There was the earliest Malaysian sitcom called “Empat Sekawan” or “4 Friends” in the 60s, three decades before Friends debuted in 1994.

Everlasting charm of classic multi-dialect show, Empat Sekawan | The Star

Empat Sekwan Malaysian sitcom

I remember one particular episode when Hoi Ah Yong smelled a salty fish each time he ate a chopstick-spoon full of plain white rice, without any “soong” meat or vegetables. I remember thinking wow, that was very poor and an extreme way of tightening the food belt.


My first acting debut in Vanguards play as Hoi Ah Yong, Empat Sekawan character.

I have lived on cheap meals such as a corn on the cob (US$0.35/ RM1.30) and one piece of toast, a piece of curry chicken breast and rice, a bowl of instant noodles, or 2 pieces of Roti Chanai (US$060/ RM2.40).

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Roti Chanai, the cheapest meal in Kuala Lumpur: US$0.60/ RM2.40 for 2 pieces

I once lived in a 400 square feet office in Wanchai, the seedy part of Hong Kong Island for 6 months over winter. Every day I would take a bus to YWCA on 1 Macdonnel Road, Mid-Levels, and take a shower in the gym. My family did not know how poor I was in that year in Hong Kong.

People sleep at a McDonald's in 2015.

In October 2019, I became a McRefugee for one night. I slept on a long bench in a 24/7 McDonald Carnarvon Road branch in Tsui Sha Tsui, with nearly 8-9 other McRefugees, who normally sleep from 11pm to 6am. At first I tried to sleep on single table. Then I got braver to stretch my whole body and finally tried to sleep from 3 am to 6am, when I had a rude wake up call, an assertive McDonald supervisor banged at the tables to wake up all McRefugees to sit up or get out.

A tip to be a Hong Kong McRefugee: the air con becomes more freezing at night, with less people. Wear some layered clothing.

● Ways to Cut Back:
Snacks such as nuts, chocolate, ice cream tend to be more expensive by weight and value.
But I do enjoy 3-4 pieces of Roma (Indonesian brand, my favorite) or Hup Seng (Malaysian brand) Cream Crackers dunked in a mug of hot Malaysian White Coffee.

Ways to Save:

Buy pastries at 50% in Village Grocer, usually after 8pm.
Buy sushi at 50% at most supermarkets in Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur – from 9pm to 10pm.

My Mum shared with me how she saves money by eating sometimes salty fish, salty meat, or salty duck egg with congee, or a few pieces of bread as one meal.

● Q. What are some ways YOU use to save money and tighten the Food Belt?

Written by: Robert Chaen, a Social Experiment McRefugee

Published: 24th July 2020.


Watch YouTube video on McRefugees:

Hong Kong McDonald’s McRefugee Sleepers: a Social and Poverty problem in Hong Kong.

There are around 400 people who sleep the night at the 24/7 McDonald’s. Some even have a property but prefer to enjoy the air con, save money and rent by sleeping at McDonald’s.

More than 70% of respondents said they had other places to sleep, such as public housing flats or subdivided units, and the majority had either full-time or part-time jobs, challenging the common perception that these sleepers are homeless or unemployed.

One main reason is that many sleepers face socioeconomic challenges such as high rents or electricity bills.

Why so many people sleep in McDonald’s in Hong Kong: CNN


Robert Chaen’s Hong Kong Foodie Guide: Cantonese Food Names Reference