When I was in school, I had hardly any money. Why should I have anything? I was dependent on my parents and only made $3.25 an hour cracking eggs with both hands at McDonald’s sophomore year. Junior year, I made $4/hour stuffing envelopes as a temp. And finally, senior year I worked moving heavy boxes for a small business that was changing offices for $3.75 an hour. Ouch, my back!
Almost every summer, I insisted on traveling overseas to either study a new language or culture, and even then, I somehow landed odd jobs. One job in particular paid a 3-month salary consisting of pastries in the morning and tea in the afternoon just to keep us awake into the night. I worked as the clapper “ready, set, action” guy and crew hand for the first Chinese-American film JV in Beijing starring Catherine Kellner, Sarita Choudhory, Geng Le, David Wu and even Josh Lucas. These guys started at 6am and regularly finished at 10pm, 5 days a week!
COULDN’T WAIT TO WAKE UP
There’s no glamor in a low budget film that costs $3 million to make and grossed just $18,500 at the box offices. Despite the bomb, much respect goes to all crew members, producers, and actors. None of us, even the main actors got paid much of anything at all. Despite the lack of money, we were all so happy and couldn’t wait to get up the next day to go to work!
Can you imagine filming some random scene in an empty Forbidden City as a starry-eyed study abroad student? It was magical and I wish digital cameras were invented then so I could show you. Although the actors weren’t world famous, they were well known enough in China that wherever we rolled, a crowd would gather. I remember wrapping up set with the crew at 8:30pm and going to the Hard Rock Beijing with David Wu and Geng Le to have a drink. The first step we took inside, the ladies mobbed us!
Despite having little income, I was ecstatic because I got to eat, sleep, learn and poop freely. I lived off $300 a month and slept on a hard wooden plank in the dorm rooms every night. The rooms would bake to 88 degrees during the summers, and all we had was one rotating fan to share between us. Every 22 seconds we would each let out an “ahhhhh” as we cooled off in the night time heat.
The hallways were filled with exchange students from Japan, all over Europe, and the US and it was one big party! We’d cook food for each other, swap stories of our homelands, and explore the city at night together. You might laugh at the freedom to poop, but if you ever travel to remote regions of the world and suddenly get that sour twang in your stomach from your afternoon’s side-stall, you’ll appreciate the accessibility of a clean, well-furnished bathroom with a clean seat. Squat toilets are brutal, but they do make you fearless if you ever have to go in the woods!
NO MONEY, BUT LOTS OF HAPPINESS
Despite having little money up until 24 years old, I was so happy. I’m thankful for having supportive parents, a place to stay, and food to eat. Living in multiple third world countries really hammered home the fact that not everybody is so fortunate. This is why I encourage all of us to travel and learn a new language or two. There would be more love and less war if we traveled.
When you have no money, you start fantasizing what it would be like to have money. Now that I have money, the allure has lost its appeal. Sure, I could dream about what it would like to be a mega-millionaire or billionaire, but the reality is that most of our lives aren’t much different after a certain point. In fact, I see and play tennis with the same billionaire hedge fund manager at the club every week without fail. He just gets to return to a really big house!
There’s really nothing I crave to buy anymore. Fancy cars, nice shoes, flying first class, and living in 5 star hotels are all nice. However, old cars, average shoes, economy class, and 3 star hotels are all pretty nice too! Curiously enough, I’ve discovered the only material things that really increase my happiness level up a notch are the things I couldn’t afford when I was a kid. Now they are all so cheap!
- He-Man figurine ($10 each)
- Film camera ($100, I never had a camera growing up)
- Nike Air Jordans and Agassi Shoes ($100, impossibly expensive as a kid)
- Reebok pumps ($80, Michael Changs’ fuzzy tennis ball pump and David Robinson’s Air Force 1s anybody?)
- An original Guns & Roses CD playing “Welcome to The Jungle” ($5 bucks?)
- Sitting in a 1989 BMW 6 series and smelling the old, cracked leather. (Free)
- Getting a whiff of Drakkar Noir cologne and being able to buy a bottle for old times sake. ($40)
When you make $3.25 an hour and only work part-time, it feels like someone is sticking a knife in your heart each time you spend $10, let alone $80. I would buy my friends well-worn Air Jordans that were 2 sizes too big for $35 to save money.
I remember going over to a friends house and playing with his parent’s cameras since we didn’t have one at home. And of course, I would ask my mother if she could buy me a He-Man toy whenever I was sick in the hospital or when I did really well in school.
As a grown up now, one should desire grown-up things right? You know, those $50,000 BMW 3 series coupes, $800,000 Lake Tahoe vacation properties, and $9,200 Panerai Black Seal Ceramic watches. I like all these things admittedly, but they don’t bring me an extra level of happiness, except for perhaps new memories created at a vacation property, which are priceless.
Instead, the $10 He-Man figurines I have sitting on my desk makes me always smile when I sit down and write a post. The He-Man figures reminds me of all the fun times I had in childhood, my loving mother, and the fact that I no longer have to long for it anymore. The $100 pair of black Air Jordan 4’s makes me chuckle because it’s finally the right size and I no longer look like I have clown shoes on!
NOSTALGIA IS HAPPINESS
So before you go out and spend your money on expensive stuff you don’t need, think back to your childhood and remember all the things you wanted but couldn’t afford. They are so cheap now, and you can find them all on-line. Also think back to those study abroad trips or those crazy vacations with friends. Pull out the pictures and stick them on your fridge or put them in frames on your desk and marvel.
You really don’t need much money to be happy! After food, clothing, shelter, family, and friends, your happiness will be the same whether you make $20 a day or $2,000 a day. Happiness is a state of mind. I love writing in front of my fireplace in Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe while I look outside at the snow fall. You can choose to be happy or sad. Why not make it a good one?
Readers, what are some simple things that make you happy? Did you have much money at the time? How much money do you think you need yourself to be happy? What are some of the childhood things that bring you happiness now? What makes you happy?
Photo: Restless movie poster with Geng Le and Catherine Kellner. He-man and Beast-man circa 1984. SD.