Richness In Poverty.

by Patrick Liew on February 25, 2014

It was way past midnight. Still, I was fully awake.

I was tossing and turning on my bed. I said bed but in actual fact, it was a woven straw mat of about 3 cm thick.

I retrieved it from the cupboard every evening and laid it out on the floor. For 21 years, I spent the night on it.

On that particular night, it would have been peacefully quiet if not for murmurings from my parents.

They were whispering to one another behind the double-brick wall that divided my room and theirs.

Much as I wanted to shut my ears from their conversation, I couldn’t help eavedropping because I knew they were discussing about me.

Earlier on in the evening, I had passed a notice from my school to them. It was time for them to pay for the exam fees so that I could take the GCE Ordinary Level Exams in November, 1973.

Looking at the frown lines running across their face, I could sense the anxiety growing in their hearts. It was not a totally unexpected situation.

I was not completely surprised because I had experienced a similar scenario two years before. That was the time when my elder brother presented a similar notice for the exams to my parents.

History was repeating itself right before my eyes. This time, I could feel the anguish because I was the protagonist in this sad drama.

My parents were low-income earners and they have to support a relatively large family. As a result, we were literally living from hand to mouth.

When I was growing up, there were nine of us, including my parents living in a small flat.

To make ends meet, my parents would rent out whatever space they could spare. At one point, we even had more than one person renting our living room.

We would have rented out our toilet if we did not have to use it every now and then.

My grandmother and siblings were squeezed into a small room together with me.

The room was so small even the mice were hunchbacks.

If I had a dog, the dog would have to wag its tail vertically.

On one end of the room, my elder brother had a canvass bed and a study table to himself. My grandma’s bed occupied the other end of the room.

The rest of us would sleep on the floor. On many nights, I might roll and sleep underneath my grandmother’s bed.

Hence, if you look at my face, it’s a little flat.

As a child, I did not remember having any toys. Still, I had a lot of fun playing with whatever was around me.

Most of my clothings were hand-me-downs. When my 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. I had to be mindful when I coughed that I did not do it too strongly.

My pants might drop.

Our family had barely enough money to spend beyond the basic necessities. We didn’t even have the luxury of eating fruits on a regular basis.

On special occasions, we might share an orange. It would be carefully sliced into more than six slices so that every one of us would have a share of the fruit.

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

I would allow the juice and the pulp to slush around my mouth as I savoured the sweetness of the fruit.

I could still feel the juice uplifting my senses as it flowed a little at a time down my throat. If I could, I would have eaten the whole skin too.

The lack of vitamin C has unfortunately left me with a less than healthy-looking skin. The pock marks on my face until today was the result of a lack of nutrition.

In my younger days; yes, a long time ago, I used to attract girls with 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 what I just wrote, you can believe anything in the world. :0)

Even though I was poor, I did not feel poor because I had good parents. I could not 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. Bringing us up was not an easy task but they managed to keep us alive and well until we reached adulthood.

Every now and then, a mishap would happen and my parents would have to crack their heads to come out with a way to tide through the hard times.

That night was the start of one of such trying periods.

I cannot remember my parent’s conversation which went right into the middle of the night. The essence of the discussion probably went like this…

“How are we going to pay for the exams fees?”

“I don’t know. We have hardly any money left. Is there anything we can sell or pawn to get some money?”

“No. Remember the last accident you had with your taxi? We are still clearing the debt after repairing the vehicle.”

“Can we borrow from our uncles or cousins again?”

“Probably not. Those who are kind to us would have already made a loan to us. The rest would either not lend to us or they will avoid us if we ask them for help.”

“We have no other choices. Let’s go through every one of our relatives and friends again.”

After a few days of literally calling every person they knew, my parents finally approached Uncle and Aunty Tian. They were distant relatives but they have helped my family many times in the past.

When my parents shared the plight with them, they stretched out their helping hands. They loaned us the money even though they were not rich.

Looking back, although I was poor financially, I was not unhappy. In fact, it was one of the best things to happen in my life.

I am proud of the fact that I grew up in poverty.

Poverty is one of the best drivers for progress.

Poverty helped me to become more grateful for every blessing in life. I learned to value what truly matters in life.

I discovered enough goodness in life that gave me a sense of well being. More importantly, I had a deep sense of faith, hope and optimism for the future.

If we review the overall scheme of life, we will realize that our perception of poverty is narrow and incomplete .

There is a need to re-evaluate our belief so that we can live a balanced life. We can live a full life and life to the fullest.

1. Poverty of dreams

I realized that the greatest poverty is a poverty of dreams.

When there is nothing to look forward to, and nothing to live and fight for, life is likened to a drifting feather, carried by aimless winds of life.

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

When we press on with determination for our high calling, we can tap on the infinite wealth that our Creator has prepared for us.

He has opened a personal checking account so that we can draw from His unlimited resources to fulfill worthwhile causes.

2. Poverty of character and values

Poverty of character and values is another one of the worst diseases that plagues different parts of society.

Ultimately, people will see beyond the glamour that we may adorn on and around us. They will see right through to our heart.

It is not what we have but how we gave, not the quantity of our possession but the quality of our contribution that determine true wealth.

3. Poverty of humility

There is no trait that highlights poverty as much as a poverty of humility.

When we think we are bigger than what we really are and worse, when we think we are better than the others, we push ourselves over the cliff of true wealth and into the dark abyss of life.

On the way down, there are no helping hands because we have rejected them.

Even if there are people there to help us, the lack of humility will continue to prevent us from breaking the fall and climbing back to our rightful place.

4. Poverty of right action

Ultimately, poverty becomes permanent when there is a poverty of right action.

When we do not take the right action and enough of them, we will never improve our lot in life.

Somehow, we will find ourselves going round in circles and regressing in life.

We will never be able to escape the clutches of poverty and acquire sustainable wealth.

Let’s break this vicious cycle of poverty.


By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Inspiration blog at

For my opinions on social affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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