May 3, 2009
By Colin Goh
To cope with the new addition to our family, I'm having to make a few subtractions.
Even without factoring in Yakuza Baby (as we've taken to calling our newborn daughter, since the Wife gave birth to her while we were watching a Japanese gangster film), the economy, like some wrathful elder god, is demanding sacrifices, virgin or otherwise. More likely the latter, because I understand the former are in short supply these days.
'The bad economy has already caused two of our projects to be postponed till next year, and even the fees for my column kena potong as part of cost-cutting measures. Then there are all these baby supplies. We need to cut back,' I told the Wife as I scrutinised my credit card statement. 'What can we give up?'
'Hope,' she replied, wittily, if not particularly helpfully.
It is perhaps the coldest of comforts but tempering my gloom is the knowledge that I am not alone in having to re-evaluate priorities.
Last week, the Pew Research Center published the results of a survey on the effects of the recession on Americans - and it showed that they were pruning, if not slashing, the list of household items they consider essential. I walked around our rented house here in New York to see if my feelings tallied with the new American zeitgeist.
I paused by the microwave oven. According to the Pew survey, only 47 per cent of households polled considered it crucial - a precipitous 21-point drop since 2006. I certainly wouldn't buy one now in these parlous times, but no sense in chucking out my old set. Anyway, I use it only rarely, mainly to heat up leftovers or disinfect sponges.
I then considered the air-conditioner, which apparently fell 16 points on the necessity scale, but decided it die-die had to stay. To any true Singaporean, air-con approaches the status of a human right.
I rubbed my chin as I contemplated the television set. Astonishingly, here in the land of the boob tube, TVs were increasingly being seen as non-essential (a 12-point drop). But this result had to be evaluated in the light of the findings that broadband connections and iPods actually went up in the necessity rankings. I guess hunching over a computer screen while brushing crumbs off the keyboard was becoming the dominant mode of watching stuff, supplanting slouching on a couch, remote in one hand, beer can in the other.
So could I get rid of my set and cable TV package? Maybe. After all, I can find most of the shows I like online anyway. Once upon a time, I might have thought jettisoning the TV would lead to a corresponding rise in IQ but I can't anymore. If I'm replacing TV with the Internet, it just means that instead of watching crappy gameshows or whatever, I'm now watching videos of kittens jumping into cardboard boxes and the like. Hardly a step up.
The Pew survey revealed mixed results concerning cellphones. If you were younger, you tended to feel that cellphones were essential, while a landline was unnecessary but most seniors felt exactly the reverse. As someone smack in the middle of the age continuum, my views were appropriately centrist - I'd be happy to dump both cell and land lines and remain uncontactable till the end of my days. Unfortunately, I can't, and so my phones must remain, their every ring and chirp a sneering rebuke.
'How?' asked the Wife. 'What have you decided to cut?'
'Not much,' I replied sheepishly. 'Three 'no's' and one 'maybe'... And I don't think we can get rid of the car either.' Unsurprisingly, this being the United States, the Pew survey showed the car retaining its spot as the family's No. 1 necessity, despite the recession and roller-coaster petrol prices.
'Ah, you just lack the stomach for sacrifice,' chuckled the Wife, patting my tummy. I felt ashamed - surely there was something I could eschew, something that provided great comfort but wasn't critical to survival, to prove I could endure deprivation. But what?
The Mother-in-Law, visiting from Singapore to help supervise the Wife's postpartum recovery, provided the answer, albeit unwittingly. 'Today, I'm cooking ter kah or chor for you,' she said, referring to that classic Hokkien convalescent meal of pig's trotters stewed in ginger and black vinegar.
As the Wife made appreciative noises, I had a flash of inspiration. 'No!' I cried. 'Swine flu - must cut down on pork.'
The Wife stared daggers at me, but the Mother-in-Law, suitably kiasu, concurred.
And there, I had made my sacrifice, proving that sometimes, you needn't go the whole hog right away - you can start with just the feet