A Tale of Two Salaries

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James looked up from the remnants in his bowl and sighed with contention. To call it a bowl would be an overstatement. It was more like an ice-cream scoop size of the finest japanese grain slathered lavishly with chopped tuna belly and green onion. Negitoro Don, the chef behind the counter mentioned before he laid down the bowl. Sublime, thought James.

He considered leaving the rice untouched so as to leave space for the following courses to come. Not that he knows what the courses will be. After all, he went for the ‘omakase’ menu, leaving it to the chef to decide on his delicacies for the evening. The only decision he had to make then was which bottle of sake to wash down his meal with.

Whatever unpleasant thoughts about his date cancelling on him that evening was soon banished after the first bottle of sake. They meant to revisit Skirt at W Hotel in Sentosa, where they had a pleasant evening the previous week strolling along the marina after dinner. This time round, Skirt did not work out because she received a last minute activation to operate an overnight flight to Seoul. Such is the life of a Singapore Girl.

And that is how he ended up sitting in front of the sushi bar, alone. When it comes to dining in solidarity, no one beats the Japanese.

And James is not someone used to solidarity. He had attempted to ask a friend, then a colleague, and finally an ex classmate along. He tried, but at such short notice, the single ones are out on dates and the married ones are at home tending to kids.

In between courses he kept himself occupied with Facebook updates and chats. His brother has just become a father, he noted, almost a week early. He will visit the following day, if he does not have a client to meet then.

Life has been good to him. As an investment banker, he took home 300k last year. It was a dip from the year before, as the deals dried up quite a fair bit, but still comfortable enough by anyones’ standards.

Much of it went to the Boxster S he bought as a reward for himself after ten years of hard work. It had been a tough fight between the Z4, the SLK and this one but the Porsche prevailed in the end.

Another chunk of his monthly went to the apartment in town he bought four years ago. With it came new found freedom and he no longer had to be tied down to his parents HDB flat in the Woodlands. He could have rented out the apartment for a sizable income, or even let out the spare room, but the liberty it afforded was far too precious to him.

Without having to fight the morning traffic he could have more time. Time after all, is the most valuable commodity. With more time he could go out and meet more clients who might potentially have deals on the table for him. Now that he is managing his own team, it has become imperative that he finds business.

It has been a heady decade. Fresh out of school, he has risen through the ranks. Young, promising and battle hardened, as his mentor would say. He never disagrees.

The slowdown has been worrying to say the least. Already he has heard a couple of acquaintances being asked to leave their respective banks as the institutions brace themselves for a slower market.

Oh well, he will worry about it when it comes, James thought as he downed another sake shot.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.


Danny looked up from his remaining pieces of sushi in their flimsy plastic containers, the kind that makes a scratchy sound when you rub them too hard. For the longest time he wondered how people could eat raw fish and cold rice.

Until he was invited to a cousins’ child’s birthday party some years ago. The catering was magnificent. His cousin had gathered a plate each for him and his mother, piled high with everything on offer. Too embarrassed to say he has never tried sushi before, he kept the two pieces of salmon nigiri for the last, hoping no one would notice if he were to throw it away eventually.

He could not remember what came over him but he took a bite and never looked back. That evening, he ended up finishing his mother’s sushi as well.

Tonight’s sushi dinner was unexpected to say the least. He has been helping out at an elderly couple’s fishball noodle stall in the Woodlands neighbourhood where he lives for the past six months. They are getting on age and an extra pair of hands for the heavy lifting is much appreciated. They hardly take a break, working seven days a week. The hand stops, the mouth stops, they would say.

As luck has it, their grandson came into the world a week early. The entire coffee shop was in a congratulatory mood. They decided to pack up early to spend an evening visiting the new born at the hospital. They even slipped Danny an additional fifty dollars before they left. For good luck, they said.

For Danny, it was a no brainer. Once the chores are done, he headed home for a shower before waiting till 8pm to walk to the mall. Despite him living just a stone throw away, he seldom visits. The food is prohibitively expensive, a bowl of noodles at the food court can cost up to five dollars. It is cheaper with a card, people say, but Danny has no interest in getting one.

He took his time to choose his sushi from the supermarket counter. They fascinate him, all of them. The jelly ones he has been eyeing for a long time but has yet to try. Perhaps tonight, he told himself. He paced the counter impatiently, waiting and waiting, looking and selecting, but not picking up anything, yet.

The lady finally made her way out with discount stickers for the unsold stocks to allow Danny to make off with his haul. Back home, for dinner, alone.

His dinner came up to almost $8, the most he has spent on a meal for months. With the $1200 the elderly couple is paying him, he could barely make ends meet. He counts himself extremely lucky to have a roof over his head, his mother leaving him the 3 room HDB flat when she passed away a year ago. She was barely sixty, he noted, and he himself will be sixty in another twenty five years time.

The TV flickers in the background. Two more pieces remained, the salmon and the prawn. Both of them his favourites. They looked back him, tempting him, almost goading him to make the first move. It is almost like they know it will be a long time before he gets another go at sushi.

Oh well, Danny thought as he gobbles down one after another in quick succession, he will worry about it when it comes.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.


In Singapore, individuals earning more than $300k a year (or possessing a net worth of 2 million) are considered accredited investors.

There is no defined poverty line in Singapore. Individuals earning not more than $1200 per month qualify for the Home Ownership plus Education (HOPE) fund administered by the Social Services Office, one of the many schemes to help low income families get along.

In the best of times, in the worst of times, the rich poor gap is real.

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Salaries”

  1. SMOL ah SMOL, pls don’t make me wear tall hat. If I am well read you must be well travelled well fed well loved well respected and well rested. Almost wanted to say well maintained but I guess we can keep it for the girls.

  2. Erm…not sure you’re aware, but to “sigh with contention” is a VERY different meaning from what I think you mean — which is to “sigh with contentment.” One means discord/strife/heated disagreement, whereas the other means satisfaction.


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