The romantic appeal of being broke


Nothing has ever been more offensive than my Facebook feed.

Every day I see pictures of friends on a boat ride under the hauntingly gorgeous stalactites of Palawan or in Insta-poses just right outside the Angkor Wat ruins. The more adventurous ones climb mountains and post photos of majestic sunrise above the clouds.

Hashtags like #travelgoals or #summerlovin trail the end of each long post while I, the ever-broke part-timer, click “like” and begrudgingly give them a thumbs up.

I have a few grand in my bank account, a six-year old computer that needs to be replaced, and a $10,000 tuition to pay next school year. I know I have to get more loans in order to survive and god knows if I could even pay them out before I die. One of my worst fears is to end up doing menial jobs for the rest of my life.

But let’s not be nega, I tell myself. Life isn’t fair but neither it is a race.

One day, I could also afford to live in my own apartment and drive my own car. Maybe I would have extra funds to go out-of-town during the summer; maybe long weekends could mean something else other than staying at home watching YouTube.

Sometimes I think of myself as Faye in Chungking Express. She works in a snack bar and has this interesting relationship with a cop. Faye was a dreamer in all aspects romantic and otherwise, and the viewers are reminded of this fact by a constant repeat of The Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreamin’ and The Cranberries’ Dreams in the soundtrack.

Whenever I feel terrible about being a 24-year old food service worker, I create my own fake world and situate myself in my own movie. Walking home after a day’s work doesn’t seem as bad when you think of your real life situation as make-believe.

Still, I’m aware that I’m better off than most adults in their 20s. In a few years, I could be an engineer in a country that offers better opportunities than most. I don’t have a lot of money but I can still afford to debate between getting a MacBook Pro or an iMac. At the end of each day, I don’t have to worry about what to feed my family.

But being a broke 20-something isn’t as romantic in other places, certainly not back home in the Philippines. There is no universal health care to get you to the doctor when you feel short of breath or when your head hurts a little harsher than usual. Trains are jam-packed daily and lucky is the day when they don’t malfunction. People don’t even wonder anymore how those barong-wearing juggernauts in Malacañang could live affluently while the rest of the country rots in hunger—that’s just how it is.

The idealist in me still dreams of going back, of making a difference even in a minute scale. When I get better at coding and learn more about developing new technologies, I hope I always remember what my old university has taught me: that for every endeavor we engage in, the most important question is always for whom?

Beyond personal struggles and hopes of getting a better life, I hope I never forget to do my part for the countless other people who are not as fortunate as I am. To me, the ultimate dream will always be for “being broke” to be just a hip, urban problem and not an unfortunate social reality.

10 thoughts on “The romantic appeal of being broke”

  1. One can make a difference without “going back.” I prefer not to subject myself for the long term to the ubiquitous traffic jams, the depressing inequality between regular folk and those around the seats of power, the suffocating air and oppressive heat, or even the general preoccupation with materialism. Mind you, I visit annually; however, I limit my exposure to the above-mentioned facts of Philippine life.

    My chosen venue for do-gooding is the free distribution of reading materials: lots and lots of National Geographics, dictionaries, back issues of Time magazine, encyclopedia sets to rural schools, etc. People are hungry for something to read, and I believe my shipments answer a need…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true. It doesn’t have to be literal. I believe most people who left home still want to give back to the country one way or another.


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