No, not “How are you?” but “Have you eaten?”
Have you noticed the practicality of the common greeting by the older generation of Asians? The baby boomers. The I-ate-restaurant-leftovers-my-father-picked-from-the-trash older lady (mum). The I-had-porridge-for-ten-years-with-no-chicken older man (dad).
I started noticing the practicality from my first pang of hunger. I was seven. A dorky growing girl with an appetite of a freaking elephant.
Oblivious to the angry growls of my stomach, my mother decided all I needed for recess wasn’t pocket money, but a couple of miserable packets of seasoned seaweed. My mother wasn’t a bad parent… she was oblivious. And a very thrifty housewife for good measure. Those packets of seasoned seaweed she bought came with a bulk discount.
Contrary to my present day demeanour, I was quite the accommodating child. I didn’t say anything to mum about being hungry. I didn’t say anything about hating the daily recess, when the smell of fried chicken would fill the air in the canteen.
By the way, a fried chicken wing was 40 cents. You never forget the price of what you cannot afford.
I learned fast I had to escape the canteen, to stop my agony, pronto. After all, you can’t be tempted by what you cannot see. Or in this case in particular, smell.
I don’t recall how I found my distraction, but there I was, squatting between plants with a bunch of boys in the school’s garden. We were catching fighting spiders to stuff into our match boxes to sell them thereon to the girls in our classes as pets. R, the chubby leader of the gang, was kind enough to let me join the hunting expedition in exchange for an eraser. He taught me how to peel apart sticking leaves and guide the fighting spiders gingerly into my match boxes.
We sold the fighting spiders at 20 cents each. I added clumsy doodles on the match boxes to fetch 5 cents more. I didn’t realise it was called Packaging then. I just wanted the girls to buy my spiders over the boys’. They always had bigger ones. R called the shots over which area belonged to which kid, and mine wasn’t the most promising.
Regardless, I was making some 50 cents a day, and on a good day, I could pull a 2-dollar note. It was a big deal for a 7-year-old. BIG DEAL. I could afford to buy that chicken wing from the canteen. Heck, given my sales performance, I could’ve treated mum to KFC.
But like all trends, from boy bands to bellbottoms to Bieber’s lesbian hair, the demand started withering down. The girls were bored of fighting spiders. No matter how hard I tried to make my match boxes more fancy, the girls wouldn’t bite.
R and the gang branched out to focus on a previous trade that they neglected when fighting spiders were in demand — grasshoppers.
Unlike hunting for fighting spiders, I sucked at grasshopper hunting. It’s like me pitching for VIAGRA®’s account. Some things are just not meant to be.
It wasn’t long before I became hungry again. But this time, I wasn’t willing to stay hungry. Not after I had grown accustomed to my new diet. I was determined to earn my fried fucking chicken wings back.
For a reason I shall never know, none of us fighting spider hunters did the obvious — host fighting matches. We were so preoccupied pimping our little 8-legged warriors as pets, we missed out the diamond shining in our faces. These buggers were born to fight.
As soon as it hit me (or maybe it was the smell of fried chicken wings), I started planning out my fighting tournament.
Fighting spiders. Check. Macho names for the fighting spiders. Check. Fixtures. Check. Special match boxes for matches. Check. Prize money for each game. Check. Medal made out of vanguard paper. Check.
Bitch, I was back in business.
I started rolling in the dosh again and not only did I maintain my daily fried chicken indulgence, I managed to save up enough to purchase my own Nintendo Game Boy 6 years on.
In retrospect, the hustler in me could not have been unleashed, if I wasn’t hungry. That refusal to accept my fate could not have been unleashed, if I didn’t taste decadence and fucking enjoyed it. I needed to starve to learn.
God knows I wouldn’t have been able to approach R with an eraser to trade for a place and knowledge if the smell of fried chicken wasn’t so annoyingly delicious. I was too shy.
Whenever I interview young blood today, be it for an internship or a full-time role in my company, I look for my 7-year-old hungry self in them.
I cannot teach hunger. I cannot possibly make a kid, who’s been made obese with excessive parental affirmation and pampering, hungry.
When I spot a kid who’s been starving for a really long time, I make an offer quick.
Never underestimate the power of hunger.