The poor

I thought this subject was worth a write-up.  In Bothell, most of our friends are all approximately in the similar income range and in general no one feels extremely wealthy.  In China, it’s difficult not to notice that you’re in the top 1% of the income bracket.  (If you make more than $48k, you’re in the top 1%)

Perhaps it is because of this obviousness of the wealth distribution, that this topic has been lingering in my mind.

In general, I rarely give handouts to those that are asking for it.  I am aware of the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:42 – Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

I have to admit that turning down a solicitation is not comfortable for me.  But, there’s something that prevents me from giving freely.  In the States, I thought it was because I was afraid of being suckered or tricked.  Whenever I’ve been in a situation where someone aggressively asked for money, usually someone around me will say that they will just use it to buy alcohol, smokes, drugs, etc.  Or that they look completely capable of working and that he should be working rather than begging us for our hard earned money.  I’ve never been completely satisfied with those types of justifications, but as I’ve said, I rarely make it a practice to give to those that ask.  I think my justification has been that there’s food banks and shelters that take care of the poor, and a donation to these institutions is money better spent.  Tenille and I do make it a practice to set aside a percentage of our income so that we can be very deliberate about our charitable giving.  Sometimes, organizations like the Seattle Gospel Mission make it on our list… sometimes they don’t.  But, this controlled, deliberate giving does not always relieve me of the guilt I feel after I’ve turned away someone that asks me for charity.

Here in China, most people are probably poorer than those that we would consider “in poverty” in the U.S.   I don’t think they necessarily see themselves as poor.  You see them on their bikes, setting up shop on a corner and cooking up sausages or steaming corn for the subway rush.  You see thousands and thousands of migrant workers that have come from the rural villages to work as waitresses, cleaning ladies, guards, factory workers, etc.  There are so many enterprising people here, trying their best to make ends meet.  I’ve started a small project to try and take pictures of all the entrepreneurial folks I see.  At first I was a bit shy about getting in someone’s face and taking their picture.  But, I’m slowly starting to get over my shyness.  People on the subway certainly are not shy about taking pictures of our babies with their cell phone cameras.  So, I figure culturally, it’s not too creepy.

Amidst all these people hustling and bustling, now and then, we’ll run into the truly poor.   These are women carrying their infants wrapped up in blankets and begging for money in the freezing cold.  An old lady with her forehead on the sidewalk and her hand outstretched for change.  A lame man with a sign around his neck dragging himself with his hands through the subway begging for change.  Children, maybe between 5 and 10 years old, with dirty faces and dirty, torn clothes pressing their face and hands against the taxi window begging for money. 

They are not going to buy drugs.  They are clearly not capable of working.  Very likely, they will take the money I would give them and buy something to eat.  Maybe for themselves.  Maybe for their children.  I’ve turned some away and it has really bothered me.  Because I truly have no excuse.  And one day, I sat and thought to myself if I knew for a fact that the money I was giving was going to feed the person I was giving it to, would I give it?  My initial reaction was that I can’t possibly help everyone.  But, everyone hasn’t asked.  In my entire time in China, I’ve probably been asked less than 10 times.  And I’m counting the times where they haven’t really asked me directly, but I saw that they were clearly in need.  My hot lunch costs me about 8 Yuan in the Microsoft Basement.  Giving enough money for a hot meal to everyone that has asked so far would probably be less than $15.  And if I project that out to a year, that’s maybe $60.  And even if I did give that much at every opportunity, and I was asked what percentage of my income I spent in the last year providing for the hungry that has asked me directly, my answer would be to my shame. 

It’s coming to my realization, that it’s not really about the person asking, or their intent with the charity.  There’s something in me that needs to be fixed.  People pay thousands of dollars so that they’re no longer fat.  What do I need to pay so that my heart is no longer hardened against the poor?


April in Beijing

Wow.  Hard to believe it’s already been 3 months and our journey is half way over.  The temperature has really cranked up in the last few weeks.  I heard it was about 70 degrees this weekend. 

Yesterday, we went to Chaoyang Park, which is less than a mile from our home.  In general, all the parks we’ve been to have been spectacular.  You have to pay to go into them.  Anywhere between 50 cents to $1.50, but they have been more than worth the cost.  I definitely would not mind paying a few dollars for each visit at home, if our parks could be this nice.  Senior Citizens don’t have to pay. 

Chaoyang Park is a little longer than a mile tall, and a little less than a mile wide.  It is about a third covered in water.   It is the Beach Volleyball venue for the Beijing Olympics.  There is an amusement park in the middle which reminds me of the Seattle Center Fun Forest and Enchanted Village.  You can rent a 4 wheeled pedal bike for the whole family (which I wish we would have rented, because the place was so enormous!)  On the water, you can rent a pedal boat, row boat, or a motorized boat and travel to the corners of the park on its waterways.  There are huge greens where hundreds of people are picnicking, flying kites, tossing around a frisbee, etc.  There’s a square that has a bunch of public art. 

We got a kite last week at Dong Jao market.  I’ve been thinking about getting one when I’ve seen them at some of the tourist markets… Dong Jao is not a tourist market.  We got there about 4:30pm, and it was swamped with mosquitos.  Mosquitos in my ears, running against my mouth, buzzing around my nose and eyes.    There were animals of all kinds being sold which is what I think was attracting the mosquitos.  I think in general, they were being sold as pets.  When we got out of the animal section, the mosquito problem subsided. 

Before Dong Jao, the last place I priced out a kite, they were asking about $150 for a kite reel… because it was real wood and real metal (of some kind…)  I didn’t really care for “real” anything…. nor do I believe that anyone’s selling me anything “real” in China.  The first place I asked in Dong Jao, they wanted $15 for the reel. That’s more like it…  I found Tenille and told her that I think I’m going to get one.  The second store I approached wanted $7.50 for the reel.  With very little negotiation, I got a kite, string, and reel for $10.

So, I’ve had this kite that’s been burning a hole in my backpack for a few days…. The conditions at the park were perfect.  There was a nice open square where I saw about 20-30 kites flying.  Caleb and I excitedly unpacked our kite and started assembling it.   It was a hawk, and took a while to get it all assembled and attached to the reel.  “OK, Caleb here we go!”  Just as I said those words, I noticed all the kites around us were lying on the ground.  The air was as still as a picture.  We waited around and it reminded me of surfers waiting for some waves.  Now and then we get a few puffs and the kite would fly up 20 or 30 feet.  After about 30 minutes, we decided to keep exploring the park.  My wife seeing my disappointment told me to keep the kite out, in case we got some good wind.

When we got to the amusement park, the wind really started to pick up, so I let the kite loose.  It flew spectacularly high… So high in fact, I hardly even noticed that my family had abandoned me.  Feeling a twang of guilt, I pulled down the kite and put it away.  I found Caleb in a kiddie pool, riding around a motorized mini-boat.  There was also a ride where you put your kid in the middle of a big blow up cylinder.  The cylinder is floating in the water, so when the kids try to run up the sides of the cylinder it spins in the water.  Looked kind of fun to me, but Caleb opted to pass on it. 

On the way home, we rode home in a cab.  In general, we’ve been getting used to crazy driving and the lack of car seats for the babies.  As we were turning into our apartment complex, a lady was crossing the street in front of us without really looking.  The cab driver gave a honk to wake her up.  Tenille leaned over to the cab driver and remarked, “Ta xue xiao.”  I was a bit confused and asked Tenille… “She’s a school?”  Apparently, she meant to say, “She’s sleeping… “  We now have quite a collection of these kinds of wack-o blurts.  We’ve said, “You’re welcome” when we were supposed to say “Thank you.”  That usually gets some weird looks.  I like to say “Later” when what I mean is “Wait a moment”.  Luckily, we are just ignored in general.

Stolen Stroller

We went to Jingshan Park by the Forbidden City for our Monday family outing.  It is a beautiful park in the middle of the city.  In the park, there is a hill with steps leading up to a Pavilion that gives a beautiful view of the Forbidden City and surrounding city.  We opted to leave our stroller at the bottom of the hill behind a tree thinking it would be safe.  We summited the hill, took in the great view and made our way down only to find that our stroller had been stolen.  Seriously, who would take a stroller?  We were so bummed!  I went to one gate to ask the attendants while Don stayed at the "crime scene" to ask any passerbyers if they’d seen our stroller.  At the gate no one spoke English, so I did my best to explain with my very limited Chinese and pantomiming skills, but it didn’t really work.  I tried calling our tutor, Bill, and ayi, Luo, to help translate, but no luck.  So, Don and I met back up.  We searched all over, and finally went out another gate.  Don speaks better Chinese than me and has "mad pantomiming skills" (his words), so he was able to convey what had happened to the guy at the gate.  It’s very amusing to watch us, I’m sure.  If you can imagine with me, here’s how the conversation sounded (translated from Chinese)/looked:
Don:  "We have baby car" (Don pretends to push a stroller).  "Baby car…." (pantomime placing stroller on ground).  "We go up" (use fingers to show someone walking up a mountain).  "We look" (charade someone looking with hand on forehead).  "We go down" (use fingers to show someone walking down mountain).  "Gasp"  "No baby car"  (Look of surprise and corresponding action)
The guard mimicked our incredulous looks as if to say, "I can’t believe somebody would do that!"  He explained to a woman entering the park, and she too gave a look of disbelief.  She offered to watch his post while he ran to the ticket booth to call the other gates.  Nobody had turned it in.  We got the number of the park and figured we would have Bill or Luo call the next day.
We solemnly left the park.  I tried to console myself with thoughts that the person who took the stroller probably needs it more than we do.
We caught a taxi, and I showed the driver the map I had printed out for a popular dim sum restaurant (several locations in Beijing), to which the taxi driver said didn’t exist.  He started naming off the locations, and we finally agreed to go to the one by Dietan Park.  (Don and I are really surprised that we’re starting to understand some of what the taxi drivers say to us.)  We had been to the restaurant before during the New Year’s Festival, but this time it was much less crowded.  The food was great!  We walked through a Hutong (old Chinese alleyway) and over to Beihai Park.  We were solicited by several pedicab drivers who wanted us to take a pedicab tour.  "Regular price 180/person.  I give you 180 for whole family."  Don wanted to walk around.  I kind of wanted to take the tour to rest my feet.  But, we continued on.  As we walked away from the driver, he yelled, "Okay, 100 for whole family."  Well, now we know how far down we can bargain when we have visitors come.  Beihai Park was beautiful!  I have to say, the parks in Beijing are SO nice!  You have to pay a little (like a $1) to get into most of them, but I have no problem paying. 
After the park, we caught another taxi only to have yet another taxi driver conversation.  This time the taxi driver was saying that he couldn’t take us directly to Wangfujing street because of the one-way streets and busy traffic.  So, we agreed he would drop us on the other side of Chang An Avenue.  Caleb fell asleep, and this is when we felt the affects of not having our stroller.  Don had to carry Caleb through the huge underpass and then to the far end of the mall to the Sichuan Restaurant he wanted to eat at.  I had Andrew in the Ergo.  We were seated in a room where the table is at ground level and the entire room is padded, even the walls and ceiling.  We crashed on the seats, and Don ordered an array of Sichuan dishes.  I’m not a fan of spicy food (which I now know how to say in Chinese), so I’ve been hesitant to try Sichuan food.  But, Don assured me it would be bu la de (not spicy).   Surprisingly, the food was pretty good, and we were both stuffed!  For the first time since moving to China, we took home doggy bags.  Usually we just leave the food cause it’s so cheap, but this place was a bit pricey.  We took a taxi home without any problems, and we were glad to be home after another adventurous day in Beijing.
The next day, I explained what had happened to Luo.  She laughed at me when I told her that we hoped somebody would turn it in.  (I thought back to when I lost my camera at a park in Bellevue when Caleb was a baby, and somebody had turned it in.  I imagine when you live in such a poor country, the rule is more likely "finder’s keepers".  We had Bill call the park, but no luck.  So, now I’m on the hunt for a new stroller in China.  Hopefully I’ll be able to find a stroller that’s not too expensive and lasts for the next 3 months.
The local culture in the parks is fun to watch.  There were people dancing around with these huge ribbons while a woman sang into a microphone.  Later on in the park, we found like 50 people line dancing.  We were amazed at how many dances they knew!
Hiking up the stairs to the pavilion.  You can see why we didn’t want to lug the stroller up with us.
The Pavilion
view of Forbidden City from Pavilion
Beihai Park pictures