I am super hyped. I am testing my new microphone in this episode. For the past eight episodes, I have been using Silviu’s old Sennheiser headset. It’s gaming headset with memory foam ear pads and a short boom arm for the microphone. I am using it as he has bought a fancier one. A Bose, noise-cancelling headset which he uses for everything: playing games, listening to music, and watching movies. Last, but not least, he uses it while he’s reading or working so as to cover the din our upstairs neighbour creates a din in the middle of the night. And so, the Sennheiser is relegated to me.

To Buy Or Not To Buy

I was conflicted about buying a microphone. For the past 8 episodes, the Sennheiser headset  has has served me well. All I have to do is plug the headset to my Mac, pull down the boom arm microphone down to mouth, and speak. The sound effect seems reasonable, at least in the eyes of a newbie. Besides, it’s is highly likely that my budding, lockdown podcast project is going to be ephemeral.

Why Do I Need A New Microphone?

Why do I need to buy another microphone? Well, honestly, just to make myself feel good, to feel like a real podcaster. After pouring through the website, reading countless articles on Podcast Starter Kit, I feel that I should treat myself to at least a decent microphone, a professional looking one, especially I have officially passed the “Podfade” phase. As discussed in the last episode, “Podfade” is an industry term meaning, podcasts abruptly stopping production by their seventh episode. And today is my ninth one, I have survived.

Professional Podcaster..ish

The new microphone is a Samson Q2u. It’s a simple looking mic, that can be placed on the table by using a mic stand. After reading various reviews, it seems that Samson Q2u is the best option for me, simple to use, satisfying my basic requirements, and is on the lower end of the price range for professional microphones. So, even though it isn’t necessary to spend 90 euros on a new microphone it’s not an extravagance either. Besides, this will be an additional motivation, to continue with my new hobby, and not to bring it to an early end, which, according to Silviu my husband, seems to happen frequently. By the way, Silviu has in his possession, three sets of not inexpensive headphones. Hearing myself talking now, it reminds me of the famous quote from Queen Gertrude in Hamlet, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.” 

Now, a microphone. What’s the next item I would buy?

Let your fingers do the shopping. It’s hard to break the habit in our consumerist society. It’s even easier nowadays: With just a few clicks of your fingers on the keyboard, you can receive your purchases within the comfort of your home.

Buy, Buy, Buy

Lugging the unwieldy backpack stuffed with knick-knacks during my travels.

Now that I think about it, this predilection for buying things started even before I was financially independent. When I backpacked and travelled as a student, I would pick up souvenirs as I roamed from city to city, country to country. A handcrafted wooden key chain here. A pretty diary made from rice paper there. A book of local folklores even though, knowing deep down that I would never read it. A handmade cashmere scarf… With the very limited luggage space I had in my backpack I would trudge around, lugging the unwieldy bag stuffed with knick-knacks. These impulsive purchases, all suffered the same fate: they would be stored in one of the cabinets or a corner of my wardrobe in my bedroom, abandoned, until I needed to clear them out to accommodate for more recent buys. 

When I started working, shopping became more frequent and more expensive.

Asians & Shopping

It's NOT only women who shop. Men TOO!

Asians’ love affair with luxury products is widely known, and Singaporeans are part of this cult. I believe it’s around the late 20th century or early 2000s that the expression “Five Cs of Singapore” was coined. The 5 Cs represent “Cash, car, credit card, condominium, and country club membership,” referring to our obsession with possessions. Of course, the 5 Cs now might have been updated, to I am not sure, maybe a permanent residency permit in another country, a house, instead of a condominium … The reputation is of course, not without grounds and can be seen patently everywhere in Singapore, especially in the financial industry.

Financial Industry - Shopping Incubator

World Of Luxury Brands

Perhaps I am biased, since I was in this industry for 12 years. But I don’t think I am too far off the mark. Take a stroll in the CBD in Singapore during the peak hours, I dare say that a big majority of the ladies, regardless of age — ­­ from fresh graduates to senior executives — have swinging on their shoulders, hanging around their elbows, dangling from their fingers, various luxury leather bags. Either from the discreetly or loudly embossed logos — the 2Cs (opposite-facing and interlocking), the capitalised, serif alphabets L and V monogram, the carriage and horse — one would know that your bag is worth a small fortune. 

It’s not just limited to bags. It’s everything: shoes, watches, jewellery, sunglasses, lighters (if you smoke), the phones, cosmetics.

It’s not only the women. Men too. Them with their five-figures Swiss watches, their diamond studded cuff links, the same European branded wallets, or man bags, pens with the black-white rounded star logo…

How Can We Afford?

However, the value of these purchases is not necessarily aligned with the salary of the buyer. It’s not unheard of someone with a modest salary, splurging on a bag that is one to three months of his or her salary.

The ability and readiness to spend a few months of salary on an accessory is also enabled by the fact that most young people live with their parents until they get married, and that helps with cutting down their living expenses.

My First Job

With a finance and economics degree, it was natural that I turned to the financial industry for my first job.

My first job after graduation was in Singapore, doing sales in the financial industry. I think that in this environment, the combination of these three elements — Sales + financial industry + Asia — is the ideal incubator for promoting shopping, cultivating overconsumption.

One of the entrenched beliefs of a salesperson, particularly if you work in the financial sector is that your dressing reflects your success. If you dress well, and can afford designer brands, it means that you are successful in what you do, which implies that the products and services you are selling must be bona fide.

Here I was, a fresh graduate landed a sales position in the financial industry in Singapore. I was not the top salesperson, but I earned a decent living. Perhaps it was due to the peer influence. Or, perhaps it was just to confirm to myself that I made it, or to demonstrate to my family my achievements. If you ask a psychologist, he might say that I was just trying to fill up an emotional void with the things. 

I Am Not A Shopaholic

I did not stay in the sales position for a long time, but the perchance for designer goods did not stop, and it continued and worsened as my career progressed. I am not saying that I was a shopaholic, at least not like Rebecca Bloomwood, the shopaholic journalist portrayed in Sophie Kinsella’s books. I can see the sceptical look on your face now. You must be questioning whether an alcoholic would ever admit having an alcoholic problem. My problem was definitely not as bad as that of Rebecca Bloomwood, but I am admitting that I was just throwing money away.

When I got a bonus, I would reward myself a nice, French branded bag. When I got bored, I would go shopping, buying a bag that cost half of my monthly salary. At the end of the month, when I received money, I would treat myself to a shopping spree and a body spa treatment. Not forgetting that I would attend regular sessions of facial spa, manicure and pedicure.

Turning Points

Hong Kong city landscape

First Turning Point

February 2012, I moved to Hong Kong from Singapore for work, always in the financial industry. In this new city, my shopping appetite, if you can believe, got bigger. I believe the main reason might be that I was bored, being in a new city with no friends.

Hong Kong Trailscape. Beyond the ridge, is the seas.

Second Turning Point

Ten months after I arrived in Hong Kong, I discovered running, specifically trail running. I bet you must be surprised to hear that there are trails in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong is generally known for it being a financial hub in Asia, and also for having one of the busiest ports in the world. To cut the long story short, I fell in love with the sport, and my life outside work was entirely devoted to it.

Guess what, my adoption of trail running coincided with the gradual weaning from designer brands. Instead of buying luxurious, superfluous items, my expenditure was on trail running equipment, items that were required in the participation of ultra-distance mountainous races that would ensure my safety, gear that was supposed to help me run faster, paraphernalia that would minimise my discomfort during these arduous physical challenges. Occasionally, only occasionally, accessories that would make me look like a pro-runner.

Third Turning Point

Two years after I arrived in Hong Kong, I decided to quit the company, and left the financial industry for good. And I quit without a job. I was fortunate to find another job soon after, completely unrelated to finance. It was a job helping out a small company with organising trail running events and managing its trail running magazine. The new job was not as well-paid, but I did not have to wake up every morning, dreading to go to the office and face my colleagues and clients.

Another cool thing about this job was that I could work from home. With a job like this, the luxurious leather bags, high-heel shoes, office wear, and cosmetics were packed and pushed away to the deepest corner of the wardrobe. I was in running shoes and clothes all day!

That’s how one accumulates things, stuff, junk, possessions, luggage, belongings, trappings, whatever you may call it.

By that time, I had already spent 12 years in the financial industry, in Singapore and Hong Kong. You can imagine, how many bags, pairs of shoes, and clothes I had amassed in these 12 years. When I had to leave Hong Kong for France, I found myself with loads of shoes, bags, and office apparel. I am ashamed to say that some of these items were hardly used, and a few still had the price tags on them. In the end, I managed to sell some of the bags, and threw away most of the high-heel shoes. I kept a few pairs, with the thought that I might need them for work interviews in France. Honestly, I really couldn’t imagine subjecting my feet ever again to those torture contraptions. For the remaining bags that I took with me to France, they are actually sitting in their dust bags, haven’t even used for the last four years in France.

Momentary Pleasure

As you can see with my recent purchase of the microphone, I have not completely vanquished the shopping devil in me.

I continue with the running in France. In addition, I have picked up new hobbies I have picked up since I arrived in France, like cycling and my recent podcasting project, there are always reasons, seemingly valid, for getting more stuff. However, I have to say that my materialist indulgence has definitely dropped by a big notch.

With age, comes maturity. You come to understand that possessions do not necessarily grant you happiness. Based on my personal experience, the acquisition of superfluous items usually provides only a momentary pleasure, the unwrapping of the package, taking the item out of the box, and the first time trying out the item. This form of pleasure does not last. You would need to continue with more shopping to capture this transient pleasure again. Well, for me, this will be impossible based on my teacher’s salary!

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