation fees. Universities generally have common software required to analyse both types of data: Quantitative – SPSS, Matlab, GraphPad, Excel; or Qualitative: Windows Atlas, NVivo, Excel, so please check with them before purchasing your own. The next allocation that needs to be considered comes under travel expenses and subsistence. I saved a lot of money on airline tickets by accumulating Enrich points from Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Japan Airlines since they are a part of the One World alliance programme. I travelled to and from these countries a lot for my research work and I managed to accumulate enough points to redeem two international return tickets. AirBnB was my usual accommodation option because I preferred to stay in places that allowed me to cook for myself. You need a kitchen, since eating out is extremely expensive overseas. Travel expenses are for two reasons: to collect data in field work and to attend conferences. Attending conferences may not matter much to some universities, but it is equally important for you to gather feedback from experts in the same area face-to-face, since it is much faster than journal reviewers. You can also start establishing your own collaborative network via conferences and potentially suggest external examiners to review your work. It is generally better to attend international conferences since these is a melting pot for peer researchers to gather and discuss matters intellectually. However, if it is too taxing on your finances, a good local one is also sufficient—just aim for the ones that other international researchers are also attending. Publication fees can cost fortune, with exorbitant page charge fees ranging from USD1,000 to USD1,500. There are generally two types of 63
journals: open access or subscription-based. You don’t have to fork out any page charge money for subscription-based journals since the readers pay for the articles. If you’re short of funds, subscription-based journals will save you the headache of sourcing for page charge funding. Of course, subscription-based reviewers may take longer (4–6 months) to read, comment on, and return your manuscript since most of them do it for free on their own good will. The plus to publishing on open access journals is that distribution rights belong to you, so you can freely advertise it on social media or webpages for larger readership. A PhD student can expect a 30- to 40-day turnover rate for open access journals, since most of their reviewers get paid or acquire karma points in return. This is a good option to consider if you want fast response and publish quickly. Last is the cost of thesis production, the holy book of your work. Here, costs can include editors, charging roughly RM2,000 to RM5,000 depending on the word count and quality of write-up, and printing and binding costs. In some cases, the latter can be waived if only a digital copy is needed. Postgraduate students may also require English classes or training by attending writing workshops. Writer’s block is fairly common among PhD students and can potentially sever your ability to write if you have side concerns impeding your focus, such as family, health, or financial issues. There are some students who opt for ghost writers, who may charge as high as RM10,000, depending on the amount of work. However, the ethical integrity of such attempts is questionable. Personally, my PhD cost me close to RM120,000 over a period of 4 years. Only about half of that was funded by internal grants, external scholarships, award recognitions, and faculty funding, whilst the rest was self-funded. I was in the science stream, health sciences in particular, and actively volunteered in several student leadership positions. Most PhD students wouldn’t invest that kind of money and energy for a PhD. However, I am in the academic line and received a scholarship stipend to pursue my PhD. This allowed me to save most of my scholarship and wages in investment schemes like ASB and EPF. The income generated from the yearly returns were what supported my research costs. Therefore, I went all out in building the base for my career and wasn’t trying to be frugal. The largest portion of money I spent was for travelling expenses and subsistence, followed by research materials and academic workshop fees. The result of this investment brought me six
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publications, two international conferences, three local conferences, and two book chapters. My PhD pursuit was very taxing on me physically and mentally, but I really enjoyed the process because I was very passionate about my research field. I did parts of my PhD work in three different universities—in Malaysia, Japan, and Australia—under six supervisors. This tripled my workload but also increased my learning experiences tenfold. Most supervisors who oversee your PhD process will generally have a “hands-off” approach. This is a justification they use to not take any responsibility for your research financially and intellectually, whilst generally wanting to take credit for your hard work. I would strongly suggest that one not be overly ambitious when designing their projects. “Novelty” is just a small fraction of the thesis component considered under examination, and can be very costly to fund if a series of failed attempts haunts your research methods. The largest impact comes from the detailed methods described in the thesis and how it can relate to contributing to the society as a whole. Justifying your thesis rationally, eloquently, and respectfully under discussion would score you bonus points for a “distinction” in your field. The advice I would give to future PhD candidates would only be these three important reminders: A PhD requires time commitment, motivation, and funding. Only pursue a PhD if you are interested in the research area and title as you need to maintain momentum throughout those long years. PhD is the learning process of research in academia and does not depend on novelty alone. Harsh criticisms from academics with a different school of thought may come your way, so one need only to defend and justify your PhD thesis. Your PhD is yours, so make the best of it during the period. Respect and take advice from academic elders who sincerely put your best interests at heart, but have the courage to say no to academics intending to arrange something that is not mutually beneficial to you. I hope these guidelines help future postgraduate students out there to graduate and enjoy their learning process.
About the author Juntaki hails from Kuala Lumpur’s satellite city Petaling Jaya, where she was born, raised, and received early education on personal finance management. Her knack in managing finances comes from her early exposure to equitable investments, education on systematic management, and providing consultancy for operational funds. She has a medical degree and PhD in Sports Physiology, with high interest in cost-efficacy analysis. Juntaki’s past writing achievements focused on exercise-sports psychophysiology and epidemiology, before moving on to health economic sustainability. Her works have been critically appraised by several high impact journals and publishers. Some of her colourful portfolio include writing short articles about healthy living, giving talks on systematic finance management, and designing cost-efficient programmes.
MY FAMILY’S EXPERIENCE WITH PONZI SCHEME Jonathan Kam It was 2012, the year I first entered high school. The overall Malaysia economy seemed to be okay, but my family was struggling to get by. We were not exactly poor, but my family often had to resort to RM2 chicken rice for lunch and dinner for weeks on end. I had little idea about my family’s financial status because I never asked or cared. However, it was obvious that we weren’t doing very well. One day, an old friend of my father’s introduced him to this scheme. It was a membership programme backed by high-ranking overseas officials aiming to help their members financially. The logic of the scheme was that super-rich people from overseas were trying to build a better community for members worldwide. In the future, members would be “citizens” of a paradise they were about to create. In short, you buy a membership and after a few years, they will share their money with their members who, in the future, will be invited to live on this so-called paradise. What attracted our attention was that it looked really legit. For instance, the company was exceptionally good at marketing, sponsoring marathons, and organising big events in popular places. It seemed to be solid—fishy scam companies seldom did that, right?
So, it made sense to my parents at the time to be fully invested in this scheme. They spent around RM14,000 (five family members, RM2,800 each) for the membership, hoping to be citizens of the “paradise” someday. In addition, the company promised a buyout fund of around RM200,000 per member in five years’ time for members to settle their debts or be financially secure before joining “the paradise”. So, in my parents’ point of view, the RM200,000 buyout fee would be a huge help for our family, especially for my siblings who intended to pursue medical degrees in the near future (school fees can be really costly if we did not secure places in public universities). There was also another members-only scheme from the company that stuck out: by investing a certain amount of money, you would get a high percentage of returns in a short amount of time. Of course, my father joined that too. He even took up loans to join the special scheme because the chance was too hard to come by. From time to time, he browsed bank websites, looking for the lowest interest rates for personal loans, applying for them immediately when he found them. My family racked up a debt of about RM100,000 for this scheme which, surprisingly, paid out quite steadily without much fuss. Personally, I wasn’t really convinced about such a scheme at all, but I never talked to him about it simply because he could get really defensive. The fact that the returns for the special scheme was pretty steady proved that I didn’t have much reason to doubt the membership scheme at all. In around two years’ time, all his personal debts were paid off. That was when he started borrowing even more to invest in this scheme. At the same time, my father decided to be a full-time agent for this membership scheme. Since he was an insurance agent, this line of work suited him quite well. Before long, all his friends and family joined this membership to get rich together. Part of my father’s intention was to share this “opportunity” with everyone, but another part was because they paid hefty commissions for every member that joined. To be honest, because of the scheme and the commission it paid, we were comfortable financially for quite some time. Everything was great. We had enough to move to a new house. From time to time, my parents would get prizes, like company trips or the latest gadgets, for being good at what they do. One thing that managed to keep our faith in the scheme was some promises made by the company to its members were actually realised. As a member, you are actually entitled to a lot of benefits. One of them was 68
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the death benefit, meaning that when you pass away, your next of kin will receive RM10,000 as a token. I kid you not, my father actually helped his friend apply for membership with his family’s consent when that poor guy was in the ICU after a tragic car accident. As a result, his family got to claim RM10,000 from the company after his death just like that, without any cooling period. It was a depressing example but it is true. I always hated when my father used that example as a point to convince others to join—it was just disrespectful and weird. Either way, it worked to persuade others who were sceptical to join the scheme. In addition, the company was very actively involved in community events as well, which made it more and more believable. Occasionally, we saw them in the newspapers, donating money to this and that organisation, or we’d see t shirts for community events with their logo printed on it. I even requested for them to sponsor in my school’s year book, which they gladly obliged. It was quite a convincing enterprise and they were not hiding anything, appearing in social events and always being talked about. What could go wrong? Somehow, deep down, my family and I knew clearly that it was too good to be true, but no one really talked about the elephant in the room. Every one of us was wishing for the membership to reach the five years’ maturity stage so that we could have the reward for our own selfish needs; hence, every doubt about the scheme was like taboo. Once, my mum tried to reason with my father regarding the scheme as a whole, especially when my father took up loans and persuaded his friends to do the same. However, she was reprimanded for not supporting my father in doing his best to earn for this family. It was never mentioned again. I know that my father was not comfortable with the scheme also and always wanted to quit but he was always saying ‘after this month’s dividend’ or ‘wait until we have enough for our kid’s school fees’ and that sort of thing. In other words, greed and fake dignity had clouded his judgement. He didn’t stop telling people to join though. Finally, a few years into the scheme, it started to become clear to us that we were involved in a scam. Signs started to show when the company failed to pay the promised reward of RM200,000. Their excuse was that a high-ranking official of the company had run off with a lot of the company funds. Even then, we were still quite hopeful as the bosses seemed to be figuring things out, i.e. negotiating to transfer funds from Hong Kong. To say that we were being hopeful… it is more accurate 69
that we were simply in denial. As much as we knew instinctively that it was a scam, we just didn’t want it to be true. The scam was finally exposed about a month after that. At that time, there were many Ponzi schemes highly active in Malaysia and the government finally did something about it. A list of highly suspicious companies was published in every major newspaper and the company we 70
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were involved in was one of them. All hell broke loose; my parents started receiving calls non-stop from members who claimed to want to ask and confirm the news, but who actually just wanted their money back. All my parents could do was ask them to remain calm and reassure them that things were going to be okay. Despite their efforts, most members still felt like my parents had cheated them and some of them started to be hostile towards my family. I am not sure if it is related, but a Molotov cocktail was thrown into our backyard around that period of time. Luckily, no significant damage was done. For a long time, my family were rarely invited to social gatherings like we used to be. Even if we were, most people just talked behind our backs or wanted explanations about the company and if they will get their money back. Friends and family alike, people wanted nothing to do with the “scammers”. Slowly, we began to stop joining gatherings and started avoiding them. Why were we the receiving end of such treatment? No one stood up for us. We were on our own. There were no actual statements made by the company. They denied everything and claimed that what they were offering is true, asking members to be patient for funds to be transferred from Hong Kong— unheard of until now. They even changed their company name and continued exactly the same scheme, assuring people that new officials were handling the membership programme and, this time, it would be different. There was no way we were going to trust them again, but they would not refund any of our initial investment or membership fees. We had to sell off our old house to refund our friends and family. It was quite a pathetic experience to have relatives who used to benefit from this now blame us for being foolish, claiming to know that it was a scam from a start and we should know better. It made me realise how weak relationship bonds can be when it comes to money. For the longest time, we were the “family that scammed people”. When we went out at night, my father occasionally met his ex-clients who would ask for updates on the company, sort of blaming us for being incompetent on matters that was not our doing to begin with. They didn’t seem to empathize that we were victims as well. Regardless of the facts, we were still to blame for pulling them in so there was nothing much we could do but to “pay for our doings”. My father took a huge hit from that event. His confidence level dropped significantly and he started avoiding people in general. It was quite hard for us as a family but life goes on whether you like it or not. 71
My father did what he could to compensate everyone but it was still hardly enough. Once known as a scammer, it is really hard for people to change their minds about you. Maybe that is why my father never really got back into the insurance agent line of work. From this experience, I have developed a general distrust to everything that involves multilevel marketing (MLM). I’m sure some of you can sense that the scheme was a scam from the beginning and avoid it, but to be reasonable, my parents weren’t exactly financially illiterate either. I guess they just got desperate and wanted a quick buck since my siblings just got into a private college and they needed to pay the school fees at that time. The urge to get rich quick may have led them to be the victims of such a scam. But, after all, things work out in the end. My sister is now a professional and my brother is becoming one real soon. I am thankful for having such amazing parents who provide the best in the worst circumstances. They are true heroes.
About the author Jonathan Kam, who hails from Kuching, is currently pursuing a law degree. His financial goal is to be financially independent as soon as possible so that he could have the freedom to indulge in various interests without time or money constraints.
HOW MUCH IS A MOTHER’S JOB WORTH? Chan Ai Sin Motherhood has been a journey that I embarked on with much anticipation and delight. With the birth of my daughter, idealism turned into realism, and I discovered first-hand the thrills and tribulations of the day-to-day work of a mother. Then another realisation hit me that it is a job that pays nothing, allocates no day off, and accepts no resignation no matter how tough the going gets. To my consolation, I chanced upon a salary wizard at salary.com that, akin to the wave of a wand coupled with a whiff of magic, puts a figure on a mother’s job. Curious as to how a mother’s job can be quantified and translated into the dollar sign or the ringgit sign, I enthusiastically tried it out and computed an annual salary of USD121,594, which converts to RM40,000 per month. The lengthy list of roles included that of a housekeeper, a cook, a teacher, a psychologist, a janitor, a driver, a bookkeeper, an event planner, a designer, a logistic analyst, a nutritionist, a nurse, a chief executive officer, as well as various manager and operator roles.
My ego was instantaneously boosted by this string of numbers attached to the dollar sign. Of course, this was assuming I lived in the United States of America, since the salary wizard is territorial. Instead of labelling my self-worth at the superficial figure of RM40,000 per month, I decided to adapt it to the local context and see how much my work is worth in a more realistic figure. I refined the job scopes that encompass my day-to-day work to those of a milk producer, a nutritionist, a nurse, a teacher, a therapist, a psychologist, a procurement executive, and an event organiser. Milk Producer Immediately succeeding childbirth, I essentially turned into a milk cow on demand for my daughter until she weaned off milk. This statement is smeared with our preconception that humans survive on cow’s milk. All other mammals thrive on the milk of their own species, why are humans any different? Brainwashed with ‘breast is best for baby’, I valiantly
How Much is a Mother’s Job Worth?
embarked on the journey of exclusively breastfeeding my infant from birth. Breastfeeding would have come as something instinctive for our ancestors in the hunter-gatherer era, during which humans had lived for most of their evolution time span. But post agricultural revolution, some of our generation have lost this instinctive knowledge, including myself. Moreover, the sedentary lifestyle that we lead post-industrial revolution certainly does not help in a mother’s milk production. Therefore, I invested RM129 to attend a 4-hour lecture on how to breastfeed your infant from day one of her life, including tips and diet advice to boost milk production. An average, an infant consumes roughly 1 kg of powdered formula in a week, costing roughly RM100. In a month, I produced RM400 worth of food source. Considering that an average infant ingests solid food properly at 24 months of age, hence drastically consuming less milk, 24 x RM400 would be RM9,600 worth of milk production, or expenditure saving achieved. Chef and nutritionist Ever since my daughter started to ingest supplementary food at six months old, I have been busy cooking and planning meals, especially from the nutritive angle, with special consideration on the food’s appeal to a small child who practices liberal favouritism and selectiveness over her food. Seeing her munch tiny pieces of broccoli or spinach gives me immense satisfaction. I put deliberate thought into the raw materials, combination, proportion, and nutritional values of the food, including calories, vitamins and mineral contents. I staunchly believe that eating well would help my daughter in wielding her immunity against the latest influenza outbreaks or the highly contagious hand, foot, and mouth disease. To hire a personal chef, it probably costs RM1,500 per month. In our time, this is a rare profession, usually lumped together with cleaner and housekeeper as a domestic helper. Due to our egalitarian lifestyle, we do not hire help, but try to do it ourselves as much as possible. Staff nurse It is common for small children to succumb periodically to symptoms such as high fevers, coughing, vomiting, or diarrhoea. If not handled properly, sometimes an unfortunate downward spiral of events could 75
happen, and the child could be hospitalised for more serious illnesses, for example: lung infection, febrile seizure, or urinary tract infection. A stay in a private hospital averages RM1,000 per night. Whenever possible, I opt for outpatient treatment, offering oral rehydration and recuperation at home as the easier and cheaper substitute for a saline and glucose drip which has to be administered in a 76
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hospital. I would be the staff nurse at work around the clock with no shift rotation whenever my daughter falls sick. Assuming my effort saves ourselves 5 nights in the hospital in a year, that would be RM5,000, which translates to RM416 per month. Teacher and early childhood educator When my daughter was old enough for nursery, my husband and I took her to visit the Reggio Emilia kindergarten of international fame in our neighbourhood. Upon learning about the fees, we arrived at the conclusion that the fees do not justify how my daughter spends her time. She enjoys similar types of child-led play and child-centred activities at home with me. Since I would not earn more than what I would pay the kindergarten during the few hours of nursery time, we decided not to enrol her, despite it being one of our most ideal choice for her nursery education. For my Reggio Emilia-inspired approach at home, we saved roughly: One-time application fee of RM2,000 and enrolment fee of RM10,000 (RM333 per month spread out over 3 years) RM14,500 tuition fees + educational resources of RM685 per semester at 2 semesters per year (RM2,530 per month) RM2,530 + RM333 = RM2,863 per month. Not only that, we have the undivided attention of one teacher to one student in our home setting, which was a boon for my daughter at the tender age of three. Therapist or enrichment programme teacher All other educational and developmental needs are also taken care of by myself, making me feel like I am a multitalented teacher and therapist. In our time, a variety of therapies for children are as easily accessible as online grocery shopping, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, art therapy, play therapy, and sensory integration therapy, just to name a few. One of our regular therapy sessions is forest therapy, which translates in layman terms to a stroll in the park, just being close to nature, and taking in all the magnificence of the flora and fauna around us. During our strolls, we take time to smell the flowers and watch the birds. Being close to nature calms the child and soothes her emotions, or so I believe.
Then, to make up for the lack of sports talent in my genes, I have put in deliberate effort targeted towards gross motor development, fine motor development, proprioceptive development, and balancing; with focus on the lower brain development. I would intentionally creep and crawl on the floor with her, ride a pedal walker with her, and let her ride a balance bike on her own. In our complicated effort to nurture multilingualism, I make conscious effort to instil in my daughter the motivation to speak in more than one language. We sing nursery rhymes in various languages in their native forms, as well as participate in activities conducted in different languages. I also take on the duty of a speech therapist a few times a day, trying to make my daughter discern between the consonants ‘d’ versus ‘g’, and ‘t’ versus ‘k’, whenever she gets lazy in her pronunciation. We make it a point to spend time on visual art, music, and dance. Apart from drawing and painting time, we sing and dance to our own percussion at home. I take my daughter to short solo concerts lasting thirty minutes, during which she would dutifully remain on her seat for the first half but after that would not be able to stay still without fidgeting or moving around. I also take her along for regular visits to art galleries, where she would comment animatedly on the artworks until she starts talking too loudly and we have to flee the scene before the staff make us do so. These therapies typically come at RM100 to RM200 per one-hour session. So, I would clock in at least another RM150 per month. This is not to say that therapy is part and parcel of child raising—these are just luxuries that are available to children today, and what parents would pay for their children’s better future. Enrichment classes such as music appreciation classes are typically priced at RM80 to RM120 per month. I would put a price tag of RM200 per month, presuming she is enrolled into 2 enrichment programmes a month. Child psychologist As I strive to support my daughter to build her resilience and emotional intelligence, I found myself delving deeper and deeper into child development and child psychology. Comprehending Sigmund Freud’s theory in the anal stage helped us pass through the constipation complex in late infancy without the need to resort to medical interference. Understanding boundary or limit setting and supporting tantrums or 78
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meltdowns, enabled us to sail through emotional toddlerhood storms relatively unscathed. Again, grasping Freud’s other work in Oedipus complex helped me resolve unexpected hostility from my daughter after she turned four, and supported her to have a smooth transition to stronger attachment and bond-forming with her father. For this, I probably saved a handful of visits to a child psychologist, roughly at RM200 per month. Fashion consultant and personal shopper Again, I am of the generation who did not receive much home education and never picked up the ability to sew as most women from my mother’s generation were trained to do, whether professionally, amateurishly, or casually. Nevertheless, the abundance of fast fashion retailers gives me an easy way out to satisfy my daughter’s fashion needs, which addresses her need to dress up and take on different characters, and fosters her image and self-esteem building in the process. To enable my daughter to have trendy and fashionable outfits, I resort to labels available locally, so as to save on international shipping. With my territory defined and limited, it becomes easier to browse and shop and make decisions on what to buy. Local designers such as Trudy n Teddy, Kiko, Poney, and Padini all have off-season sales during which the merchandise could be sold at discounts as high as 50%. Sometimes when we feel like having a change of style, Uniqlo, H&M, Zara, Gap, Mango, and Terranova with local boutiques would be our alternative. These tend to be priced even higher, so we only catch the off-season sale, or treasure hunt at outlets, namely Johor Premium Outlet, Freeport A’Famosa Outlet, or Mitsui Outlet Park KLIA Sepang. Even when we aim to purchase off-season goods, my daughter has more than enough to wear, and she is never bored with her wardrobe collection. How blessed we are to live in an age of material abundance. My job as a fashion consultant, personal shopper, and procurement executive all rolled into one, executed with my conscious cost-cutting measures, is probably worth RM200 per month. Event planner and chauffeur As my daughter grows, my job scope expands to include event planning or participation for the purposes of social engagement, exposure, and cultural immersion. I organise an annual mid-autumn lantern parade at my home or a neighbourhood park so my daughter and her friends can have fun playing with lanterns and candles. We also join the Halloween 79
costume parties and Easter egg hunts organised by our expatriate friends. Other than those, we also have regular playgroup activities, and sometimes children’s adventures in the park. Keeping an event diary and undertaking the planner job would probably make me work at about RM200 per month. The chauffeur role should be paid RM1,000 per month, the minimum salary in Malaysia. Let us just say we do not need a full-time chauffeur and use Grab on an ad hoc basis instead, this would probably be RM200 per month. All in all, I am sure my monthly salary as a mother easily exceeds: RM400 (milk producer), RM1,500 (chef, nutritionist, etc.), RM416 (nurse), RM2,863 (teacher), RM350 (therapist, enrichment programme teacher), RM200 (psychologist), RM200 (procurement), RM200 (event organiser), and RM200 (chauffeur); totalling RM6,329. If this article makes a mother’s job sound like that of an astronaut, that might be so. But do not let it deter anyone from producing offspring. The joy far outweighs the hard work, as any parent would say.
About the author Ai Sin previously worked as an engineer with experience in 16 countries spanning over 4 continents and has written more than 10 technical manuals used by engineers around the world. She now provides branding and product packaging consultation, as well as technical and corporate writing service under Asset Writing.
FOR THE GREATER GOOD Suraya Zainudin It’s just a click, Rina thought. Just do it and get it over with. Still, Rina couldn’t bring herself to click the ‘Terminate My Business’ button on the Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia online page. With a sigh, she reached for her pack of cigarettes, leaving the mouse still hovering over the button. Tobacco smoke soon filled the small office. Last time, back when she still had employees, Rina used to take her cigarette breaks outside. She didn’t want to expose Hakim, Michelle, and Shawn to secondhand smoke. But all of them had quit, and no one’s lungs but hers will be damaged, so why bother? “I’m happy for them,” Rina whispered slowly, willing herself to continue believing in the statement. And she was. Hakim, who talked constantly about going back to school to finish his education after dropping out prematurely, was now in his fourth and final semester. Michelle was pregnant and happily nesting at home. Shawn—the one who never failed to make her laugh, even on the most stressful of workdays—now could be found performing on comedy nights under the name ‘Shawn the Clown’. Sometimes, he sent her Facebook invites to his performances. No one saw it coming. Absolutely no one. “The Malaysian Government has decided to provide a living wage of 81
RM2,700 per month to everyone regardless of their income or work status,” said Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng during the Budget 2019 announcement. “We believe this will significantly reduce poverty rates in urban and rural areas, increase the standard of living, and specifically encourage young people to pursue their aspirations to the best of their abilities without being burdened by the cost of living.” Universal Basic Income, they call it. UBI for short. The premise was simple—give everyone enough money to live on, with absolutely no strings attached. The voters loved it. Much praise was given to the Pakatan Harapan government. The hashtag #InilahBaruMalaysiaBaru trended for months. Rina admitted that she welcomed the announcement herself, three years ago. How proud she was to be part of a progressive-minded Malaysia! Other nations only did pilot runs, but here we are, doing a nation-wide implementation! The effect was almost immediate. Thousands of employees quit their jobs in the subsequent months. Those who stayed only did so after being offered higher compensation, or if they truly, genuinely enjoyed their work. That particular thought depressed Rina. She hoped Hakim, Michelle, and Shawn would stay. She couldn’t give them a raise, but certainly tried her best to be a good boss. But one by one, they submitted their resignation letters; the financial security under Universal Basic Income implementation enabled them to finally pursue their dreams, instead of helping her achieve hers. If only she knew then how the policy would eventually impact small business owners like herself. If only she knew how hard it was to retain employees when she couldn’t offer them higher pay or more benefits. A notification popped on-screen. Your session has expired, it said. Rina snubbed her cigarette butt out a little bit more aggressively than she intended. Maybe tomorrow, she thought. For now, she was comforted by the fact that at least she wouldn’t starve, even if she had no customers. After all, she was also one of the recipients of the RM2,700 monthly cash handout. ***
For the Greater Good
Talking badly about universal basic income implementation in Malaysia was considered a major social faux pas. Rina learned this from experience. She tried, once, to voice out her frustrations on Twitter and quickly regretted it. Online users—always charming in their choice of words— accused her of wanting to be a ‘slave owner who could only profit through the exploitation of labour’. The words stung. Rina didn’t see herself that way. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to offer high salaries to her employees, but her profit margins were small enough as it was. She had priced her products low— a decision she now regretted. It sucked, because all she wanted to do was make her products affordable. On the bright side, Rina knew she was not alone in this predicament. There was no shortage of business solutions catering to affected small business owners. Every day, she received emails and advertisements on social media inviting her to (paid) workshops and seminars promising to teach her how to automate and outsource her business. That’s the only way you can keep operation costs low, they said. Rina had resisted—she liked the camaraderie and teamwork within traditional office structures—but what other options did she have, if no one even responded to the job offers she put up on Jobstreet? Automation and outsourcing. She scribbled in her notebook some beginner-friendly (and budget-friendly) workshops she hoped to attend in the upcoming weeks. Rina would have done it sooner, but without paying customers, she needed all of her government stipend to pay for existing operating costs. Now that her office lease was expiring by the end of the month, she could finally divert that money towards these courses. I really should have learned this a long time ago, Rina thought. Something something if can’t keep up with change your business will die something something. There had certainly been lots of changes in the last three years. Along with the implementation of universal basic income, the Malaysian government had also tightened up foreign worker hiring policies, making them stricter and more expensive. Businesses found to illegally hire foreign workers were slapped with huge fines. As a result, nowadays even the mamak stores used touchscreen displays and conveyor belts to take orders and deliver food. They adapted to the change. Why couldn’t she?
“Stop frowning, or those lines will stay,” said a voice. Steph, her housemate, appeared in their shared kitchen, smiling. Rina glanced at the time—goodness, was it already 9pm? “I think they’re already permanent.” Steph paused, dropped her laptop bag, and hugged Rina from behind. “Today was a particularly hard day for you, wasn’t it?” “Yeah. My business registration is almost expiring, and I’m wondering if I should terminate it rather than continuing it.” Steph squeezed harder. Rina relaxed into the embrace; it had taken her a while to warm up to Steph’s platonic yet intimate style of friendship, but now she couldn’t imagine her life without it. “How about if I start a dog-walking business instead? There’s no way to automate that yet. There are no shit-picking robots, as far as I know.” Steph laughed, recognising their usual ‘what-job-should-I-do-instead’ banter. “Sweetie, you hate dogs.” “But money—” “Absolutely not. Plus, you’re Malay. Later PAS people come after you how?” Rina had to laugh. Plus, it was true—she did hate dogs. Okay, so perhaps hate was a strong word, and if push came to shove, she would save a drowning dog, but she’d wait to see if anyone else would jump in the water first, you know? “You haven’t had dinner, right?” asked Steph. It was more of a statement than a question. Steph kissed the top of Rina’s head, walked over to the fridge, and pulled out a takeout container. “Thai food?” *** Two delicious pad thais and many shrimp rolls later, dog-walking business ventures were all but forgotten. No one could deny that food in Malaysia improved tremendously after the implementation of universal basic income. Those who loved cooking continued to cook. Some started their own restaurants or food trucks, offering meals they had always wanted to create to the world. And if there was anything Malaysians would part their money for, it’s for delicious food. Steph worked as an editor at an online media platform, a job she absolutely loved given how it fit her natural strengths in writing and researching. Some days, she would share news stories or viral news of 84
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the day, while on other days, she would babble away her frustrations, because work was still work. Rina didn’t mind listening—in any case, she thought Steph’s bad days were at least more interesting than her usual work days. “So, did you know there will be 83 different arts-related events this weekend? Eighty-three! Just in Klang Valley! That must be a record!” Rina nodded, pouring hot water into their mugs. Chamomile tea for herself, green tea for Steph; their nightly ritual. As she placed their mugs on the kitchen table and resumed her seat, Rina wondered what jobs the participants of the arts events used to have before they abandoned it in favour of pursuing the arts and creatives industry. Maybe they worked retail, too, like Shawn. There it was again, the familiar pang of contradiction, something that always made her feel like a hypocrite; human. On one hand, Rina was glad that people like Shawn were no longer working soul-crushing, noncreative, low-paid jobs just to scrape a living. On the other hand, she was also annoyed that it significantly reduced the pool of workers. It was precisely for that reason that salaries in Malaysia showed a marked increase after UBI implementation, after being stagnant for so long. Supply and demand. “Look at this one, look,” Steph turned her laptop screen around, showing Rina her Facebook feed, “A rock-style dikir barat show. Why, you tell me, why. This art exhibition showcasing Malaysian artists’ takes on famous paintings looks cool though.” Rina agreed; it did look cool. There was a picture of KL Tower, done in the style of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Right next to it was a picture of Mona Lisa wearing baju kebaya. A notification popped up. Steph clicked on it, then laughed out loud. “Babe, what are you doing tomorrow night?” ***
Less than twenty-four hours later, on a humid but clear Friday night, the two friends found themselves walking through Kuala Lumpur streets. Last time, they wouldn’t have dared to such a thing—this part of town was notorious for being dangerous, especially for women. But in recent years, petty crime had become somewhat rare. 86
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Steph looked up from her phone—she had Google Maps open to look for the location—and pointed across the street. “There” It was a bookstore. A small group of people were hanging around outside, talking, smoking. Rina was glad she had dressed up. Like her mom used to say, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. They made their way inside. The middle of the store had been cleared to make room for chairs, facing a makeshift podium. Steph found two empty seats and plonked herself in one of them, groaning as she sat. Rina bit her tongue as she sat next to Steph—she had advised her against wearing heels, but Steph had insisted on ‘breaking in’ her new stilettos. “We made it,” Steph grinned, her curls tumbling about her. “I can’t wait to hear what this group has to say about the government’s newest campaign.” Rina admitted that she was curious by the Do Nothing Club, too. And, like Steph, she also found it ironic that the group was fairly active in promoting their cause—the right to do nothing. Most of the time, they are ridiculed and considered a harmless group. After all, there were counter-culture subgroups for everything considered mainstream. About a year after UBI’s implementation, the Malaysian government released a series of campaigns encouraging citizens to contribute back to society by being productive. Idleness was framed as a social evil, something to be discouraged at all costs. Save for the sick, the old, and the pregnant, everyone was expected to have jobs or work on personal projects ultimately benefiting the country. Most Malaysians didn’t like the patronising tone of the campaign, but agreed in principle: if the government looked after them, then it was only fair to return the favour. There were even state-sponsored classes to help guide those who have no idea what to do (many of the participants, Rina noted, were ex-civil servants who found themselves out of jobs after there was no longer a need to identify, verify, dispense, and track the effectiveness of targeted welfare initiatives). The latest campaign was the toughest stance the government had so far against unproductivity: the name and shame tactic. Camera crews had been known to show up unexpectedly at people’s houses to ask its residents what they are working on. Those who could not answer the question would later find their clips on television and social media, along with mean-spirited comments from netizens denouncing their toorelaxed lifestyle.
The name of the campaign? Don’t Waste Our Money. Jangan Buang Duit Aku. It definitely didn’t hold back any punches. “Can I get everyone’s attention, please?” A young man in his mid-twenties had taken the microphone to make the announcement. He was wearing a shirt bearing the words ‘Lazy & Proud’. The audience—relatively small in size—dutifully took their seats. Rina wondered about the crowd. Why were they here? Did they agree with the cause, or were they simply curious? Steph had a reason for showing up—it made great content for her media platform. But what about the rest? “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming tonight. My name is Ikmal and I’m the only one manning the fort tonight. All my colleagues from The Do Nothing Club have, uh, decided to stay home and do nothing,” said Ikmal. He looked defiant, if slightly embarrassed. The crowd laughed. “You know, our objective when we started this group was simply to give voice to the silenced—those of us who were shamed for taking our time to decide our next course of action. It’s not like we didn’t want to do anything. We didn’t want to start projects we knew we couldn’t or didn’t want to finish. We didn’t want to do something for the sake of doing, without a purpose. We are, in that sense, strategic thinkers.” Rina thought the statement was rather pretentious and self-serving, but continued listening. “But that’s not the topic for tonight. We actually wanted to point something out. Something you may have noticed as well about the universal basic income. Don’t you find it strange that when the government announced it three years ago, barely anyone questioned how we could afford it? Isn’t it supposed to be expensive? Where is the money coming from?” What happened next was a blur. Rina remembered being enveloped in instant darkness, a loud sound, shuffling of chairs and feet, being dragged out of the bookstore and shoved into a vehicle, which sped off. She must have fainted or been drugged, because the next thing she knew, she was face-to-face with a female police officer in a brightly-lit interrogation room. “Salam, Rina,” the police officer said sweetly, as if they were old friends who made plans to catch up, “you must be thirsty, have some water.” What the hell is going on, thought Rina. What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On. 88
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The officer pushed the glass of water on the table between them nearer to Rina, saying nothing. Rina examined her situation. Dream? Nope—she could feel the uncomfortable chair she was sitting on. Exit? Only one door, behind the officer. There was a large mirror on her left. She locked eyes with her reflection, then had the eerie feeling of being watched from the other side. Slowly, Rina reached for the glass of water and drank. “What are you thinking, Rina?” asked the female officer. “Just tell me what’s going on, please.” The officer opened a brown file. “Rina Nasarudin. Twenty-eight years old, single, never married. Born in Pahang, now lives in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Petaling Jaya. Owns a fitness apparel business. Not doing very well, apparently. Can you confirm the information?” Rina nodded, slightly annoyed. “Yes.” “What were you doing at Suria Bookstore last night, Rina?” Her memories came back. Steph! “Where is Steph?” The officer paused, and flipped to another page. “Let’s talk about you first. What brought you to a Do Nothing Club meetup last night?” Her tone was now cold, icy. Rina felt a shiver, and cracked. She told the officer how she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She told her about her housemate Steph and the many events she dragged her to, just for company. She told her about not agreeing with the Do Nothing Club’s philosophy, and added choice words that exaggerated her contempt. As she spoke, the officer wrote notes in the file, hidden from Rina’s view. “Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rina,” she said, cutting Rina off mid-sentence. “Let me explain why we had to ask you all these questions.” She closed the file, placed it on the table, and drew her chair nearer. “Simply put, we cannot allow anyone to jeopardise the government’s plans. We need everyone to channel their efforts to make UBI work for Malaysia. If it fails, the whole system will collapse. Do you know why?” She didn’t wait for Rina to answer. “As you know, everyone receives RM2,700 per month in this country. Everyone. You do. I do. It’s enough to live a simple life, but not more than that. If you want more, you have to work for it. Fortunately, all of us have the freedom to work on what 89
we want to work on. Even the effort counts, because that provides hands-on learning and real-life experience. “You can already tell this, Rina, but the government has a problem with people who don’t care about making an effort. People who simply want to laze around all day. People who become stagnant, leechers of society, wasters of taxpayers’ money. People like the Do Nothing Club. We have to stop them before they influence others and grow in number, don’t you agree?” Rina nodded quickly. “It’s simple, Rina. If one day, we have more people who idle around than people who work, how are we going to continuously fund UBI? We have a good thing going here, and we cannot allow a small number of people to ruin it for the rest of us. We have to nip this in the bud because it’s for the greater good.” *** For the greater good. It had been two months since the incident, but those words still stuck with Rina. ‘For the greater good’. She and Steph never discussed it. They couldn’t—they were both being monitored. There was a chip implanted under the skin on her forearm. Apparently, it was both a tracking and recording device. Despite Rina’s insistence that her attendance at the Do Nothing Club was a fluke, a one-off event, she was required to report on any and all communication attempts from the group. Rina tried not to think about it too much. She found ways to be busy—thankfully, the offline-to-online setup for her business proved to be a good distraction. Whatever limited free time she had, she spent it studying Udemy’s online courses, attending various workshops, and making new contacts at networking events. She had to prove that she was working on something. A part of her was still amazed at the Malaysian government’s behaviour-modifying strategies (subtle) and dissent-eliminating strategies (not-so-subtle). If she had doubts about lack of political will to see through UBI implementation, the experience at the police station shattered all of them; they were not only believers in the policy, but adamant to see its success too.
For the Greater Good
And a success it was. Based on the latest country-wide independent study, Malaysia recorded the highest GDP increase for any nation in history. The productivity and employability of Malaysians sharply increased. Foreign investments poured in. The brain drain phenomenon stopped. In fact, Malaysians working overseas moved back in record numbers! On the global front, Malaysia was no longer known as the ‘country between Thailand and Singapore’, but as a force to be reckoned with. Rina sipped her coffee and resumed her online course, rubbing the small bump on her forearm absentmindedly; a new habit she’d acquired. “For the greater good,” she whispered.
About the author Suraya Zainudin is an independent communications consultant specialising in online content creation and management. She is the blogger behind personal finance blog Ringgit Oh Ringgit, where she chronicles her personal finance journey as a Millennial Malaysian.
Thank you for reading Money Stories Vol. 1! If you enjoyed this book, please consider leaving a review on the site you purchased it from. Reach out to me at [email protected] if you have any questions or simply want to chat about your money journey.