The Death Of A Potential Superhero

by Patrick Liew on August 20, 2019

The Death Of A Potential Superhero

There is a lesson that I learned while growing up among the poor and a lesson that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

The lesson: Poverty will not break you but poverty in spirit will.

My father and mother were low-income workers.

They had to work for more than ten hours per day and seven days a week to support a relatively large family.

As a result, we were literally living from hand to mouth.

Bringing us up was not an easy task, but they managed to keep us alive and well until we reached adulthood.

The young people of today would find it hard to understand when I told them that I spent my childhood without any new toys, clothing or books.

And neither did I have the luxury of having a refrigerator, television, radio, or electric rice cooker in my house.

Strangely enough, I did not crave for the essentials that we often took for granted, and not having them did not make me an unhappier person too.

My family and I lived in a rented flat that the government built for poor families.

I used to joke that as the flat was so small, even the cockroaches were hunchbacked.

If I had a dog, it would have to wag its tail vertically to avoid hitting the walls.

Still, my parents would sub-let whatever living space they could spare to earn an additional income to keep us alive.

They would have rented out the toilet if we didn’t have to use it every now and then.

It’s hard to believe that I didn’t even have a bed until I was 21 years old.

Every evening I would retrieve a woven straw mat of about 3 cm thick from a simple cupboard that I shared with all my brothers.

The cupboard was probably given to us or picked up from a rubbish site.

As I had to sleep in a small room with my grandmother and siblings, I would sleep on the mat underneath my grandmother’s bed.

After years of sleeping under the bed, you could tell why my face is a little flat.

With such good experience in sleeping from young, I can literally sleep or relax anywhere and at anytime, regardless of the noise, smell and condition.

Although I did not own any commercial toys, I had no lack of fun and entertainment.

Since young, I knew I could do a lot with very little, and I made do with anything around me to amuse myself.

Spending money was an expensive way to be happy.

Together with the children around my neighbourhood, we created all kinds of games and other activities to have a good time.

Most of my clothing were hand-me-downs.

When my older brother gave me his school uniform, I had to wear another pair of shorts underneath it.

He was – let’s just say, bigger in size than me.

Therefore, I had to be mindful when I coughed.

If I coughed too strongly, my pants might drop.

Our family had barely enough money to spend beyond meeting our basic needs.

We didn’t even have the luxury of eating fruits on a regular basis.

On special occasions, we might share an orange.

The orange would be carefully sliced into more than six slices so that every one of us could have a share of the fruit.

I would eat the orange slowly, including parts of the back of the skin.

If I could, I would have eaten the orange skin too.

Thinking back, I could still feel the juice slushing in my mouth and the sweetness of the pulp flowing bit by bit down my throat.

The lack of vitamin C has unfortunately left me with a less than healthy-looking skin.

The pockmarks on my face until today were the result of a lack of nutrition.

In my younger days – yes, only a short while ago – many women would fall under the charm of my rough and rugged look.

These wise girls could appreciate beauty when they saw it, and I was definitely a star attraction with them.

If you believe I was ever a star, you can believe anything in the world.

Even though My family were poor, I did not feel poor because I had good parents.

I have nothing to complain because they did not even have a share of the orange.

They sacrificed their own proper diet for their children and my aged grandmother.

Even though my parents had limited spare time for us, we treasured every moment that we spent together.

They were close to us and even until today, I could feel their love for every one of us.

One particular moment spent with my parents would forever be etched in my memory.

Once, I was play-acting as Superman and to “save the world” urgently, I jumped down from our shared cupboard.

Unfortunately, my “nemesis” – by way of a metal container – was waiting for me when I landed.

I suffered a bloody slash on my forehead, and the resulting scar would most likely remain until the last day of my life.

That evening, my parents rushed me to the hospital for a minor operation.

Every problem was minor when I was growing up.

As adults, we often overestimated what we have lost and underestimated we have left.

On the way home, my parents bought me a simple bun with a thin layer of sweet cream in between.

As I sat in close proximity between my father and mother while eating my hyper-delicious bun, I felt like I have gone to paradise and I was happy to stay there forever.

The feeling of love still coast through my being as if I were there again.

Now, was it during that evening when I fell in love with bread and subsequently became known as “Roti Boy” (Son of Bread)?

I’m not sure, but I thought to myself that if I ever became a Superhero, I would be known as the BreadMan.

I would go to the most impoverished communities in the world and turn their rubbish into delicious and nutritious bread to feed the hungry, and help them sell and export the bread to improve their lots.

As I couldn’t pronounce my English words properly, my friends had to keep correcting me.

They would shout at me and said, “It’s pronounced as BREAD – not BREAST!”

“You’re offering bread – and not breast – to save the world!”

Sadly, I failed to learn that the greatest enemies of Superheroes are not out there, but within themselves.

One rainy season many years ago, the world lost a life-saving and world-changing Superhero – BreadMan.

Or should I say, BreadMan did not even rise up from the bad yeast of despair, disappointment and discouragement.

All in all, I had a wonderful childhood and through the awesome teachings of Professor Poverty, I learned many powerful lessons.

The greatest poverty is not a poverty of material wealth, but a poverty of dreams and massive actions to turn your dreams into reality.

If you activate the fighting spirit that has always been within you, you can make things happened.

However, if you have nothing to look forward to and nothing to live and fight for, life is like a drifting feather carried by the aimless winds of life.

There is nothing more tragic than to live without a sense of significance, meaning and purpose in life.

In whatever challenges that you may be faced with, you can find humor, and find humor even in the worst situation.

In fact, you could laugh, if it’s appropriate, at anything and everything.

Being able to laugh, be grateful, and rest well are some of the best fuels to combust your passion to fight another day or to fight another battle.

In the words of the battle cry of my alma mater, the University of Southern California – Fight On!

Remember: You don’t belong to yourself.

Whoever you are and whatever you have can be taken away from you – anytime.

You belong to our Maker.

He has created you with the hope that you stay humble and that you continue to learn, improve, and be wise.

And He wants to bless you so that you can be a blessing to others.

If you are mindful of our Creator’s blessings in your life and are grateful for them, you would realize that He wants to use you to serve a higher calling and fulfil a worthwhile cause.

In closing, please allow me to repeat: Poverty will not break you but poverty in spirit will.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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