I was your typical elementary school nerd; I had daydreams of Star Trek and real dreams of NASA. I also had the uncanny ability to break into lockers with just a pen and a ruler, and like all idealists – and all Starfleet-loyal nerds – only used by powers for good. Later in high school I would expand my powers to be able to break into classrooms, and later still as a temporary teacher with a class of young students stranded outside, that little talent soon put me into a small moment of awe in some thirty pairs of 14-year old eyes.
When we’re young, and when we see the eyes of the young, anything can happen. You can dream of any success, you can write your own destiny just as easily as the scriptwriters wrote about going where no man – or no one – has gone before. And the world seems full of possibility. Anything can happen, and it will if you’re willing to work for it.
Then one day, as I started getting older and was more interested in unlocking the secrets of bow and string than cars and houses, I saw a Ferrari pass by. And though by then I knew that life was anything but a level playing ground, I still had the ideal that said that you can achieve anything with persistence and hard work. That ideal died to some extent the moment the Testarossa passed by, because that beautiful combination of motors and art was created for the select few who were born with money dripping out their noses, and by the time a hardworking person had enough to get one, he’d be too old to be in it.
But it’s good that ideal died when it did, because it gave just enough room for a new ideal to take its place – one that stated that there’s nothing about being in the seat of a Ferrari that really makes you any more a success, or more importantly, makes you any more good a person. And you can keep going with the goals that you have, the new dreams that you conceive, that perhaps deal more with a happy home and a fulfilling career without needing to search the skies for the next Klingon or Romulan.
How easy it is for us to forget how fortunate we are to be able to have those dreams, and to look at Ferraris, gape awhile and happily move along one’s own path.
A few years ago, I was on a company holiday to Chiang Rai, in the north of Thailand. It was a pretty amazing trip – the most impressive mountain ranges I have ever seen, the spiciest food I have ever eaten, and cool nights in cabins, with the music faculty taking a very different role, listening to the staff sing folk tunes. The culmination of our visit was a stop over the Myanmar border, where there was a small border side town that was well known for bargain shopping.
We walked through the little bazaar-like roads, and next to me was my friend and colleague who was carrying his one-year old child. And soon enough a few Burmese women who would redefine my understanding of poverty, came along offering toys. My colleague declined, having brought along quite enough for his child. When his answer seemed final, the Burmese decided to dangle their wares right in front of the child, just beyond his eager reach. As my colleague walked away, his son began to cry and cry, with a Burmese lady in tow, hoping that eventually, the child’s reactions would drive one of us to buy the toy. My colleague was quite rightfully annoyed at seeing his son used for such a purpose, but I felt that in the end, indignation didn’t balance off a kid whose day seemed to be going quickly down the toilet. I took out 20 or 40 baht, I can’t remember exactly, but I do know that I paid more today in cheapo coffee from the vending machine than that lady got from making a child cry and chasing him around.
It was then that I realized what poverty really was. Poverty was not only not being able to dream, but seeing your dream – of enough money, enough to eat, a place to sleep – walk past you every day. It’s seeing this dream, grasping desperately at it, and not being able to say, hey, you know, that’s fine that someone else has something that I don’t and I can go on quite alright on my own. It’s having to degrade yourself in the face of your dream for the simple matter of survival.
If I might be bold enough to suggest to you, the reader, that when we hear of what is happening in Burma now, think not only of the monks disrobed and jailed, or people dead in the streets. Think of not only that they do not have even a façade of freedom, but that the start of their protests come not even from not being able to practice a religion or be equal with other races, but rather from simply not being able to survive. That’s what it’s about.
When my mind wanders to thoughts of space, or when I come home dead tired but being able to do just that much more with a bow on a string, my Jiminy Cricket tells me that it’s time to write this, in the hopes that it may be a very small gesture to help spread the word.
Please support the cause of freedom in Myanmar. Because we all deserve to be able to dream, and be able to work hard to make them happen... and let Ferraris pass us by.