Five years into my career and I still do not own a car. Every now and then my friends would ask why I am not considering buying a car.
Not that I cannot afford to have a car or don’t have a driving license. Neither am I thinking it is unimportant to have a car.
I have always told them that I intend to work overseas in the near future, and that since my office is just a stone’s throw away from my home, I simply do not need one for the time being.
But apart from that, there are more reasons that I have been keeping to myself, why I refrain myself from buying a car at this point in time. It is not that I am being reserved to share my them with others, just that not everyone would share the same sentiments as I do and thus I feel there is no need to explain so much every time.
I come from family that is neither rich nor poor. At home, where my father runs a small grocery shop, the only vehicle we used to have before I came over to study and work in the Peninsular was a van primarily used to deliver goods.
Things have changed over time, of course. Right now, on top of the van I used to fetch my friends with and drive us to tuitions or hang around, we now have another car, which my brother and his wife are sharing.
As I didn’t always get the chance to drive the van whenever I wanted, this had indirectly trained me to learn and rely on other methods of getting around.
I remember my good hometown friend Jong and I would travel by bus or by foot to get around the city during school holidays or over the weekends. Public transport at that time, mind you, was neither as good nor as frequent as what we get today! Cabs, on the other hand, were unpopular and also very costly for students like us back then.
After coming to the Peninsular, I still did not have a car to drive, but public transport proved to be way more convenient here, especially in the hustle and bustle of the Klang Valley. I was pretty content with travelling and getting around in such a way.
In fact I still am. Maybe it has to do with my outgoing personality and also my passion for travel and adventure, but I have no complaints about it and love being in public transport.
The more I opt for such a mode of travelling, the more I feel it is a blessing not to have a car. Of course, having a car would help in a lot of situations, say, getting around a few places given a short period of time. However there are also certain things that you will probably miss out on once you start driving.
For me, it is the freedom associated to such a mode of travelling. Of course, it is not the kind of freedom where you can drive to wherever you want when you have a car, but the freedom to sit inside a bus or a train observing people and things because you don’t need to take control of the steering; the freedom to take a short nap as you are getting transported from point A to point B; the freedom to not care about anything else as you sit back and “eavesdrop” on what the people are thinking about certain government policies; the freedom to get down at wherever you wish without worrying about parking your vehicle.
It is because of travelling by public transport that I have learnt to be a more sensitive, more observant, and more thoughtful individual. By opting for public transport, I get to witness, for example, how the lower class is coping.
While loitering around town, I used to see many locals working as cleaners, general workers, attendants, and security guards in shopping centers like Mid Valley and One Utama, as well as stations like Kuala Lumpur Sentral and Seremban’s Terminal 1. But now foreign workers are rapidly replacing these locals. These are among the scenes you may not see easily from the mainstream media, or when you choose to travel by car.
This actually worries me. I don’t know what these locals have done to have to compete with the foreign workers in our very own homecountry. What are they going to do when they don’t have a job?
Travelling by public transport, therefore, turns me into a thinker; it makes me a more conscious person. Just when I think there are certain things I need to have in life, seeing how some people struggle to live their lives during my travel makes me change my mind.
During a trip to Burma a couple of months back, while waiting on a bus at the Mandalay bus station for it to take off to Bagan, a grim-looking girl, about seven years of age, came up the bus handling out a plain white envelope to every passenger – each one had some Burmese text type-written on it.
I observed as the young girl did her job. Her hair was tied up, albeit messily; her clothes looked unwashed, and part of her face was covered with dirt. Alas, she did not even have any shoes on.
Out of curiosity, I asked the lady beside me what the envelope was for, and although she struggled to explained things to me in English, I got to understand that the girl was simply asking for donations for her sick mother. Oh, poor girl…
Out of compassion I took out some money and slipped it inside the envelope. With the amount I gave, I really wished it would be of great help for her mother.
The moment when the girl saw my keenness to donate was priceless – she probably did not see it coming as I noticed many passengers return empty envelopes to her. I saw her face change from gloomy to hopeful.
Before she could say anything, I reached into my bag for some Snickers bars that I had brought along and offered them to the girl. As she took the chocolate bars and envelope from me, she uttered something enthusiastically, which I assumed was her thanks, before making her way out. Outside the bus, she turned to look at me through the window and gave me the most appreciative look I can never forget.
Encounters like that are lessons for me to appreciate my life better. As much as I do not consider myself much of a materialistic person, or someone who is afraid of losing out to others, still there are certain things some of my friends have that I am sometimes envious of and wish to also have.
But then again as I reflect upon myself and compare myself with some of those I have met in the public transport or on the streets who are striving to even make ends meet, I would ask myself: am I not already so much more blessed and luckier? After owning something I do not need to have in the first place, then what?
Sure it cannot satisfy me long enough before I realise it is no longer the most important thing that I want; there may be some other things I would fall for and chase after next.
Of course, I am not saying it is wrong to use our hard-earn money to buy what we desire. My point is that there has got to be some balance and control in life.
If we cannot pause for a moment, reflect upon ourselves, and learn to appreciate the things we have, there is probably nothing else in this world that can ever satisfy us. We will never be, or learn to be content.
As we progress into a more sophisticated nation, the material values in us are also expanding. For me, travelling by public transport is when I can take a U-turn from such values to revisit the most fundamental spiritual values hidden inside of me.
Five years down the road, I may find myself needing a car when I have my own family, but that is okay. For now, when having a car is still an optional thing for me, I just wish to see walking and using public transport as something to enjoy, not some kind of torture.