Some of you know that I published a book, Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 1. I am super grateful for support from early buyers – you are the best!
For everyone else, here’s the first chapter from the book. Consider this my attempt to lure you into buying the book. Like how they give free food samples at the grocery stores so you buy the product.
Without further ado, I’m happy to present to you the first short story in the book,
Look out for Naila, world! by Jouhari Ali
Every parent loves telling stories about their children. How smart and well-behaved their children are. How proud they are of them.
I am no different.
A lot of times, the parents would also share and show party tricks they taught their children. Here, I am different. I am here to tell you what my daughter taught me.
Through unfortunate events, Naila’s mother wanted a divorce just a day after her second birthday. I complied.
Usually, in a Muslim divorce, the mother would always get custody of the children. Second in line would be the child’s maternal grandmother. Only then the Syariah courts will consider giving custody to the father. During the divorce process, we were asked by the court what was to happen to Naila. Naila’s mother received full custody, but she agreed to let Naila live with me. I was overjoyed.
My living situation then was not what you would call “normal”. I was living with three other guys, friends of mine since college. They were all young and single men. But thankfully they were more than happy to accept Naila and me. For a few short, amazing years, Naila was living with me and her three wonderful uncles.
Soon enough, the guys got married and moved out. If you don’t count our cats, Naila and I were the only two left in the four-bedroom house. The rent was ridiculously cheap, so we just kept staying there until I bought an apartment. A new place for us to call home.
Naila was seven years old when we moved into the new apartment. She had just started Standard One. There were no lifts, but there was a small pond and a jogging track. We got the best view of the pond from our apartment’s balcony on the fourth floor, where we could often see a few anglers. Once in a while, the group would start screaming out loud like Ronaldo had just scored a goal. Naila had never experienced fishing before and was naturally curious about what they were doing.
A father and daughter moment, I thought. My father had taught me how to fish and this would be an amazing opportunity to pass the knowledge to her.
One day, I got us fishing rods and supplies, and off we went to the pond with our new gear, bait, and a small bucket. She was so excited about her first fishing trip, even though the pond was just a few metres from our building.
Before we started, I went over the safety precautions. I showed Naila how sharp the hooks were, what to look out for, and how far she needed to be from the edge of the pond. I told her to always follow one rule: never stand closer than your body’s length to the edge. Why? Because, if you were to fall over, you would still fall on land, not in the water. There were additional rules. For safety reasons, Naila was not allowed to bait the hook or cast the line, but she could reel it in if anything bit.
I could see fishing lose its appeal to her with those kinds of rules. After a while, she seemed more interested in digging for worms along the bank of the pond. I told her that’s a great idea—we wouldn’t have to buy worms the next time we go fishing.
As Naila dug for worms, she invited other children passing by to join her. Most of them did. Soon enough, our group became a digging party as kids started to get the word out that they were allowed to dig for worms, and there was a responsible adult (me) watching over them. Naila forged many friendships that day.
A man, all docked in fishing gear, noticed the excitement and came over. Naila struck up a conversation with him too, and offered to sell the worms she just dug up for RM1 each. Even though Naila had no idea what the going rate for worms was, she had business in mind and was brave enough to market her wares like it was second nature. I simply thought she was cute.
My mouth dropped when the man made a counteroffer. He said he would pay RM1 for two worms, but they had to be big ones. I didn’t say a word during the whole negotiation, but I thought the guy was cool for playing along.
The kids came into a huddle and decided RM1 for two fat worms was indeed worth their effort. The man bought four worms and nodded my way. I smiled back. We both knew he did not need the worms. He could have gotten fifteen for RM2.50 at the shop just across the street or he could also have dug them up himself for free!
Naila and her friends made RM2 that afternoon from their only customer. I was proud of her. She made her first business transaction like a champ and I was there to witness it, just a few feet away, frozen in amazement.
Later that night, Naila revealed that her worm business was more exciting to her than her fishing career (she caught one fish). Not trying to give her false hopes in the profitability of this venture, I explained how the worms were not really worth that much and the man was just being nice. Naila was undeterred. She told me she and her friends were planning to dig up more worms to sell to other anglers the next day.
Predictably, her first business venture was not successful. Not from the lack of trying—it was just a simple case of supply and demand. Anyone could have dug the worms up for free, plus she was selling it above the market price.
Still, she had fun making friends while digging up those worms. The ones that were still alive by the time we went home were put back in the ground by a tree.
Let me tell you about her second business venture: selling ribbon bracelets. By that time, she was eight.
Naila was supposed to bring ribbons for her school’s art class, so we went out to get some. Picking her up from school the next day, I noticed a clear plastic bag full of coins. From what I could see, there must have been around RM10 worth of coins.
I asked her where she got the money. I thought she must have won a ribbon-making contest at school or something. Instead, she said that she had learned how to make ribbon bracelets in art class, made a few, and sold them at fifty sen each.
Again, I was shocked and amazed. I admit I was sceptical.
“Everyone brought ribbons to school, everybody learned to make the bracelets, and you managed to sell them today?”
Naila explained how her ribbon bracelets were in demand because she innovated and used two ribbons of different colours. The teacher had taught them using ribbons of only one colour during the class, but now, her classmates could make custom requests for ribbon bracelets with two colour combinations.
She did not stop there. When a customer asked for a colour she did not have, she would trade some of her ribbons with someone else. Even though she had competition, she had an advantage—Naila could make a bracelet out of any colour because everyone would gladly trade their ribbons with her. Some even volunteered to make the ribbon bracelets as her orders grew!
“Teachers are OK with this?” I asked.
She laughed and said she sold a few to the teachers too.
This brought me back to my primary school days. I had been a timid, scared little boy. Here I am now, blessed with a daughter who somehow made a week’s worth of allowance in one day.
The next day was just as impressive. After I picked her up from school, she asked if we could stop by a store and pick up some super glue. She explained that some of the ribbons she sold the day before came apart and she wanted to fix them for her customers. At eight, this young lady knew how to stand behind her products and provide warranty and customer service!
I was more than happy to get her the glue, and we got a few types just in case. I’m not sure if she knew how important her business decision was. Imagine if there were another art class project and she decided to go into business again? Her customers would gladly buy from her instead of her competition because of her warranty, customer service and product innovation.
The next day, I asked about her ribbon bracelet business. It turns out that she got even more orders and no competition! At lunchtime, she sat at one of the benches and operated her business in full swing.
When a child makes their own money, something happens to their appreciation of money. When Naila gets to pick out toys or clothes at the store, she actually looks at the price tag. Even at her young age, she understands what those numbers after RM mean.
Naila understands value, too. She demonstrated how it was cheaper to buy a box of pencils than a single one. Any parent would feel blessed to have a child that actually takes the price of an item into consideration when they want something. If you have seen the shopping behaviour of other children, you might know that their final choice is usually influenced by the packaging and how much air time the product had on TV. But not my Naila.
While picking her up from school one Friday afternoon, I noticed a tear in her relatively new school bag. She had the habit of not zipping her bag properly and after a few weeks, it tore. I thought she would ask me for a new school bag soon, and it would be a good opportunity for me to give her the “take care of your things” speech.
I waited for that request all weekend, but it never came. She never asked for a new bag, and by Sunday, this horrible father forgot all about the torn bag.
Monday came, and I took her to school as usual. While she was walking into the school compound, I noticed that she had taped up her bag with electrical tape. Those black elastic tapes, the ones that electricians use to tape up wires… the only type of tape that was plentiful in my toolbox. My heart twitched. I thought I was going to teach her a lesson about taking care of her things. That morning she taught me that she’s a lot smarter and stronger than I gave her credit for.
Later that afternoon, we bought a new school bag. I wish I had said something about the tape incident but I didn’t. I felt like a horrible father. I was ashamed of myself while being so proud of what she’s grown up to be. Here is a little girl who was raised by just her father and his friends, taking on what our cruel world had to offer head on. Yet she never complained that her bag was falling apart. She taped it up so her books wouldn’t fall out.
Somehow, Naila grew up to understand money and thrift better than kids her age. I can’t exactly point out to how she turned out that way. I will not claim that I had anything to do with it.
Children can understand the value of money. Children do understand the importance of making money and saving money. But, of course, money should never be their problem—that’s the burden of the adult.
If you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, you’d almost always get the kind of jobs that help people. Go ahead, give it a try. You’ll hear doctor, teacher, soldier, fireman, policeman, and there’s always that one kid who wants to be Spiderman.
I asked Naila the same question when she was nine. She told me she wanted to sell cars and have her own car business.
I was happy to hear that. She was already thinking about businesses, not jobs! I asked her why she wanted to sell cars, of all things.
She told me so she would be able to give me one.
If you like the story above, there are 9 more short stories in Money Stories from Malaysians: Volume 1 book. Click the link to buy and enjoy the rest of the stories, including one of mine right at the end 🙂