I was in the airport in Medan yesterday while transit-ing from my flight from Jakarta to Penang for Chinese New Year, when I met a lady.
She was a Medanese lady, and she sat down and started talking to me.
She'd come home to see her family in Medan (she was based in Penang) and she only came home once every three years.
The journey from the airport to her home, a small town, was a whopping 11 hour journey.
She was working in a factory, where she was paid a maximum of RM2k a month (500 Euros) at the very best. That was if you don't take any off days at all, and work on your Saturdays and Sundays.
She told me how she saved her money to send back to her kids (she had 2 kids that were staying with her family).
She spoke about her husband who was very ill now. How he used to beat her, and how he had burned her cheek with a cigarette once. (She pointed to her cheek, and indeed there was a mark there).
Initially, this might be bad of me, but I wondered if she was some kind of con artist telling me a sad story so that she could get money from me.
But no, she never asked for anything. And before you ask, I still have all my money. Nobody pickpocketted me while she was talking to me and I was distracted.
When I got on the plane, I decided I wanted to give her an angpao when we got off the plane, but I actually lost her.
I feel a bit shitty about this.
This is why it's good to travel alone sometimes. You meet new people. There are new perspectives. She had a hard life, and yet, when she spoke, she was content. She was working towards buying a farm to plant vegetables so that her life would be easy when she was older.
It again also makes you realize how blessed you are. Here we are, happily going out for drinks on Fridays and Saturdays. We're commitment free, we're young and happily, living the yuppie life.
Not far from us, there are so many people who's lives are so much harder. People who don't take things for granted. People who work really hard, and really appreciate what they have in life. We think we have problems. We're stressed at work. Our friends annoy us. Damn it, this friend is so stingy. Damn it, I only have a broom and not a vacuum cleaner. Darn, my handphone charger isn't long enough to reach my bed.
These aren't problems.
Problems are when you don't have enough money for food. She spoke to me about how her mother sometimes would eat once a day because there wasn't enough food. She spoke about how her husband used to mock her mother for staying near the forest, saying that she was nothing but a jungle lady, while her husband drank his money away.
Problems are when your husband beats you. She told me her parents showed her nothing but love and affection and asked her to come back to them when he was beating her. Burning her with cigarettes.
And, still, she finds it in her heart to forgive him. She was a Christian. She told me she prayed to God, to Jesus, to find it in her heart to take care of him when he was sick.
These are people who are so different from me, but in that half an hour conversation, it re-opened my eyes again to how lucky I was.
I was thinking about my minimalist approach to things, how I'm clearing things and getting rid of things. It's a sign too, isn't it? That you're so overwhelmed with consumerism, that you have so much more stuff than you know what to do with, till you have to get rid of it.
(Speaking of which, I have been decluttering in my hometown. I thought I didn't have a lot of things here, but boy was I wrong. I'll be posting about that later.)
These people are minimalists because they can't afford more. That's why they take care of their things and fix it when its spoilt, instead of just throwing it out and buying something new.
Of course, I am not suggesting we deprive ourselves of things. I still think it's okay to enjoy yourself and get stuff that makes you happy as long as you're really using it, and it's not just being a waste of money and space.
This lady gave me a lot of food for thought. Here I am, happily buying dresses on Asos, when that dress could really feed a family for two weeks.
So, when I go back to Singapore, I will go and look for a home where I can contribute some time and money to. If you live in a comfortable life, surely we can all help other people a little bit more? It doesn't take a lot of time or effort, and honestly is very fulfilling.
I will update you on how this goes!