As a child and very studious student, we were often asked to write essays about poverty and about the economic divide. Me being a typical 'kiasu' student will often write in gusto about the great disparity in earning power between the rich and the poor. I never fail to pepper my essays with the phrase 'jurang pendapatan' (economic disparity), yet as a child i did not really understand the meaning of it. I have always felt rich. Or maybe my mother made me think so. But when i compare myself to the rest of my classmates in primary school, we were the same. We wore the same uniform, we have a school bag and pencil box. Maybe some of us have nicer pens but that was it.
In secondary school some girls had branded watches and spectacles such as 'Elle' and 'Esprit'. 'Wow, they must be rich!' my 14 year old self thought.
Now as a working individual and governement servant i earn a pay on one of the moderately higher ladders of pay in the government service.Meaning to say if i serve long enough, i can potentially reach the higher scales of salary. However that higher scale of salary is something which a doctor who after leaving the government sector can command immediately in the private sector.
Meaning to say it's not that much but it's okaythe person spends in moderation. It can afford a comfortable life if you save and do not spend extravagantly.
In Slim River, we are exposed to many degrees of poverty.The first being orang asli's who live in the jungle and are generally happy staying there. They seldom ask for help and they are happy living the way they are.They have to borrow neighbours motorcycles or cars to come to the hospital.There are many with electricity and pipes for drinking water but their children prefer bathing in the river because it's caolder. 'The water is crystal clear.'the mother of a patient helpfully reassures me.
The second kind, are those who choose to be poor. I had a patient who was admitted with a mild respiratory problem.The mother was very anxious on the first day, but as the child gradually got better, she was eager to go back. When asked why, she said she was afraid they could not pay the hospital bill. To the uninitiated, hospital charges in a government hospital in Malaysia is practically free. You pay RM5 for a day's stay, RM 1 for each blood investigation, and a couple of ringgit more for imaging studies. If you do not have enought money to pay, no problem you can always pay later.So it comes as a surprise to me why she was so worried.
So i asked more about the social history. Her husband is a lorry driver.(Lorry driver = drunkard until proven otherwise). He had recently been out of work. He earns on average RM 500 a month and have 5 children.The wife does not work.Sigh, why have so many children when you do not have the means to support them?
There are too many such cases.
Many parents can't even afford RM 80 for an aerochamber for their asthmatic children, don't even bother mentioning about toys. Many a times we have to apply for social support. Also on many occasions they request for certain imaging investigations( which have to be done in Ipoh) to be scheduled at the end of the month when pay is banked in, as only then would they have enough money for transport.
On the other hand, i recently made a trip to Singapore.In the Toys'r' us, there was a special playhouse barber shop, decorated colourfully and each client had his/her own flatscreen TV to watch cartoons while the baber cut the child's hair. Parents are willing to pay S$22 = RM 55 for a child's haircut in a toy store so long as the child does not cry in the process. In the same setting another mother was saying to the child 'Just choose a toy. Faster choose!'
Later in the day i visited a friends condominium unit in Orchard road that her parent had bought her. It was amazingly posh but costs a few million singapore dollars.Taking a peek into the lives of the rich,was definitely an eye opener.
I wonder, if the children in Slim River ever come and take a look at the lives of Singaporean or Kl children how would they feel?
In Slim River, branded means 'Lois', 'Crocodile', 'Nike','Elle' ,'Esprit'.
In KL, it's 'LV','Gucci','Coach', 'Longchamp','Tifanny and Co', 'Lewre'
In Singapore it's still 'LV', 'Gucci','Prada','Cartier', 'Manolo blahnik'.
The great economic divide is definitely alive and kicking.The question is how do we find a balance?