It’s not how much you have, but how much you enjoy, that makes you happy.

Welcome to Chapter 1. It’s about my childhood … and my hobby, stamp collecting. Before the days of internet and the wired world of IT, are we more curious, more with a sense of wonder about how the rest of the world works?

First lesson: It's not how much you have, but how much you enjoy, that makes you happy!

First lesson: It’s not how much you have, but how much you enjoy, that makes you happy!

I have to thank Michael Gill Gates for his wonderful book on How To Save Your Life, which gives me strength to write this. He said, “Be honest with what you have to say. Your readers will appreciate it.”
Sometimes it’s the little things you grow up with that gives you joy. I had the benefit of having a father who worked for a travel firm called Mansfield Travel. Daddy was a quiet but cheerful man who never chastised anyone. He always had a kind word for everyone. And what I loved about his job as a stenographer back in the 1960s was the stamps. Part of his responsibilities was opening letters for his boss. And he was allowed to keep the stamps. Ah! It was sheer pleasure to soak the stamped envelope in my little basin of water, to carefully lift the stamp, to let it dry, then to study it …. Now, where did this stamp come from? U.S.A.? England? Japan?
I still have my album. I remember how carefully I would slip the stamp into the paper casing, according to size and value. 1p, 2p, 5p, 50p …. Pence? For a mere ten-year-old, living half a world away, the picture of Queen Elizabeth II and all the different values of the stamps were intriguing. It gave me my first taste of another country … My first sense of curiosity was aroused. And I believe it made me really, really excited about reading and history.
It’s sad, really sad that I fail to see this sense of wonder in the kids I work with. Sure, they have their mobiles and IPads, at a click of the button they converse with someone half a world away. But ask them what they truly enjoy and they look point blank at you. They all have their modern conveniences, they want for nothing, perhaps it’s a case of too much of a good thing being really too much?
I like to tell a little story of my trip to Phnom Penh to scout for organizations to help out. Dan, education consultant from STA Travel, never thought I was serious when I told him about my family bonding experience (bless your soul, Dan!). I’ll write a little later about the three days in a certain village where I found a bit of myself back.
Dan brought me to the People’s Improvement Organisation (PIO), which he insisted I must visit. There was this school in Stung Mean Chay which trains the orphans in Cambodian school’s curriculum and vocational skills. Oh yes, I was thinking to myself, how different could it be?
Which brings me to my belief that it’s not how much you have, but what you enjoy. Stung Mean Chay was the government’s rubbish dump, much like what you’ll see in Dan Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The school was built next to it and yes, it reaches out to orphans in the area, who would climb on top of the heap to scavenge for bottles or tin cans, that could earn them the few Khmer dollars it could fetch.
What greeted me on arrival were the sounds of “I eat, I am eating, I will eat,” yes, an English lesson! I could hear the enthusiasm in their voices, and as I walked past the classroom, the faces I saw were faces of hunger, hunger for new knowledge …
Sok Seda, 16, personifies this hunger. She, together with six of her siblings, used to forage at the rubbish dump every day. She never knew any other life after her mother left the family as she couldn’t care for them. Her father resorted to drink, and it was left to the seven children to take care of themselves and their father. Scavenging was the only life she knew until the PIO found her. She remembers vividly, “I wanted to study, so I would come everyday to school. I would study from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. But during break time, I would go back to the dump to work and I also work every evening from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am. Every time I come to school, I sleep. Because I am tired. But I want to study. I want to have a good job to help my family.”
Then there’s Tenzin Gyaltsen, a 27-year-old guide I met in Dharamasala, India. At a mere age of nine, he walked away from Qinghai, Amdo, in east Tibet, boarded a bus across 1,800 km to Lhasa, then made the trek across the Himalayas, through Nepal, finally making it to Delhi, India, before joining his countrymen in Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama and lots of his countrymen have taken refuge. I will tell his story in my upcoming book, Ordinary Lives. Extraordinary Struggles.
Speak to him and you’ll realize this slightly-built, quick-to-smile young Tibetan has a resolve that 20-something-year-olds in “developed” countries fail to match. He says in a halting mix of Chinese and English, “Many a time when I was in the biting cold in the mountains, I kept thinking that I would have to make it to India. I have to survive for my country. I managed to get away. But many children are still in Tibet. I want to start a school. To help these children.”
Sok Seda has nothing. Tenzin Gyaltsen has nothing. They know it. But they also know that it is not about how much you have. It’s about what we do with what we have.


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