The Virtue of Simplicity – Take 2

In Part 1, The Virtue of Simplicity (link, we tackled how the rich squandered their wealth. Here in Part 2, we will tackle how the poor squander their ‘wealth’.

eastwind journals, August 23, 2021 (archive tr135)

This is a true story. The shanties of a squatter area (ghetto) somewhere in Quezon City was going to be demolished to make way for a shopping mall. According to law, developers must have a resettlement plan, a place where to relocate the displaced. To encourage the poor to relocate, the developer gave P30,000 per household for moving expenses. The squatters were delighted by the sudden windfall.

There was this one family where the father gave permission for his spoiled daughter to buy an Ipad, circa P20,000, as long as she let her other 4 siblings use it once in a while. Imagine, a portable touch-screen giving you access to games instantly, faster than a laptop. It was a ‘family toy’. They started quarreling over the ‘toy’, the youngest complaining she had very little access.

With the balance, they bought other ridiculous items but allotted a small portion for moving expenses. This news circulated among the other squatters, and there was a band-wagon effect. Others also started buying ridiculous items such as expensive rubber shoes and android phones. Here we see how the poor can also be just as or even more materialistic than the rich.

The story is not over. The squatters did not like their new homes. It was far from their jobs and livelihood, and other amenities they were used to. They were simply blinded by the cash. So, one family started sneaking back to their old home. The developer was not quick enough to bulldoze the houses, waiting for the place to be completely vacated, and never imagined any of one family would dare go back quietly in the middle of the night, after getting the P30,000 each.

Again, the band wagon effect took over. Other families started returning to their old homes quickly before the bulldozers arrive. It was a daring feat, a combination of unsatisfied needs and plain ‘pasaway’ (‘rebellious’ is a poor English translation). Let’s end the story here about the ensuing ‘war’, too long and complicated for this article.

Here is another story of a Singalong boy I met, featured in this column earlier. He was selling fishball on a small improvised wheeled cart. He was caught gyrating and singing aloud in public, not hearing his own voice drowned by the loud music, with no care about the world outside his music brain. People gathered around him, and thought he was crazy. He had an expensive blue-tooth earphone (wireless) connected to his ancient cellphone without a sim. It was just for music. He imagined he was in a Michael Jackson concert, mimicking his body-language with precision. He even had a straw hat for the act. When he noticed the crowd, he stopped. The crowd applauded wildly.

POLICEMAN – (Examining his earphones.) This is very expensive. Where did you steal it?

BOY – I saved one year of hard money from my fish ball income.

When the crowed jeered, the policeman left. Nothing mattered to him except his music. It was an escape from the world of hunger and poverty, a spiritual wealth. He preferred spiritual over physical survival. He would rather eat less and dance and sing more.

I was just as guilty. During my adventures in Europe as a young man, I stretched my money for the road for three years with an ingenious plan. I never took the train or bus. I hitch-hiked. The cheap Eurail Pass (cheap train trips to anywhere for a month) was expensive for me. I never ate in restaurants and just bought grocery stuff. I had a portable cooking gear for hot soup with vegetables. I never stayed in hotels, only camping grounds or under bridges if I was on the road.

I was spending a ridiculous $2 a day then, when I saw this book “Europe for $5 a day”. Yet my ‘secret formula’ was very simple, very eastern. Frugality made my spirit free. I was ‘poor but happy’ as Ernest Hemingway wrote in his book Fiesta.

I bought a ridiculously expensive nylon Spanish guitar which I ridiculously dragged along as I hitch-hiked. It was my magic wand. I met beautiful people, had fantastic experiences, and augmented my income singing in a Munich plaza, a Copenhagen bar, and in an Athens subway.

The lesson of simplicity is denying the body with frugality to free the spirit, as monks and contemplatives do.


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