Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Poverty and Beggars...

Poverty is everywhere in China and everyone knows this. However what many people fail to realise is that China has more wealthy people than any other country. The gap between the rich and the poor is huge yet they manage to live together harmoniously.

When we left Dino Beach we witnessed something quite disturbing and chilling. I'm still not exactly sure what it was about. Maybe someone can enlighten me? Out of nowhere I saw a woman run past me, at first it freaked me out because i was holding my camera and thought they were going to steal it from me. But nope, it was actually a policewoman who ran out of a police car that has just pulled up on the kerb. She and other police men/women ran towards an elderly lady and confiscated a bag from her. My husband and I could not even agree what was in the bag, it happened so quickly. He thought she was selling things illegally on the footpath outside the water park. But we saw some stuff fall out of the big plastic bag and all I saw were empty plastic drink bottles so my thought was - was it recycling? Then, another elderly lady had her tricycle confiscated from her. I have no idea what that was about. The tricycle was empty! She didn't seem to be doing anything wrong. Both were quite old, and had deeply tanned skin typical of poor people who come from the countryside to seek a better life in a the 'big smoke' aka Shanghai.

It was quite terrifying to watch. We were also very confused about what the heck was going on! Once the police managed to confiscated the goods (the ladies put up a good fight), they had to handcuff and arrest the women (what for? I guess I'll never know). The women were lying on the ground underneath a police van (another one that pulled up, not the original car) and refused to be taken away.

We decided not to stay and watch because it was dragging on and a bit too emotional, plus it was 5 o'clock and if we didn't get a taxi soon we would be stranded in the middle of nowhere (aka Minhang)!

I/we have been to Xujiahui so many times now I have lost count. We go there because there are so many shops and because it is the closest shopping area to us (just over 2km). We always get dropped off at the Orient department store and then walk underground to wherever else we want to go. It takes too long (and too much money!) to just sit in traffic and go through that huge roundabout there. Anyway, almost always at the stairway leading down from the Orient to the subway there is an elderly lady (sometimes two) with a paper cup asking for money. It's not much but I give her a dollar every time I pass by there. I am not sure if it's the same person or not though.

After that police incident my husband and I both started feeling enormous guilt about how 'wealthy' we were in a country where so many don't even have enough money to eat or a roof over their heads.

There is so much we can do (will investigate some more) but for the moment I suggested we buy our ayi (maid)'s son a basketball. Every time she comes over and cleans our apartment she mentions to me that he keeps bugging her to buy her one. And sure 30 RMB is a lot of money to her but not so much it's totally unaffordable, but her problem is time. She works 7 days a week and just has no time. He is in his school holidays and bored out of his mind. Whilst we were at Dino Beach and I watched all the kids and teenagers playing I had all these thoughts running through my head of just how lucky they were, and how lucky I was in my childhood too. That I had my mother/parents take us various places doing fun activities like that with friends. Whilst other kids have to make their own fun with nothing at all.. forget the playstation or nintendo, our ayi's son did not even have a $4 ball to play with :( So we bought him one and this morning I told her and she was so over the moon. Her face lit up like anything and it was if I had given her a trip overseas or something! Well that totally made my day too :)

My mother always told me I should not give money to young beggars but should give it to the elderly, since the young are still capable of working (obviously if they are not blind, crippled, etc) and the elderly can not work anymore. Well I don't know about other areas of China but in Shanghai I've only ever seen elderly beggars.

In Sydney in the downtown/CBD area there are quite a few beggars on the streets who are young. This is appalling and disgusting. And they don't even actively beg. They sit on the street with a big cardboard sign with some stupid story and just expect money to fall at their feet, literally. Some of them only look 20 years old. This is disgusting in a country such as this which has welfare. First of all they should be working and if they can't for whatever reason they can get welfare so that they don't starve and also get rent assistance. It's strange because although I've seen elderly homeless people in Sydney I don't often see elderly beggars. Maybe they are too proud? I don't know... I dont think there would ever be a young beggar in China. Everyone is so ridiculously hardworking that no matter how poor the conditions are, how long the hours are, how low the wages are, there is someone to do the job.

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