Let the poor have nice things

OCTOBER 16 — It is funny how Malaysians can get worked up when poor people show any sign of being less than materially destitute.

Take recent events, where a college graduate became the subject of news headlines just because he happened to own the latest iPhone.

The media interest and the ridiculous insinuations from random commenters were mind-boggling. Some people even outright accused the young man of misappropriating funds earmarked for his education.

Unless he’s a public official or a known scam artist, where a perfect stranger got the funds for an iPhone is really no one’s business.

Part of it is the iPhone being a symbol of opulence, apparently the gold standard for expensive.

I guess no one has been reading the tech news lately, about Samsung selling out of the Galaxy Fold in just one day in Malaysia — a phone that costs RM8,388.

The problem here isn’t about the weird fixation with Apple but this automatic assumption that anyone not known to be rich could possibly own anything that is considered a “luxury.”

Syrian refugees were criticised for owning smartphones, with the argument being they couldn’t possibly be badly off if they could own a phone.

Here’s the thing — mobile phones are no longer luxuries. Phones are lifelines and for refugees, they are the only way to get assistance or news on loved ones.

We forget too that urban poverty is mostly invisible. The poor don’t need to be wearing rags to be poor and in this society, they need to cover up that poverty.

Imagine being homeless and trying to get interviews. How would you be able to access a shower, a change of clothes and, for that matter, transport to your interview? While all those things are difficult, some people manage — but only with a lot of help.

We see someone we know who doesn’t earn a lot getting a coffee from a fancy chain, and of course someone will say, “Not that poor now, are you?”

Maybe said person won or received a gift card.

Maybe they were sent out by the boss for a coffee run.

Maybe it’s just been a terrible day and they wanted, for a while, to just have something nice.

“If they eschewed expensive coffee, maybe they would have enough for a house deposit by now.”

Maybe they’re drinking nice coffee because it’s the only respite from days of constantly worrying about a loved one with a terminal illness, or being unable to afford extra tuition for their children.

Everyone has a story, and like books, you can’t judge a narrative from the cover. So maybe, instead of complaining about someone with an iPhone or fancy coffee, you might be the one needing some sweetness to temper the bitterness inside.

If you don’t like coffee, dear Malaysian, maybe consider a bubble tea instead?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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