Saturday, January 19, 2013

RM 10

Whenever I go back to Malaysia, I never cease to be surprised by how expensive things have become. As a young boy, I remember looking at 10 ringgit bills like they were messiahs disguised as red banknotes, with which all my wishes would be exalted and all my wantings satisfied. A misplaced 10 ringgit would spark a fight between us siblings, because a lost 10 ringgit really felt like your world was crumbling down around you.

But now, a 10 ringgit bill seems more and more like what it really is: a simple piece of paper. It still holds a value, but not the one it used to have. Not to me, anyway. These days I can never be so confident as to go to 7-11 with only 10 ringgit in my pocket, hoping to buy 2 grocery items as staple as milk and eggs. Even if it was enough, the change would be small pieces of metal even a vending machine would spit out in disgust.

I go back to Malaysia once a year, which seems like such a short time for significant changes to occur in KL. It is not. KL is such a dynamic city buzzing with all kinds of excitement that KLites change eating habits the way they change phones. Whenever I ask friends for makan recommendations, I'd get a plethora of new or up-and-coming makan places, and all of this new eateries happened to sprout out within the short period of time I was absent from the country. It's impressive, and one of the utmost reasons why I love KL so much.

The only problem is that most of these eateries charge exorbitant prices for their food. I wouldn't mind spending more on exceptionally good food or great ambiance. I just don't think it's logical to be spending more than 10 ringgit on bubble tea, or 15 ringgit on a simple nasi goreng ayam. Let's not get me started on Tutti Frutti. That stuff is good, and I went there 3 or 4 times during my last holiday in Malaysia. But a small bowl can cost around 15-20 ringgit, and the big one can set you back 40-50 ringgit.

When I really think about it, a lot of my freshly graduated friends' salaries are in the vicinity of 2000-4000 ringgit, with some making more than 5000 ringgit and then a few who are cashing in over 10K a month, but these two latter groups are not the majority. So how they hell do they manage on a 2-4K salary to afford going to these expensive places on a weekly (if not daily) basis? Either these people are excellent at minding their money, or they are in denial that they don't make as much as they'd like to.

When I first went out with my girlfriend, it was Starbucks-Tony Roma's-Pizza Hut-fancy salmon laksa at The Curve kind of affair. Then I realized that neither of us was actually that fancy, so we toned things down - way down - and started hanging out at mamak stalls and Rasta, where I felt more at home. Come to think of it, I don't think any of those people we saw at those posh restaurants were really all that fancy anyway. No matter how dim the lights are and how jazzy the music they play in those restaurant, Malaysians will be Malaysians. We talk loud and laugh like no one's business, negating all kinds of romantic ambiance you are going for. And table manners? We don't follow them, which is yet another reason why I love Malaysia. I once licked the side of my knife in a restaurant here because some good sauce was dripping, and got stared by almost everyone. Apparently in France it's impolite to lick one's knife at the table, and I, honest to God, couldn't give a flying f- to the French complicated table etiquette with their ten thousand pieces of cutlery neatly arranged on both sides of the plate, three million types of glasses (you could give me a bowl for all I care, I just want to drink water dammit!), and napkins in the shape of constipated swans.

But I digress.

So my point is, knowing my splurging self, I can really imagine myself being one of those people who live beyond their means when I go back home. I have to develop the skill of saying no whenever people suggest glitzy restaurants, and remind myself that I just can't afford it. All this while I've been going back to Malaysia on holiday, so I spend money according to what I earn in euros and everything looks dirt cheap. But now the moment of truth is approaching and I'll soon have to stop dividing all prices by four and start spending like the poor fresh graduate that I will be.

Hopefully at that time the 10 ringgit bill will regain its former value in my eyes and I'll appreciate its existence in my pocket.

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