25 December 2014

The Slum

Sometimes, you need to experience something vicariously to be reminded of what privileges you currently enjoy. This is what happened to me when I stumbled upon Al Jazeera's six-part documentary on The Slum, which focuses on the various problems pertaining to living in the slums. And they happen to zoom in on something that is rather close to home, as this series chronicles the lives of several people living in the slums of Manila, in particular, in Tondo.

See, I myself have never been to Tondo. Perhaps the closest I have been to that area is when my family went to that large wholesale market called Divisoria. When we were little kids, my parents would go there to buy textiles (they had a habit of buying textiles and then taking it to our tailor to make custom-made clothing), and whenever we did that, us kids would be left with some friends of my parents who were living nearby, so that we won't have to go to that chaotic place. Only once, when we were grown up, did we go there. I don't remember anymore why, but we did, and it was the stinkiest place I have been to. I could only imagine what it was like to actually live there.

Well, I didn't have to imagine. I just had to watch this documentary. It was appalling. It was horrendous at times. It made me sad watching it. It was poverty at a level that I sometimes can't even comprehend. And it was sad watching these people at the brink of despair. And it also made my blood boil when I see various factions of society exploiting these people, such as politicians and religious beliefs.

Sometimes I wonder, why did I watch this program? Maybe it was because it was an opportunity for me to reflect on what I have, and to consider myself as fortunate that I didn't end up living in the slums. Maybe it was because it allows me to be aware of the fact that I happen to have gotten myself an education, while these people don't even have the chance to go to school because they have other more pressing concerns than math. Maybe so that whenever I find myself having a problem, it gets taken into perspective.

Because seriously, sometimes we feel like there's too many problems plaguing us, but that is nothing compared to the problems of the people living in the slums. The other day, I saw an sold grumpy man in the metro, who went berserk because a fellow passenger who had a bicycle with him accidentally touched his shoulder with the bicycle. He shouted at the guy with the bicycle, when all he could have done was dust off his shoulder. I am pretty sure that the people dwelling in the slum would not even consider that dirty, given that their standards for dirt is on a very different magnitude.

So yeah, take things into perspective, as sometimes it is needed. It is Christmas today, the majority of people are celebrating, giving gifts to loved ones. Consider yourself fortunate that you actually have a gift to receive. Because for some people, they don't even have an idea where their next meal for the day will come from.


  1. It's good to see another perspective, and yes, we often whine about "white people problems". That said, I wouldn't attribute your success on luck alone, you also work hard to be where you are today.

    1. Zhu,

      Oh no, I don't say that I am where I am due to luck alone, it's definitely a mixture of luck and hard work.