Sunday, October 14, 2007
I paid ¥20 for a cab ride down to People’s Park (人民公园), ¥10 to see the Gaudi exhibit at the MOCA, ¥40 for lunch at Pizza Hut, ¥50 for a shuttle ride to the Oriental Pearl Tower, another ¥50 for dinner and ¥1o for extraneous expenses. I dropped ¥170 like it was nothing because in my mind that was only $10.
My friend (at the time) JC and I walked along the Huangpu River that night. We saw a boy in ripped rags and torn slippers. He looked about 10 years old. He approached us raising a flower in his hand and said,
“一块，一块。要不要花？”(One dollar, one dollar. Do you want flowers?)
He haggled a little. We politely declined. I turned around and watched him zig-zag his way down the path. He made sure not to miss a single couple. JC and I sat down on the stone-rimmed flowerbed and watched the boy pace back and forth under the moon light.
“一块，一块，” he would say, “一块，一块， 要不要花？”
一块 (yi kuai) was less than 15¢.
He approached us again. This time, we took the time to talk to him. Actually, JC did all the talking. I sat there while the boy told us his story. I don’t remember the details but it’s not the details that matter. It’s the bigger picture. He lived across the river. His family was poor. He sold flowers to make a living. He worked from sun up until his uncle came to get him. But it was already past 10pm. How much longer did he have to work? Then I had an epiphany. That could have been my little brother. That could have been me. It was only by chance I wasn’t born into poverty. That was the bigger picture. It could have been any of us.
Before we left JC slipped ¥50 into the boy’s hand. The boy left and I cried. For whatever reason, I’m still not sure. JC and I made plans to meet up with some friends at Attica. So I put on my happy face, paid the ¥100 cover charge and headed straight to the bar. At that particular moment, I was ashamed of myself for living the way I did. Something in me began to change. I felt it that night.