Fri, 05 Mar 1999

Perseverance key to riches

At present, we do not hear or read about skyrocketing prices of daily basic commodities such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, etc. Yet, I dare say that many people raised their eyebrows when they saw on TV that one kilogram of red chilies costs Rp 30,000. In far away Kalimantan, the price is Rp 80,000.

Many readers of this essay will undoubtedly agree with me that such a price is really absurd. Especially with regard to West Sumatran dishes, chilies are considered indispensable, without which the menu would be tasteless. No wonder, on a TV show, a housewife appealed to fellow women in Indonesia to utilize every inch in the garden to plant vegetables, and I take it for granted that chilies will be the mainstay of all vegetables.

This reminds me of Taiwan when World War II ended. As a Japanese colony during WW II, Taiwan suffered undescribable miseries when allied bombers strafed strategical cities, such as Keelung, Taipei, Kaoshiung, etc. Fighter planes were helpless in their encounter against giant (B-29) bombers. Cities were reduced rubble and people walked aimlessly about looking at their devastated cities.

But in the long run, they had to eat to stay alive. So every inch of land was turned into vegetable gardens; sweet potatoes were most popular. At that time, the country's infertile soil needed fertilizers, but as the Japanese government officials had been repatriated to their homeland, who would pay for the fertilizers? Taiwan was handed over to Chinese sovereignty. At that time, the struggle between Kuomintang forces against the communists was in full swing.

In one of my previous essays, I wrote that the air in a septic tank can be ignited and thus it can be used to replace charcoal or petroleum. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. So rice field farmers (they harvest twice a year) went from door to door and asked for the contents of household septic tanks, emptying them free of charge. Usually, the house got one kilogram of rice at harvest time as a token of the farmers' gratitude. One day, a farmer, after having emptied a septic tank, carried away the contents in two wooden drums on a pole across his shoulders. Suddenly he stumbled at the gate of the house and the valuable human waste was scattered all over the ground, accompanied by the farmer's curse kanninia (bullshit).

Nevertheless, although it happened at sunset, the farmer dutifully cleaned up the whole mess. No wonder that with such diligent people, Taiwan has now become one of the richest nations in the world, with a foreign exchange reserve of US$100 billion.