Student living and the pleasures of optional poverty

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Student living and the pleasures of optional poverty

One of the joys of living away from home as a college student was that we considered being poor a way of life ― indeed, a healthy one.
This was probably because we knew it was only a phase. Of course, some of my close friends from working-class families, who never really had a chance at a better life, couldn’t take such pleasure in not having enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes or a box of Kleenex. To them, money was a matter of pride.
I, on the other hand, had the luxury of choice, and tried taking advantage of it while I could. I urged my parents to stop sending money from home, betting with my Japanese roommate on how long we could last with 20 bucks in our pocket. (I actually tried this; I found out I could survive for three weeks.)
I earned $200 a month, working as a research assistant to a professor in my department. But I always felt that was enough to feed myself for the whole month and still manage to go to the movies at Cinema Du Parc every Saturday to watch my favorite art house films. Of course, my nutritional needs were supplemented with Sunday meals made by the ladies at the Korean community church.
I enjoyed the privilege of living in an apartment in downtown Montreal that was so old that paint flakes were always falling into the bathtub. Once I stole toilet paper from a public restroom in Chinatown; later I told my mother about that, and she almost burst into tears.
But having lived a sheltered life at home like any other Korean girl, my new lifestyle was mostly enjoyable. Maybe it was the influence of my artist friends. I was surrounded by them, and keeping up with their bohemian lifestyle seemed like the only way for me to be part of their social scene.
To keep my budget spare, one of the dishes I would cook for myself at that time was potato pancakes, a summer delicacy that I used to eat at open markets when I was a child.
During the last few weeks of my graduate studies, having spent all my student loan money on travel, I lived on a bag of potatoes, a few bottles of water and some apples. Oh, there was also a pizza place across from my house that charged $1.50 a slice. Looking back, there was a strange kind of comfort and self-respect that I got out of that life. Maybe it was an instinctive relief that came from having nothing to lose.
But the experience still allows me to hold onto the naive hope that even if I lose everything I have one day, I’ll still manage to live quite happily. At least that way, I’d be able to compensate somewhat for the social guilt I sometimes feel for not fulfilling my “noblesse oblige,” especially when I think about my poor artist friends, who are probably still hiding out somewhere on this earth to avoid threatening calls from the student loan service.

How to Cook

Potato pancakes

Ingredients: 3 potatoes, 4 chili peppers (2 red, 2 green), salt, olive oil. Sauce: 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of water. Serves 4.

1. Peel and slice the potatoes and grind them to a paste in a blender. Put it in a bowl and add a bit of salt.
2. Seed the peppers and slice them into small rings.
3. Heat a spoonful of olive oil in a pan over medium
heat. Fry one ladle’s worth of potato paste at a time,
turning each pancake once it turns yellow.
4. Serve with the sauce.
Provided by, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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