These values stood me in good stead during hard times.
The world has changed. Maybe it is because people have gotten smarter, too smart for their own good. They know their rights, they want their rights and they assert their rights.
It is a common scenario these days; People do what they want to do even when they know it is wrong. Young people rebel and the age is getting earlier. A young child is given choices as to what food to eat even before he could read and refused the food he deemed not tasty enough.
Back in the sixties, the school, the police, parents, and the institutions are the authorities. Coming from a family of seven siblings in a modest household where my father was the sole breadwinner as a teacher, establishing order at home was very important. My mother had her hands full every day with the house chores and cooking.
I love the values my parents instilled in us — that of thrift, hard work, and simplicity in self.
On thrift, we were taught never to waste food and eat whatever is served on the table, not that there were many options. We always had rice with one meat dish, one vegetable dish, and some fried eggs. We never complained about inadequate food, having been rationed the same amount each day.
Every plate was finished, licked clean metaphorically. When I tried to impose this concept on my kids in the later years, even elaborating on the starvation that went on in Somalia(still going on today!)to get them to finish their meals to the last crumbs, one of my sons said, “ Mum, why don’t you post the balance to Somalia? I really can’t eat anymore”. That’s when I learned that I was not reasonable in that instance. I just have to cook less and save anyway.
Rich man’s food like roast chicken, large fried prawns, and steamed Marble Goby fish ( a delicacy in South East Asia) was reserved for the Lunar New Year’s eve. My parents saved money for that occasion. That long wait instilled in us the ability to delay gratification. It made us appreciate the aromatic season greatly.
The value of thrift never left us. Friends used to joke that it is because we are Hakka people, a minority ethnic sub-group of the Han Chinese in China who is hardworking and hardy and also ‘stingy’ though I would link the latter trait to survival instincts. Incidentally, our Founding Father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is of mostly Hakka and Peranakan ancestry.
I used to go out with my eldest sister. Once, I treated her to gelato and she commented that it was the price of a whole chicken at the wet market. “Well, let me treat you to a whole chicken today”, I said
We could go to an upscale coffee house and halved the coffee and cake cost by sharing, not because we were stingy but we could savor the best and in just the right amounts.
The lack of pocket money when I was young also led me to develop a very good habit of not indulging in soft drinks in school. Instead, I took to the cooler to quench my thirst. I have not acquired a liking nor a craving for sweet drinks even when Coca-Cola’s advertisements were ubiquitous and a craze everywhere.
On hard work, my parents set the best examples. My mother toiled from morning to night and never complained one bit. She was up at 4 am to boil water, sweep and mop the floor. It was no mean feat with seven children running around, getting them ready for school. I don’t remember taking breakfast.
My dad was a teacher at a Mandarin-speaking school which was officially opened by LKY after the second World War. Father was an industrious teacher, reporting to school dutifully and he was loved by his students despite his discipline.
After school, he continued to do a side job which was calligraphy. He was skilled in this art, writing letters for others for a small fee to send to China and creating billboard names for most shops. Companies and shops in those days usually used billboards with Han Characters, some embossed in gold colors which they hang at the top of their entrances.
He worked late into the night so that my mother could put food on the table for the family. There was not much time for entertainment as we did not have a TV then. However, my parents brought the younger children including myself to places like Botanical Gardens, The Esplanade, Changi beach, etc where we need not spend too much money. But we were thrilled and happy.
My father carried a big ruler in the house as he did in class on errant students. He would unleash it on my playful brothers when their behaviors were out of control or they had not done their homework. One time, my sister broke her curfew during her outing and came back after midnight.
She was certainly not treated as a Cinderella. Instead of watching her shoes disappear, my father threw her trunk of clothes out of our second-story flat, which hit the tree trunk, then landed with the suitcase sprung opened and her clothes strewn on the grass. Today, he would be charged with killer-litter and domestic abuse but his discipline brought us all in line and never to break a promise.
My father expected all the children to study hard. There was the unspoken rule; study hard, get a good job, work hard, get married, have children, and live your own lives.
Most of my siblings started work after 10 years of schooling due to financial constraints. When it came to me who was the youngest, the barrel was understandably empty but my persistence trait from my parents saw me working a year and a half after college, and finally succeeded in getting a government bursary for my studies in dental school.
On simplicity in self, my mother was exemplary. She was a strong saver of whatever little money she received from my father. You can say that she could squeeze water out of stone. She was evidently skilled in budgeting, for, in the final days of both their lives, they left enough for their medical bills ( those days many people do not have health insurance), their funeral matters, and left money for their children!
My mother did not hanker for anything luxurious, carrying the same bag and having the same number of clothes over the years. All my sisters including myself must have inherited this trait, as we have no inclination to upgrade our wardrobes regularly, preferring to keep our clothes clean and neat, and buying stuff for a reason. I concede that such philosophy is of no help to burgeoning a slow economy.
That’s not to say that my parents are not loving. But they believe in order in the home above all else. The Chinese believe that you must first set your home in order before you can work effectively. And finally, you could rule the organization or even a country effectively.
These values are somewhat lacking in some families today. Young people have adopted a ‘use and throw’ mentality judging from the many handphone models that I witnessed in some people who kept changing handphones and devices.
People are said to be less hardy, living in the developed world that is Singapore. They quit at the slightest provocation or scolding from a senior.
In the past, air-conditioners were rare, tuition was unheard of ( at least to me), and having a job means dedication of long service to your company. Today, people cannot sleep without air-conditioners, tuition is a necessity for all children and the online gig economy is ever rising which is inevitable and evolving.
Expectations of parents on themselves to pamper their offsprings, sometimes expected by their children, are increasing due to smaller family units where there may be more disposable income.
Whatever the situation, the values of thrift, hard work, and simplicity in self should be advocated in the family. This stands the individual in good stead when hard times roll by and soon they would roll away.