Live Below The Line (End)

The challenge has ended. It’s been a meaningful week of humbling meals and quiet observances. For those of you who haven’t read the lead-up posts to this, read the prologue and days 1 & 2 first.

I’ll structure this post differently. I’ll do it in reverse. First, I’ll voice out my closing thoughts, and then I’ll append the diary-like entries that were written on days 3, 4 and 5.

Also, please note that the campaign will still be taking donations till August. I’ll post the donation link at the end of this entry.


So were there any big revelations I’ve learnt from this challenge? Not really, I found I made numerous little observations instead. I started looking at what’s around me with new eyes, and I listened to my body and heart more.

Now that it’s been two days since the challenge had ended, I feel like I’ve almost lost the meaning of what I’d remembered during the trial. It’s like I’ve lost a quieter, more reflective part of myself. It took some effort and ‘digging back’ to regain what I’d observed during the past week so that I could put it here.

I noticed I slept more. Maybe it’s the lack of coffees, gadgets, and a fanciful nutrition. But I found my body automatically needed 8 hours of sleep. And I slept with a sense of cold. On the very night I ended the famine, I finally slept with warm insides. It’s as if the meat proteins and animal fats I’d consumed generated more heat. This made me realise you really are what you eat. Both in the good sense and in the bad.

For instance, Fakegf and I had planned our LBTL meals to be completely vegan. Not to mention oil, salt and sugar free. It was difficult. And frankly, quite depressing. But when we splurged and added peanut butter into the equation, it was an absolute lifesaver. We felt more human, we were less sluggish, and I had a lot more energy. I believe it was the oils, salt and the sugar in that jar of indulgence that made the difference. I could finally think, read, blog, and edit pictures! And despite buying that jar of luxury, we still ended up spending only $16.90 between the two of us that week. So we essentially lived on $1.69 a day!

On the subject of coffees, I’d like to be less dependent on them. I want to be able to say that I don’t need a coffee to wake up and stay sharp. This is a very very big call, seeing how much of a coffee enthusiast I have been for the past 12 months.

I became edgy just from the one cup I had on Saturday and half-wished for that calm, collected headspace that I had during my caffeine-free days. Is a symbiotic relationship with caffeine possible?

During my caffeine-free days, my body taught me that it’s ok to feel tired and sleep more. Coffee leads my body’s physiology into thinking that I can function for longer stretches and cheat sleep. On that thread of thought, if Melbourne is the coffee capital of the world, does that make us a city of night walkers?

With respect to the fundraising aspect of this challenge, I mainly used facebook and twitter to spread awareness. I found that there’s a very thin line of balance between asking for sponsorship and being overly pushy or grovelly. So I chose my words and frequency of posting carefully. Most of my local benefactors came from closer friends and the less wealthy amongst my Australian peers. But interestingly, the majority of funds actually came from overseas, generously  donated by extended my family in Singapore!

My perception of the value of money also took on a different light. I placed $330 worth of donations on my credit card towards the cause. I felt good about it, but I also couldn’t shake off these thoughts: “Whoa…! That’s a lot of money… what am I thinking??” To my careful, middle-class, Chinese Singaporean mind, it WAS a lot of money. But you know what? All I need is a pay cycle or two plus a couple of frugal days and I’d pretty much break even. So why am I being such a selfish turd? Where that $330 is going, it’s going to a better place. The money will stretch much much further in its use towards helping the under-privileged.

Speaking of money, I’ve been toying with the idea of relocating. I like Port Melbourne because of its closeness to the sea, newer dwellings and proximity to the CBD. But the wealthy(ish) people whom I share streets and corridors with are beginning to annoy me.

It was day 3 in the challenge… I was in a lift, listening to a couple doing couple talk. They were talking about bourgeois, selfish and petty things, using THAT bourgeois, selfish and petty posture and tone of voice.

Something inside me snapped quietly…

I realised I’m amongst cold, entitled, self-righteous people. Colourless and hardened by money. Fattened by the burgeoning Australian economy… only to be thinned by cultural ideals, yoga classes and gym memberships. While I was stewing over my helpless anger, I suddenly realised I was also pretty much talking about myself.

During day 5 where I fasted, I found that one day isn’t enough for my body to physiologically experience starvation. I was just weak, slow in the mind and moderately hungry. I drank water to dilute any gastric acids that were accumulating in my stomach before they caused a problem. I did hit a wall at the 15 hour mark and grew a lot quieter as the world started closing in on my mind. My body was going into self preservation mode. But recovery mysteriously followed a few hours later, and I went back to a baseline level of sub-optimal, half-vacant but functional wakefulness. The experience felt very humbling.

But my favourite day of the challenge has to be day 3, where I walked to work and spent a day unplugged from the world. Life’s so much simpler and more meaningful when you’re not beholden to the traps of gadgets, social media and vehicles. I acknowledge that I still can’t live without my iPhone, but I think it’s worth exploring whether I can use it less.

The entire challenge taught me that there are so many things in life that I have taken for granted, which I should learn to be thankful for. I know the circumstances of this challenge is nowhere near the same as those of the underprivileged, but I think us participants have taken a few steps towards further understanding. We all need a start point. In fact, I’m now interested in taking time off work and doing a stint in developing countries first hand to help understand more.

The Day After

I broke fast after the clock struck midnight on Saturday morning. Roast meat three kinds, garlic gailan and steamed rice. My friend Shing accompanied me. By then, I’d gone without food for 26hrs, my final snack being a peanut butter sandwich on Thursday night.

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Did I eat the roast dishes like a crazy hungry labrador? Nope!

I ate slowly and curiously. Shing was almost outraged that I wasn’t attacking the food like King Kong. It was a bit anti-climatic. I found that while the dishes were okay, I struggled with the big flavours inside. The roasts were incredibly salty and full of MSG. I think after 5 days of condiment-free food, my palate has been reset… neutralised. I’m noticing how over-seasoned outside food can be.

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My comeback to the world of coffees came as a single origin magic (Las Brumas, El Salvador) from Dead Man Espresso, alongside an unusual pork belly omelette brunch dish. Wonderful. The coffee was gently delicious, with notes of oak and cherries.

When I went to pay, I saw on the board that my taste observations matched their tasting notes! Has my palate become more attuned to the subtle nuances in coffees after this challenge? Single origin coffees are usually milder with their hits and I appreciate being able to ease my way back into coffees slowly. Just that one cup was enough to keep me happy for the day.

I also found it intriguing that after the challenge, I started liking sweet indulgent things more. Pastries and cakes now look very appealing to me. I swooned over a salted caramel eclair from Chez Dré. And later on, a brief walk around Prahran Market led me into buying Lebanese baklavas and a chocolate croissant just out of impulse.

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Dinner on Saturday night was special. It was a gathering of my Live Below The Line friends, teachers and teammates. We dined in Chinatown, and for many of us, it was also the first time we’d met in real life! Over a comforting spread of no-nonsense Chinese food, we recounted our individual experiences and collective thoughts about the challenge. It was such a pity Fakegf and Jade couldn’t make it.

Seeing all of us gathered and eating together made me smile and feel genuinely warm inside. Winston… with a big heart of gold and words full of sunshine. Leaf (and partner)… beautifully down-to-earth and gentle. And Daisy… with her optimistic spirit and buoyant smiles. Here, I have a group of people who’ve come together because we cared enough to want to make a difference.

I spent $95 on food just on that Saturday. If I was living below the line, that sum of money would’ve stretched me for nearly 50 days. Crazy… eh?
I’ll now just append the blog entries that were written on each day of the challenge. Some bits can be repetitive, but I’ll still post everything without much amendment, just so you can get a sense of the headspace I was in during the challenge.

Day 3: Life Unplugged

This entry was written 5.30am Thursday morning

Wednesday was spent disconnecting myself from the world. Yes… no phone, no google, no surfing, no twitter, whatsapp, texts, nothing. Instead of eating breakfast in front of my laptop, I sat in bed and finally got into reading issue 2 of Smith Journal which I’d bought weeks earlier.

I also walked to work rather than drive, it took me 1.5 hours, and without music streaming thru an mp3 player. Left at the crack at dawn, and bits of blue, cyan and turquoise sky started to peek through autumn grey clouds as I approached the front gates of work.

Live Below The Line 5727Time slows when you’re not connected to the world, and in a good way. You don’t feel the rush or need to attend to texts and messages that ‘demand’ for attention. No junk eMails to sift through. I liked it.

Because I had no avenue for entertainment through gadgetry, I found entertainment instead by observing what’s around me. It’s been a good day spent without my iPhone in particular, I know it is hard, but I hope to let it feature in my life less after what I’ve learnt today.

A full day at work made me feel hungry for the first time. Previously, our incredibly low GI (and unappetising) planned meals kept hunger away from me. But the physical nature of my job called for more nourishment. I had dinner with Fakegf, where she whipped up a carrot and potato mash from what leftover vegetables we had. We then swapped a few of our dish items to match preferences and for variety.

When I got home, it was only 8pm. Since I couldn’t watch TV or use my laptop, I spent the rest of the night reading and slept really early. The peace and quiet was actually very pleasant.

Day 4: Life Without Hot Water

I think I did another sneaky with this added trial. Normally, to really experience this challenge I shouldn’t have a hot shower this evening. But that’s nigh impossible for me, I can’t sleep unwashed. And the nature of my job is quite physical and dirty. So instead I showered at 8pm last night, so am technically allowed to shower after 8pm tonight since that’d be 24 hours. Hah! ;)

All systems went back to normal today. I drove to work, I used my phone again. To be honest, I missed yesterday’s simplicity. The walk to work, and not having to attend to emails, tweets and messages on my phone. I’d like to seek a balance point with respect to being connected and yet disconnected with the world.

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I’ve also grown pretty sick of our meals. Eating w Fakegf this afternoon, we both looked so glumly at our same old same old food for the umpteenth time. And funny thing is, we’ve planned our diet such that everything’s incredibly vegan, but also incredibly low GI. So we don’t really experience much hunger pangs at all. It’s more just the anguish at seeing the repetition of unappetising dishes each meal time, with peanut butter as our only salvation. And it’s also more the lack of choice and variety to eat what you want when you want to that gets us frustrated.

I can smell my neighbour cooking the most utterly nommylicious stir fry from next door, it’s been happening every night during this challenge. I think I’m noticing it so acutely only because it’s a craving that I can’t satisfy that I’m so keenly aware of the smells around me.

Tomorrow will be interesting as I’ll be fasting for 24 hours. I’ve never gone without food for more than 6 hours (unless I’m very sick), so this might be the greatest added trial yet. Why I do this to myself, I have no idea. But it’s just to make things more exciting, I suppose. My life otherwise can sometimes feel so ordinary… work, eat, blog. It’s like sucking stones, no nourishment or sustenance. So doing this challenge and tossing added tests this is just me jiggling them stones a little bit!

Day 5: Life Without Food

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As I write this, it’d have been 19 hours since I last ate. I’m having sugar deprivation headaches, cold extremities, a sluggish mind, and it feels as if the world is closing in on me and around my senses. Earlier this morning, I actually thought dog food smelt delicious!

Driving to work today, I realised a few things.

This Live Below The Line challenge allows us everyday Australians to experience and make a change from the grassroots level without actually having to quit our jobs and devote our lives towards championing a cause. So the organisers have made making a difference much more accessible for many of us. That’s quite a good thing they’ve got going.

My thought processes are slower now as my brain fights for nutrients. I wonder if it could be part psychological rather than physiological. Oddly, I’m not experiencing huge hunger pangs. It’s more a silent, constant gnaw of hunger that chips away at your mental lucidity bit by bit.

I’m loathe to do much more than sit around and act retarded, but at the same time, I’m am also perhaps beginning to understand the true meaning of hunger. It isn’t just your stomach that’s talking and complaining, your whole body starts shutting down as well to protect that bare minimum baseline core of functionality. And this is just the tip of the iceberg compared to what it’d feel like to starve.

I cannot even begin to imagine how it’d be like being hungry with no end in sight. Once the challenge ends this midnight, I’d be suddenly blessed with the vicissitudes of fortune and you’ll probably see me splashing money and eating a $10 Chinese rice dish with gratitude and relief. The hypocrisy of the whole act that I’ve embarked on the past 5 days would linger in the back of my mind as I finally sink my teeth into meat again.

But I now acknowledge that I shouldn’t feel so guilty about the fortunate life path that has been allotted to me. Yes, I was just born into the right family and in the right country. But I think just the act of taking on this 5 day challenge in itself, is a good enough step towards quietly understanding the big picture in the world. And I hope I’ve grown a little from this.


The campaign will still be taking donations till August. If you would like to donate, my fundraising link is:

Previous Posts:
Live Below The Line
 – Introduction, First Thoughts
Live Below The Line (Midway) – Prep Work, Days 1 & 2

Spending Tally

$3.75 – 750g bean mix
$1.00 – 130g chick peas
$1.00 – bag of tomatoes
$1.00 – bag of potatoes
$1.00 – bag of carrots
$1.00 – 6 apples
$1.00 – 6 bananas
$0.60 – 6 plums
$3.00 – 2 loaves multigrain bread
$1.00 – rolled oats
$2.50 – 500g peanut butter
$0.05 – Miso Paste x 1

Total: $16.90