The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

Carrots and Oatmeal Biscuits

During the time when I was an intern in Singapore, I made so little money, I had to choose: I either ate or enjoyed the company of my friends. Food lost out big time.

The cheapest items in the supermarket were giant mutant carrots and the two-kilo family box of oatmeal biscuits. I cannot remember the prices exactly, but I think the combined expense was under four Singapore dollars, and it kept me alive for four days at a time. My body mass index dropped to an all time low of 16.6.

I also had to optimize my public transport expenses: taking the subway was several cents more than taking the bus, so I always organized the logistics in a way to find a direct bus route to my destination. I also had to budget for the night bus, which charged an inflated flat price for a ride, almost three times the regular amount.

Tang Dinasty

Not having disposable cash makes you discover alternative sights, such as an abandoned amusement park in West Singapore.

These night buses took the longest possible route between downtown and the suburbs, and it was tricky not to fall asleep on the way home. The ride took one and half hours, and missing my stop in those pre-GPS times was fatal. I dozed off occasionally, and two or three times I found myself dropped in the midst of enormous and nightmarish labyrinth of Singapore-style government housing estates. If you ever wanted to feel desperately lonely, just take a night bus to these suburbs at 3am in Singapore. As per regulation, all aisles, staircases, streets, and even some bush and shrubbery are lit. It is almost as bright at night as during the day. Yet, it is eerily quiet with nobody around, just the towering, identical 22-storey concrete blocks in whichever direction you start.

Despite apparent difficulties, this was a surprisingly happy period in my life. I hung out with friends more than ever, I never said no to a meet up, and I felt connected to the rest of the world. Drinking a pint got me sloshed, so I penny-pinched, and drank smaller portions. Money and food are irrelevant to well-being.

This was not the only time when I did not have enough cash to cover my meals. A few months later I made a terrible mistake: I banished myself to Ireland for a year. The only highlight of my sojourn was joining a volunteer group that raised money for a charity in Belarus, and subsequently traveled there. There was a minimum amount to raise, and I had a tough time doing it.

I had no connection with the Irish society, which was largely my fault, but that is how it was. While Irish people have a tradition of donating money to charitable causes, I did not have the faintest idea how to go about it. So to raise the funds, I had to save up most of my own income. I could cover my rent, utilities, and decadent habits, but food rations were reduced to a bare minimum of calories. Other nutritional aspects were completely ignored. Nothing that contained vitamins, minerals, or fibre passed my lips for three months.

Cork city scape

A wonderful city to experience starvation: Cork.

Hunger teaches you other important things. Food itself is rather secondary, there is no reason to obsess about it. Being hungry is not necessarily bad, an empty stomach allows a better focus. Hunger pangs and acid are easily managed by drinking vinegar, but this is only a last resort. The stomach will automatically shrink and adjust over the course of about a week or two.

Then there are flavours. We sense them due an evolutionary relict, we do not need to taste any more. Our ancestors needed it to decide whether something was edible. These days expiry date is printed on individual grapes. Industrial food processing and the perception of quality control eliminated the need for flavours. The genetically engineered humans in the future will not have this superfluous dimension of sensation. They will survive on eating spirulina 365 days a year.

Not having much to eat is also beneficial in terms of time management. The fewer things there are to consume, the faster you can finish and be productive. This has become a pivotal aspect in how I reduced the overall time wasted on cooking, feeding, and cleaning up. Future humans will look like prisoners of wars who work sixteen hours a day. When you think about it, that happened before. I should ask a Stachanovite Gulag survivor for tips.

Starve. Lose weight. Reconnect with the world.

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