Monday, November 30, 2009

Learning valuable lessons at the school of hard knocks

I WAS shopping for a backpack at a shopping complex near home a couple of weeks ago when I found one I had been wanting to buy for years.

I must have spent close to 15 minutes examining it but the price tag deterred me.

Paying over RM100 for a backpack did not appear too sensible, so I decided to return it to the shelf.

Just as I was about to do so, a young salesman came up and asked if he could assist.

I complained it was too pricey.

“All backpacks are just as expensive these days, sir,” he said.

“But this one is made of very good material, cordura.

The colour looks good, too.

This is the last piece.

It’s worth it, sir.

“Besides, we are giving discounts of up to 15 per cent to our regulars if you have our loyalty card,” he added.

My wife who was embarrassed at my indecision said I should just buy the bag sincemy current bag, which I had redeemed after years of accumulating petrol points, was s e ve n years old and coming apart at the s e a m s.

I finally agreed, not so much be - cause of her reasoning or thematerial the bag was made of, but more be - cause of the effort made by the sales - man.

Not many sales people take the trouble these days and this chap was yo u n g .

Curious, I asked him his age.

Sixteen, he said.

His father was a police constable and he lived at the barracks across the road.

He had just completed his Form Four final examinations and had started working part-time at the store a few days ago.

He worked five evenings a week and was paid RM4 an hour.

He started early, he said, because when the holidays began, jobs would be scarce.

I asked if his parents minded him working at such a young age.

He shook his head and added that he would be taking his SPM examinations next year.

He needed money to buy revision books and he did not want to ask his parents for it since they also had to consider the needs of his four younger siblings.

The fact that he was not shy to admit he wasworking because he needed the money impressed me heaps.

He had been brought up right, I thought.

Howmany teenagers his age would be brave enough to get a job and finance their own spendingwithout asking for handouts? How many would see working as a productive alternative to hanging out in cinema lobbies, cybercafes and street pavements during the school break? The sight of children from poor families trying to eke out a living at the food courts I go to daily touches me in the same way.

Whether they are helping their parents at their stalls or working for others for a pittance, without feeling shy or ashamed and braving the scoldings of impatient customers and nasty bosses, this tells me that many will go far in life as they learn the lessons of independence, resourcefulness and humility — lessons that cannot be taught in school but can only be learnt at the school of hard knocks.

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