The first question was worth one dollar


The five dollar question was an interesting article about how much value you could get out of SGD$5, linked by @hellofrmsg on Twitter. While living on $5 a day in almost any situation is difficult, it is interesting to learn a little more about the economic climate in Singapore — as someone who has never been there.

Of course, reading about this has made me think about the same question for the Australian dollar. Bought meals are easily $5-$20AUD dollars a pop, and I can easily spend $3.80AUD on a return ticket. With concession. A cup of regular coffee only costs slightly less than that. A single $5 is supposed to include food and transport?!


Without free modes of transport this far out from the city where there are occasionally shuttle buses, and it being usually too far to walk anywhere unless you have lots of time on your hands, the $5 budget is easily blown before you even begin to consider food for the day. No wonder there are so many people who try to beat the system, buying concession tickets and slipping between the barriers when station staff are not looking (as witnessed, not doing).

I’m not sure about the state of poverty in Australia, but it can be certain there are many families out there living below or at the poverty line. Like the writer of the Singaporean article, the idea at first glance doesn’t seem as difficult as it could be as I have grown up in a frugal family, and recently have been trying to exist on various shrapnel and the odd $20, having worn out my allotted spending amount of my savings.

But I still have the advantage of food at least being mostly provided by family and having a family to fall back on at all when I desperately (in my view) need the money. I also had the knowledge that I would be receiving red packets at Chinese New Year — something that would keep me going financially for the next couple of weeks.

Life in the middle class

Even as a middle-class citizen, I am far better off than those living at the poverty line. Sometimes when we hear stories of those better off, buying designer handbags and clothing or reams of makeup, mountains of gifts, expensive cameras and the like we can feel jealous of their (supposedly) affluent lifestyles, yet our quality of life is still relatively high and comfortable ultimately.

I wouldn’t be able to take part in a challenge like this in Sydney, not only because the costs are vastly different, but also as a result of parents insisting that they feed me and not taking no for an answer. What I have experienced is but a pale ghost of something far greater and more “cruel and humiliating”, as Gao Wenxin puts it. It is important to help those in need, but the question that we as individuals often ask is — how? This is a problem that is greater than at individual level, and the more awareness of it, the more it helps.