The cost of living in KL is high. And I’ve been told that housing in Petaling Jaya has gotten more expensive in the last few years.

Let me qualify that I’m not, for once, using the price of a Tall latte from Starbucks as a gauge. This time, I’m using two current observations:

1. The sudden atomic explosion of air-conditioned “kopitiams” like PappaRich, Old Town White Coffee, etc.

2. The sudden atomic explosion of air-conditioned “kopitiams” like PappaRich, Old Town White Coffee, etc., DESPITE the fact that a bowl of noodles (aptly called noodles because that’s all you pretty much see in the big bowl too) costs about RM5.

5 > 10 Tea!
5 > 10 Tea!

Now, before anyone complains that this is all too general, I would like to say that I AM using general observations because they’re a good gauge on how the Ringgit is doing. Besides, I’ve stopped reading the newspapers since the death of Teoh Beng Hock, so I have no access to actual property figures.

Having said that, life in KL has always been on the high side. But I know how high high has become when my domestic helper (by the way, she helps with housework so I can spend quality time with my 16-month old – so don’t get too excited about slamming me for my so-called middle-class status) indignantly questions me why “…sebiji terung boleh berharga RM2.80?” Apparently back in Jawa, she can get “satu kilo” worth of brinjals for that price. That’s a lot of sambal terung!

Another quaint observation, as mentioned by a colleague, is the seemingly lethargic climb of the basic salary against the more enthusiastic jumps in our living costs. In short, the figures don’t match.

Talk to any fresh graduate and he or she will tell you that sometimes they’re being picky because the pay is ridiculously low. A nonchalant scan across the Google universe reveals articles where the reigning opinion is that Malaysians are quite a lowly paid lot.

Given this scenario, it bothers me that my taxes are sitting somewhere in a vault named “Emergency: Use Upon Discretion” and the said emergencies include by-election handouts and GLC bailouts as these usually qualify.

I mean, who really knows what’s happening or going to happen with Sime Darby? And never mind the occasional tour de force headed for Disneyland though what relevant charities exist there I don’t know.

But it bugs me that I am continually paying a total of RM8.00 worth of toll (both ways) just to visit my old folks in Cheras. Should there not be at least information to the public regarding the length of time we’re supposed to pay for the convenience of the highways?

I remember when I was in my SPM year and the Cheras toll plaza was still around. There was an ambitious plan to charge the residents RM1.oo. Literally, a riot broke out with hundreds if not thousands of Cheras-ians storming out of the brickworks to protest against the high price. It wasn’t long before the plaza was pulled down.

Is this testimony to the might of the tough Cheras-ian folks or simply proof that politicians can perform magic tricks and make cement structures disappear if they needed votes? Cheras remains DAP territory and that should say something.

But as my 74-year old mum says, “Wah, you say your condo convenience store is expensive but the ‘sawi’ at the Cheras market is almost the same price!”

We work hard for our money. Harder than we imagine. 10 years ago, RM200 could last me a week. And this was with me pulling in average 60-hour weeks, dining at mamak stalls plus shopping for cheap clothes at Parkson all factored in.

Now, I’m lucky if my weekly RM400 budget remains untampered with. Admittedly, life is a lot more expensive if you have children and I do have one baby in the midst.

But what if it’s circa 2020 and all we have are PappaRich and Old Town White Coffee (or their hybrids) because by then, all the wantan noodle and mamak stalls will be self-service kiosks charging an extra RM1.00 for monthly machine maintenance?

Will my kid have to be a semi-millionaire to own the basic car and home and hold a reasonably pleasant wedding at a restaurant (we’re not even talking about a banquet at The Westin ballroom here) or will he essentially be a pisang-millionaire who hails from Bananaringgitland?

Let’s hope this is not what Vision 2020 is about because if so, I’m strangely hoping I’ll have cataracts by then.

Have things really gone up in price due to scarcity of resources? To a certain extent this may be true of the world. But given the cloak and dagger behaviour of our country’s leaders, how can we shake off the feeling that some of our politicians have also been flushing our taxes into the economy in order to project a “healthy economic growth”, despite the slow climb elsewhere out of the worldwide economic gloom?

Is Bobby McFerrin really dead? Or has he reincarnated and become one of our ministers? “Don’t worry la, be happy la…everything ok. Everything boleh. Vote saja-lah untuk kami. Pasti beres.”

One last word on money. It really doesn’t grow on trees. And even if it did, I suspect they’re being chopped left, right and centre, anyway. If we live too long thinking we’ve got what we don’t have – and I mean this in a larger-picture way – we will BE bankrupt by 2019.

Middle-class Malaysians will never know why they spend so much time at the office working their butts off. Traders will never really make much profit for the protection money they have to surrender, plus the countless other “donations” they have to make in order to run a business. Farmers will never find more productive ways to increase their yield and improve their livelihood – well, especially if the equipment they get for voting some politicians don’t really work.

Last but not least, nobody but the same, privileged politicians will know if our savings are worth the value of what we put in, in the first place. Even if it’s the general rule of thumb that the Government “tak boleh main dengan duit rakyat”, somehow “BOLEH” will triumph.

It’s Bolehland remember?

Lisa Ng is a human being. She used to be a copywriter in the advertising industry. But now she just writes. For whatever helps us regain the lost art of "giving a toss" about the things that matter to...

9 replies on “Don’t Play-Play with My Money”

  1. My life as a fresh grad 4 years ago:

    I studied 5 years abroad and came back with a starting salary of RM1800 (before tax). I shared a small master bedroom with another girl for RM650 a month. In addition to daily transportation, I spent most of my hard earned money paying for the internet and phone (for my long distance relationship), water and electricity bill, insurance and food. I am left with very little in terms of savings (for a car), shopping and a robust social life. I am also one of those that was only able to give my parent an ang pow once a year.

    I wonder how many out there are living a life of just having enough, just getting by ….what of quality of life, of enjoying books, theater, art, of marriage, kids, of repaying your parents….

  2. Qama,

    Yes, "quite a few" means a lot actually, or maybe I should just dispense with the niceties and just say a hell of a lot :) We have funny conditions for everything. So I guess as time goes by, they'll revise definition of poverty to anything below RM300 whereby it should be a lot higher just based on inflation alone. So we'll all just eat expensive roti canai for a while till someone noble can help turn things around at the top.

  3. LN,

    "But here’s what I don’t get. RM3000 – many people don’t even get that as a starting pay. More like RM1,500 or RM1,800 maximum. So doesn’t that mean there are quite a few Malaysians out there struggling to survive in KL?"

    i got to correct you on this. a few? it's a lot lor. this is urban poverty. you live in the city but you are struggling to meet day's end.

    funny fact – according to UN index of countries poverty

    %, M'sia filled at the bottom with less than 2% is

    hardcore poverty.

    punchline – yardstick for poor in M'sia is household income less

    than RM500. RM500??

    even a bangla earning more than that. so bangla is not poor la.

    CPI had rose, inflation also, all indicator for social economy in Bolehland worries everyone. yet, mega projects can be approved. new parliament in Putrajaya that cost more than billions? aiyoh, this reminds me of England dark era. we are all peasents, working to serve nobles, living alongside majestic castle, pay taxes, just for a decent bread and water.

  4. Hi all,

    Thank you for your comments. All valid. And Manniecannie, I know how you feel. It is very hard to not have a maid and most people will tell you "Eh our parents managed what?" The truth is our parents had help too since families were less nuclear then and there was always some uncle, aunty or grandparent living in the same house or a house nearby to lend a hand when the parents worked. And boy did some of our parents worked! Back then though, a bank teller could come home by 4.30pm. Now? More like 6.30pm – with traffic jam factored in.

    Here's an article from The Star if you haven't already read it:

    Apparently a salary of RM3000 is good enough to live in KL if we cut out Astro and extra cars. Maybe the car bit is true but Astro? Eh? How much would we save cutting out Astro?

    But here's what I don't get. RM3000 – many people don't even get that as a starting pay. More like RM1,500 or RM1,800 maximum. So doesn't that mean there are quite a few Malaysians out there struggling to survive in KL?

  5. what to do..lot of ppl say "gomen ok, depa buat jalan.." haiyoo, any government can give road lar..hoping for more wiser voter to clearly save tha masses..can't take it already..opting to migrate now.. *sigh

  6. in malaysia, we pay for cost of production and selling expense, plus cost of inefficiency and cost of corruption. pretty soon GST will be salt to injury

    not only we pay more, we pay for inferior goods. a proton to malaysian is wat a toyota is to sawadikaps; in s'pore a paper towel is as thick as a cloth towel in M'sia and their ladies' attire looks a hell lot better than in M'sia;

    pretty soon, Malaysia with this ideology called "racism-first common-sense distant fifth" will make Malaysia equal in stature to Indonesia in living standard

    can we blame the government of the day? I allocate more of the blame to the unthinking unreasonable and lazy to learn voters who year in year voted to get robbed

    the next GE will pit the oppressed urban vs the blissfully ignorant and comfortable rural hillbillies

  7. Dear Lisa,

    Been waiting for quite a while now for somebody to write on the subject. Every bit is true. I've been suffering long enough from low pay and escalating prices of basic necessities. And kids come with a very high price; so does a maid. We can't afford a maid, so I have to slave everyday after work to do the housework, pushing my bedtime to the wee hours. We can't afford holidays, and weekends are spent either to do the extra work for that little extra money or just be swamped in housework. What a life! The Minister of Women and Family Development (or whatever they call it these days, as I too, have quit reading the newspapers) keep harping on spending quality time with families. We don't even have enough time in a day for work, just for survival! And when that year-end bonus comes, it comes complete with the tax. Of course, as you aptly pointed out, our hard-earned money goes to the buy-elections. For the record, I squarely blame the government for this!

  8. Dear Lisa,

    Agreed 101%. But you won't feel the struggle/hardship if you are part of:

    a) The people in power cos plenty of $$ in the form of "contract, APs, commission, sedekah, etc".

    b) The people who do the job for a) or in cohort with a)

    c) If you are a "frog".

    d) The "simpleton" in "dream-boleh land" that the a) will provide free lunch everyday.

    You will continue with the struggle/hardship bcos if you do not belong to any of the above. We would stuck with current condition as long as there is too many d) in the country.

    Thank you.

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