I have had plentiful encounters during my lifetime that somehow ingrained in my head that “only items that are expensive are worth any form of respect”.
Not that kind of respect in the worship, coveted sense. Our minds shouldn’t be owned by our possessions. But rather, respect in the most basic form, that this is (name)’s belongings. Do not damage it because it is not yours.
When I was 12, I bought a red Mickey Mouse autograph book. I loved it a lot as it had plenty of colorful pages, and I had planned to collect messages from all my Primary School classmates before graduation. In fact, it already had a handful of messages in it.
One weekend, a cousin yanked at it unyieldingly when I wanted to take it back from him. The first two pages tore. I was devastated.
The aunt looked over to see what the fuss was about. When she saw the torn autograph book, she rebuked me. “Aiyah! Cry over this for what? This one so cheap, you can just buy another one lah!”
“Can just buy another one.”
Not a single thought of the messages friends had already left for me inside.
A year later, I had a favourite white GUESS t-shirt that I wore often. It also happened to be the period of time where one cousin was obsessed with markers. He drew on my t-shirt when I was not looking. The stain never came out.
Again, similar response from the aunts.
“Aiyah, your t-shirt is cheap one lah. Just get another one lor!”
“But this is my favourite t-shirt!” – my feeble protest.
“But it looks so cheap! Can get a nicer one lah!”
“This t-shirt is expensive too!” – me, by then playing on the fact that only using the “expensive” concept will work on them. (Besides, the tee cost $39.90, considered a hefty amount for a Secondary 1 student then.)
“Expensive mehhhh? Where gotttttt? Your t-shirt has no brand!”
Which again, was besides the whole point.
The point was, I am wearing my favourite t-shirt. My favourite t-shirt got ruined. I am upset because my favourite t-shirt was ruined.
I got a dressing-down because I got upset. The cousin on the other hand, never got rebuked for drawing on my t-shirt.
Here I was, getting drilled in my head that “no one cares that it is your favourite t-shirt. They will only care if your ruined t-shirt comes from a branded label with a hefty price tag to boot. Otherwise it is okay to ruin other peoples’ things if they are cheap.”
This was the message I got. And I hated that message. At the age of 13, I vowed to rebel. That I would treat people’s belongings with the same respect I gave me own. And that basic respect for people encompassed respecting their property, branded or not, expensive or not.
Throughout teenhood and until today, I continued to get slapped by contrary messages.
On another recent occasion, (family member) was sheltering me from the rain. Her handbag was within the shade of the umbrella but my haversack was getting soaked.
When I pointed out that my bag was getting wet, her response was as such. “My handbag is expensive! Your things are cheap things. Nevermind one. (Sic)”
I wasn’t expecting any other reply anyway.
I guess the past 17 years of trying to battle this mentality was a futile one.
But I’ll continue to respect other people’ belongings like I would my own anyway.
You’d never know if that bag is that person’s favourite bag. You’ll never know if that t-shirt carries a powerful personal memory. You’ll never know if that person had saved up a year’s worth of allowance just to buy that item.
(P/S: For the record, I do not bear any hatred/grudge towards any people referenced in this post. I just did not agree with their actions and the incidents I raised were significant to me questioning this particular value set.)
What were some significant events in your growing-up years that ingrained within you messages that you did not agree with?
When I came back from Vancouver last month, emotionally refreshed (despite physically maxed out), I was vehemantly telling myself that I should never become jaded again.
Not by shitty happenings.
And especially not by people.
Don’t become jaded. Don’t become jaded. Don’t become jaded.
Never let anyone dull your sparkle.
Don’t let anyone (or anything) get you down.
You cannot control people or happenings but you can control how you perceive it.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Maybe it was the exhilaration of having just accomplished a solo trip. Of being away for twelve days in a completely new environment, another country.
You gain new perspectives, and you shift into a more positive frame of mind.
But less than three weeks after returning, I find myself slinking back into the same old, same old mindset.
Maybe it’s the constant pain in my joints that is getting me down (which got significantly worse last weekend).
Now it’s back to “fuck this shit” and “bah, humbug” all over again.
Not emotionally healthy at all; And emotional health is pretty much the only semblence of “health” I have left right now and still I’m not even guarding it well.
Several nights in Vancouver meant several nights of late night chats with my favourite cousin D.
We reminisced about the music we used to listen to, and sang them out loud when driving around. (Apparently, he remembers “Barbie Girl” as the first song that I introduced to him when he was 7. Although I distinctly remembered it as “Tarzan and Jane” by Toybox. 🤔)
We reminisced about growing up together.
About how close we used to be with two other cousins when we were growing up, and how we suddenly drifted apart from them when we reached adulthood.
“Yeah, I really missed those days. The four of us used to travel so much together.” I quipped.
“Yeah, but I have to say, I really feel that it was them who drifted away from us.” – D.
I also had that sentiment, but couldn’t quite pinpoint why. Perhaps it’s just the passage of time. Or not enough effort on both sides to initiate contact. I don’t know. Relationships suddenly become harder to maintain once we get older, with more responsibilities, no matter how close we all used to be.
But then again, D and I are so far apart. He’s 12,813 kilometres (or a 12 + 4 hour flight) away for a huge portion of the past 8 years of our lives. Yet when we get back together, it still feels like the good old days and all hell breaks loose (in a good way).
And I’m really happy about that.
We spoke about how we were both brought up in an extended family culture where relatives pitted us endlessly against against one another.
Grades comparison were endless, and unfortunately, I was often the basis of comparison. (I.e. “Why can’t you be more like Che Che Brenda? She studies so hard.”) A fact that I used to be proud of – that other parents wanted their kids to be like me, but only later on realized there’s really no point in studying so hard when it only about grades chasing (as I did in the past).
We spoke about our own upbringing and what we liked/disliked about it. And it was at this point I realized that indeed, the personalities and attitudes of the elders that surrounded us did shape us substantially while we were growing up. We both went through periods of self doubt during the impressionable teenage years (which we did not talk to each other about back then but only just confided in each other).
For me, I grew up with a very low self confidence and was constantly doubting myself. And since late-Primary School, I was criticised endlessly for my looks.
“Why do you have so many pimples on your face?”
“Why are you not taking care of your skin?”
“Why are you always wearing jeans?”
“Why can’t you dress more like a lady?”
I was pressured to do facials when I was only fourteen. I refused, only to be labelled as “stubborn” and told that “I had to start these things early”. Extended family members chided me each time I broke out into spots. And there was plenty of pressure to conform to gender identity, especially since I had a rather tomboyish persona.
Perhaps my relentless grades-chasing back then was my own way to compensate for my lacking self-confidence. Good grades seemed to be the best form of morale boost to me.
And being young, most of us don’t really confront all these negative pressures in the face. Although, several times I did bring this up, only to be told the following.
“It was just a joke lah!”
“You have to stop being so sensitive!”
“Aunty ___/Uncle ___ was just being concerned.”
Concerned, my backside.
“We were young back then. We don’t really have the power. Adults always think they know better just because they are older. But they don’t always do. And they don’t realize what they say can really impact us.” – D.
“Unfortunately, both of us are only-children, which means that our parents were forced to learn on-the-job when we were born. And no parent is perfect.” – me.
The conversation about our respective upbringings went on and on, but most of it are too personal so they shall just remain in my mind.
When I looked up at the clock, it was 12.35am and we had yammered on and on for three hours.
It’s time to pack up and go home to Singapore.
My dear D, please choose the path you feel suits you best and never succumb to parental pressure. Be happy always and I’ll see you again soon!