We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without!

“We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do
– Immanuel

Have you ever wondered what exactly you lack in life today that you
CANNOT do without? This is aside from the basic necessity such as house, food
and clean water etc. 

Could it be the internet and smart phones, pads, computers that comes
with all the different apps that can make our life so convenient, that you
cannot live without with? Or is it the luxurious and branded items you
long for each and every day?

Think again!

Our life
today – So much but so little!

In today’s life, imagine with a few clicks, taxi will be here in few
minutes, Macdonalds or all sorts of fastfood or even your favourite hawker food
will be at your doorstep in less than an hour. Just by typing of keyboard, you
can have the world library of information at your disposal. This is in contrast
to my time in primary/secondary school when schoolmates and I will have to meet
up in “physical” library to research for information to do our
project work.  

By using facetime, skype or many other different live video chat apps,
you can see and chit chat with your loved ones and even strangers over smart
devices thousands miles apart across countries, and furthermore with such low
cost. Emails almost entirely replaced snail mails except for the need of
keeping originals. Pen Pal is almost non-existence today. You may ask why we
need a Pen Pal when we have a Facebook with pictures and instant messages.

Well, maybe it is for the thrill of not knowing who your Pen Pal is and
how he or she may look? Or maybe it is for the forward looking excitement of
waiting for weeks to receive the letter and unravel the mysterious reply. 

Even landline phone when I rarely used as a boy to call my friends
because I was worry that their parents will scold me over the phone, are today mostly
replaced by mobile text messages. I still remember vividly that in order to
have friends outing at nearby playgrounds or community centres, I would walk to
friends’ HDB’s void decks and started shouting their names for them to come out
of their house. Sometimes water bombs” were dropped first before friends

Kids today are mesmerized by internet and video games. The fun days
where we used to get ourselves dirty, sweaty or even fighting on the playgrounds
are long gone. No more 10-cent ice-packs to quench the thirst, no more “goli
games” to win some additional allowance to my meagre pocket money. Of course there
are times I lost too and feel really sad. Then there is also the thrill of catching
spiders in the bushes flanking the railway tracks and putting them in “fighting
ring”, something that is almost extinct in today’s childhood days.

Looking back, these are times that are nostalgic and I really enjoyed.

My life then
– So little but so much!

Today, we hear no rooster crows at dawn to jolt us awake. Instead, alarm
clocks or simply our phone alarm to greet our morning. A hot comfortable shower
is just a matter of seconds with the help of a heater. When the weather gets
too hot at night, we switched on the air condition to have a perfect night

You may not believe but it is true that up to the mid 90s, my family of
up to 6-7 members including children my mother babysat, are still squeezing in
our 2-room HDB (1 living and 1 bedroom) rented flat with NO heater shower, NO
washing machine and NO air-conditioning. Apparently also with just one bed that
my mum is sleeping because of her rheumatism! 

Yes, I am not kidding. In fact we did not even have a radio until some
kind soul gave us a second-hand portable cassette tape radio in the 90s. It was
analogue, and I always had so much trouble getting the “needle” position at the
right frequency for clarity. We had also never purchase our own TV. It was
generously provided by our relative. Initially it was a second-hand black and
white TV and later because a relative struck 4D, she is actually so kind to contribute
to us a 20” color TV.

Being the youngest, I was always tasked to run errands for my dad. This
is so annoying because it was often during times when I had to miss my
favourite TV programs. No video-tape recording back then for us, let alone
Youtube today that you no longer worry of any missed programs. 

I also remember that sometimes there will be power cut off. Instead of grumbling
on the inconvenience, I will be so happy because I will then light up candles with
siblings and neighbours along the corridors and play with torchlights too.

Although we were poor, but when I was in kindergarten, my mother who
doted me so much, will almost every day without fail, buy a toy/sweets for me. Be
it 50c “doraemon” or 10-20c “toy soldiers” or even few times, second-hand toys
she picked up near our house’s rubbish chute which still appear brand new, I
was always happy!

My siblings and I did not have our own beds until I was in my late teens
and my elder siblings in their 20s. We slept on mattresses that we will lay on
the floor during bedtimes. My father did not even want a mattress complaining
about the heat and prefer to sleep on the bare floor.  

To have a hot shower, we had to boil water in a kettle and pour it into
a PVC bathtub, and then scooped water from it to bath. When the days got warm,
I will just shower off the tap connected to a long rubber hose, and this is not
even a proper shower set. Otherwise, we will scoop water out of the
“traditional Chinese water tank left behind from our Ah Gong” (just like one in
the picture below), to bath or to flush the toilet in order to conserve water.
Every cents count back then! 

For studies, we never have a proper study room or a study table, so as
to speak. It was normally me “planking” on the floor or using the sofa with a
wooden plank as a table that I did most of homework on. The homework can also
be done on a foldable dinner cum study table that I will fold and bring to and
fro the bedroom and kitchen. While without a conducive environment to
study, my siblings and I did have relative good results for our PSLE or O
Levels. My brother scored an astounding 3 A-stars and 1A for his PSLE with 258
points, and I surprised with single-digit points for my 6-subject L1R5 O
levels. Not too bad for me who was pretty much a “hooligan” spending all my
times with wrong company then.


Despite lacking a lot of things in the 1970-90s what a household will
have today, I still consider myself to have a very happy childhood days. I am
not even referring back to the 1950-60s and before when people lack even more
things, and yet still possibly to lead a warm and happy life.

With technological advancement, we had achieved so much efficiency in
the history of mankind. The world’s economy has increased and increased over
the years, so is the cost of living! 

Somehow technology brings so much convenience but also because of
technology, we lost so much of human compassion and human personal touch.

Honestly, do we really think that we are better off today compared to
the yesterday years? 

And also the next time when we think of what WE DO NOT HAVE, perhaps we
should first think of WHAT WE CAN DO WITHOUT? 

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18 thoughts on “We are not rich by what we possess but by what we can do without!

  1. "And also the next time when we think of what WE DO NOT HAVE, perhaps we should first think of WHAT WE CAN DO WITHOUT?"

    My generation definitely can.
    Some of your generation can.
    Your children's generation can mey?
    They hardly or never experienced what we could do without.
    Instant gratifications, use and throw is the way to go today.

    1. Hi temperament,

      Guess it is different stages of evolution in an economy, which is inevitable. USA is an eg.

      Not just in Sg, in fact more distinctly I witness within China where the people in the 90s are so different from those prior. My last ten years there saw changes that will otherwise take place in few decades in other countries such as Indonesia, India etc.

      My generation born in the 70s should not have a problem I think. Many of my friends and colleagues in this age group are just "Giam Gu!", not very much different from those in the 60s. Haha… they are all very frugal really.

      Those in the 80s have quite a big gap, then even bigger gap for those in the 90s.

      The only thing I can do now is ensure the right values are injected into my next generation as much as I can. But end of the day, it's up to them.

  2. No. We can't go back to the old days.

    Only during those few days in my fishing trips, I would be greeted by roosters crow at dawn and no hand phone alarm. LOL!

    1. Yes. Time cannot turn back, can only "taste back" *chinese translation*.

      Hehe… Msia kampongs still have many roosters!

  3. Hi Rolf,

    Thanks for your post. Bring back many old memories. Pen pal, spiders, marbles, 2 rooms HDB, analog radio, the traditional Chinese "water tank"…Haha.


    1. Hi Farmers,

      Yeah the old memories. Unfortunately we do not have too many photos or videos back then compare to the ease of snapping photos today.

  4. Thank you, Rolf, for this vivid trip down memory lane. Sounds very close to what my wife tells me about her youth.

    It shows that there are endless amenities we should be grateful of. Unfortunately we often do chose to focus on something lacking instead of the abundance around us.
    Two weeks ago my trusted computer crashed. Then last Monday my new computer crashed. I was lost. Why do we depend so much on technology? Lucky me my Kindle was still working. ha ha

    1. Hi Rolf,

      Well, it was trustworthy for 3.5 years. Which is not too bad for modern technology. The new computer shortened that trustworthy period to only 7 days, which is rather unacceptable.

      Yes, they certainly are. And even for longer than 3.5 years. That's another aspect in which humankind can still beat technology.

    2. Hi Andy,

      3.5 yrs is reasonable. 7 days, haha could it be u r unlucky.

      But it's better to be unlucky with electronic devices rather than with ur close ones.


  5. I remember (and miss) the doing research in libraries with schoolmates for project work! These days, project work meetings can be held at cafes or even online already. Not as fun anymore. The 90s were definitely better times in a sense, although thankfully I never got hit by those water bombs hehe (I was the one throwing them instead :P)

    Unfortunately, once we've had a slice of something good it is hard to go back. No wonder they say technology is a double-edged sword!

    1. Hi BB,

      Those were the days. Yes indeed technology is a double edge sword and frankly I am not really a big fan of it and unsure if it really improves the overall life of majority of mankind or just only a minority of the population truly benefited the most from it.

  6. Hi Rolf

    A walk past the memory lane indeed.

    There are some things which we take things for granted now given the advance of technology but the world revolves around moving into face time and humans need to move with it.

    The next time our kids will probably think if what they see now as their olden childhood days, perhaps a robot partner is normal in the next few decades

    1. Hi B,

      Yes we must always look ahead and that is extremely important.

      But what kind of attitude we bring with us looking ahead sometimes is dependent on what we do and how we feel today.

      And our attitude of today is sometimes shaped from what we go through in the past. Our knowledge of past experiences help us meet with demands and challenges of present time.

      So the biggest dilemma as parents is while it aches to see our kids go thru difficult and tough lives when they are young (but need to be happy), somehow it is one of the ways that can make them anti-fragile when they grow up.

      I am not discounting robot partner in the evolution of technology. But frankly, that means we are moving away and away from the true living of mankind.

      Instead of many people may think we need to progress, I think mankind actually need to rejuvenate some kind of regression to the past for us to really progress in our lives.

      hehe… sounds abit chim… 🙂 ok, just treat I am talking to myself!


  7. wait a moment…
    is that where my ah ma's missing water tank went to?!!!!

    man, those were the days…

  8. Hi Rolf,

    Maybe the current new times for us is the good old days for the next generation. In the future without us, they will be reminiscing about the days when they play 2D games on mobile phones or laptop, and the slow speed of the internet and 4g, or the inefficient way of burning dinosaur juice in cars to travel.

    I'm just saying each generation has their own past and baggage to carry over to the next, and each generation will have to find their own way to navigate the future.

    All is as well as it should be 🙂

  9. Hi LP,

    Yes indeed.

    Human beings adapt and evolve. In fact not just human beings, almost all living things do that.

    If recalling the past makes us happy, we should do more. But if it keep us complaining and stagnant, then it is no good.

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