By NATASHA IMAN
THREE days after being back in Malaysia, I dragged mum and dad to our favourite sweet appam store in Kuala Lumpur that has remained unchanged since I was a child.
On our way there, we drove past a street of houses and dad took the liberty of pointing out an area at the end of the row. He apprised me that in its place once stood a house where I had spent countless of hours playing with childhood friends and learning the arithmetic.
It was my old kindergarten – Zai Karim – which used to be one of the best English-based kindergartens in KL.
Looking back at my kindergarten days, I never imagined that I would be studying in Australia and planning for university life overseas.
However, it was expected that most of the kids studying with me at the time would take the same path that I did. After kindergarten we would have all moved into a private school and from there we would complete our high school education in Britain or Australia, where we’d stay on for our tertiary education.
I have indeed been truly blessed and privileged enough to have been born into a considerably affluent family. I never worried about where my next school fees would be coming from or whether we would be able to afford textbooks for the next year.
I was always presented with opportunities to travel and broaden my perspective of the world. From witnessing first hand the disparities in South Africa and India, to learning about European history, travelling definitely instilled in me a curiosity about other cultures.
However, unlike what’s portrayed of the life of an affluent child in TV shows like Gossip Girl and My Super Sweet 16, I don’t spend endless hours shopping for designer wear or planning birthday parties that cost hundred and thousands of ringgit.
In fact, if anything, my family has constantly enforced the importance of philanthropy and being thrifty. Many people fail to realise that we don’t live materialistic lives that mirror on-screen characters.
I can’t deny having been pampered here and there throughout the years, but personal edification has always prevailed in the middle of all the material goods.
Surely it is fantastic to be able to afford the latest gadgets and be au courant with fashion trends, but does acquiring material goods enhance us morally or does it just contribute to our pile of stuff?
Everyone is out chasing things in the material world, but as Apple has taught me, material goods never last.
Having bought the first generation iPod Touch, I struggled to cope with not being able to continuously purchase the generations that followed. The added functionality, one after the other, in the gadgets have caused people to constantly fork out lots of money in order to keep with the times.
But for what purpose, really?
Investing money in other endeavours like learning a language or a musical instrument, on the other hand, creates opportunities for us youth and it even enables us to explore what we would like to do in the future instead of letting someone else decide for us once we’ve reached the end of our schooling life.
After travelling to countries such as South Korea and Japan, I’ve come to realise the importance of being able to speak a foreign language and have developed a strong passion for the East Asian culture.
Unlike the short existence of my iPod Touch, learning two foreign languages would prove its use in the future for work or travel purposes; conversely my dispensable iPod won’t be there to support me later on.
I’ve also had the chance to attend various school programmes and camps in my younger days and although I may not want to pursue a scientific career at this point in time, I’m glad that I’ve been through the experience.
I can also say that I haven’t given up anything before trying.
It is impossible to say that money is not integral when it comes to acquiring knowledge or skills. Music lessons and language classes require means; however, is the money we invest in that shiny new laptop or designer wallet really well spent or are we being purely superficial?
Just like any other parent who wants the best for their child, my parents provide where they see fit and to the extent that they aren’t teaching us how to live opulently.
This means forgoing the constant splurges that a child from a rich family might have and using the money to create more opportunities – music lessons, language studies, overseas volunteering programmes.
Being a teenager, the line between my wants and needs is often blurred. There are times when it seems that the latest gadget would benefit me more than sitting through two hours of Japanese conversation classes on the weekend.
But in the end, it does become apparent where our priorities do and should lie.
It is one thing to be affluent but using the wealth to enrich your life, gain more knowledge and broaden your worldly views is a vital notion. Being citizens in a mercenary world, we have become predisposed to joining the chase for financial and maetrial gains, and to trounce the next person.
However, it is important to step back and look at things from a wider perspective.
If it is true what they say that money makes the world go round, my two sen is that you should make it go your way. Both money and opportunity may appear to go hand-in-hand but opportunities don’t just sweep by you if you sit there and wait.
So the next time you walk into that new clothing store or camera shop, keep in mind that a whole plateau of options awaits you if you’re willing to put in a little time, effort and of course, money.
q Natasha goes to school in Australia and may or may not be a scientist in the future. She’s a big fan of Tamiya cars and tweets at