Once Upon A Time

The other day I was having supper with a friend at a nearby coffee shop. This person is somebody who I regard as a very good friend but because she studies in London and I study in Melbourne, we hardly ever get the opportunity to catch up.

In any case, as we were catching up, it came to our attention about how much life has changed. To help illustrate what I mean by this, I will be using Chinese New Year as an example.

Growing up in a typical Chinese family, both of us experienced the annual Chinese New Year eve family dinner, which usually consists of our parents, our siblings, our aunties, our uncles and not to mention our cousins. For the both of us, that meant having to accommodate at least 10 to 20 people just for one night.

This momentous occasion is sort of like Malaysia’s very own version of Thanksgiving, whereby all the relatives come together, have dinner and have meaningless conversations, exchange political views and in many cases, even argue with each other.

Being away from home for the most part of the year, we realized that this were the moments that we missed the most when we were overseas. Yet, as we sat down drinking our cup of coffee staring at the sky, we also came to a sudden epiphany that this might not be the case for us in the future.

In today’s society, the norm that has been set upon us is to have an average of two kids per family. Of course this is a very vague generalization, however, it is something we have notice amongst our peers.

This is a drastic difference as compared to our parent’s generation whereby they had four to six siblings. Then again, it is fair to say that the economic situation back then was also much different to what we are experiencing today.

“In the 1980s, a McDonald’s beef burger was 99 sen, the starting pay for an engineer was RM1,800. Today, the same burger is RM3.15 while the fresh engineer’s pay is RM2,000. See the difference. We are paid unreal wages while paying real world prices for food, among other things. We can’t be a low-cost nation, rely on the commodities boom to subsidise fuel, electricity and sugar, forever. We must move up the value chain and stop using cheap labour,” said Jahabar Sadiq, CEO & Editor of The Malaysian Insider, in a recent tweet on June 23rd.

That quote from Mr Sadiq should well sum up what I mean by a difference in economic life between our parents generation and our generation. As life continues to get more expensive, we will soon see a dip in the number of newborn children.

Even in my family, I am consistently reminded that while I might be currently studying overseas, that does not make my family rich but it makes me lucky. My parents have constantly reminded me that I should count my blessings and not abuse my good fortune. Furthermore, I still have another younger sister that my parents will have to continue support financially.  And being the good parents that they are, they do not wish to treat any of us differently and very much intends to afford her the same opportunity to study overseas just like me.

This situation that I am currently experiencing is almost identical with my friend. She and her brother both study in London but do not come from a financially rich background. I know it sounds rather preposterous but both our families have sacrificed much just to send us overseas to study.

Nonetheless, when we do finally enter into the working world, we do not expect to experience what we once had when we were young. No longer will there be a humongous family gathering, nor will there be the need for booking three tables in advanced just for a two hour dinner.

The days of trying to keep uncle 1 and uncle 2 from each killing each other is going to be over. Nor will the days of receiving many ang paus from family members too.

To be honest, I do not even know if I would even be able to afford to buy a house in the future what more have kids. The current disparity between the cost of living and salary in our country is very much discouraging but what other choice do I have but to be optimistic.

Nevertheless, I honestly expect that tradition to die off in the next 10 years and I will certainly be saddened by it when it does happen.

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A university student who hopes to one day see Malaysia in the big leagues one day.

Posted on 23 July 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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