Later that day, one of my cousins took me to the market so I could get acquainted with the town. And of course, the first sight I see after traveling half-way around the world for over 24 hours on an airplane over a distance of roughly 12,000 miles and a four hour bus trip from the Hong Kong border to Dan Sui was a McDonald's! We rode on taxis to the market, but these aren't your normal run of the mill yellow cabbies. In China, there is no such thing as highway safety. I was riding on a motorcycle at 40 MPH six inches away from a two-ton blue truck carrying chickens.
Anyway, we stopped in the middle of the market, and my cousin began to pay the motorcyclists for taking us. While I was waiting around, I felt a slight tug on my brand-new Nike jacket that I had bought just days before. I turned around. There was a cute little girl standing there with a rose that had wilted away weeks ago. Her shirt was full of holes. Her tiny emaciated body was covered in soot, and she just stood there. In Cantonese, she began to say, "Umh gooy, bay di cheen bay ngwah. Ngwah hi yen doo hi," which means "Please give me some money. I am a person too."
I just stood there speechless. I couldn't give her anything. I didn't have any money on me at the time. It was my first day in mainland China, and all I had were Hong Kong Dollars, which were useless to her. I wanted so bad to give her money, a clean bath, and a good meal, but there wasn't anything I could do. Shockingly, my cousin brushed her away, and she took us into a restaurant. I couldn't eat. I just sat there, and stared through the window. I could see her begging again and again to the people passing by. I couldn't understand it. How could people let this happen?
We left the restaurant, and the same girl approached me, but this time she was surrounded by a group of children--each one clutching a withered rose with them, and they started to beg. Each one was tugging on my shirt. My brother was literally covered with little boys and girls each begging him for money. There was nothing I could do for them--so I ran. I was scared. I ran in the middle of the street with cars flying and passing by at ridiculous speeds, but they all followed me. When I turned around to look for my cousin, one of them grabbed on to my leg. I couldn't move at all. She just clutched on, and begged, and begged, and begged. But there wasn't anything I could do! A security guard in the market managed to get her off of me. I went home after that.
My cousin told me about the little beggar girls. In China, men grab them from the cribs when they are little babies, and raise them. When they are old enough around six or seven, they are taught how to pick-pocket and how to beg for money. I asked my cousin why she pulled me away, and she said that if I would have given her anything, they would have grabbed on to everything I had including the shirt that I was wearing. After they reach a certain age where they are too old to get as much sympathy, the females are prostituted, and the males are sent to work in factories. When they get too old, the gangsters start amputating arms and legs so that people passing by will feel sorry for them. It made me feel sick. It was Christmas Day.
Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "The cruelest lies are often told in silence." Christmas Day, a day meant to commemorate the birth of our Savior, a rabbi who preached the sins of worldly riches and the heavenly glory of giving. We sit around our living rooms surrounded by our friends and family. A tree sits in the corner, under which gifts sit that are worth more than the entire yearly salary of the average person in some small African country. Of course, we live in the United States, the richest and most powerful country in the entire world! The US population consists of less than 5% of the world's population, yet we consume nearly half of the world's resources. Each Sunday at church, we give a small portion of what we have, $20, $50, even a $100, and some how that makes us feel better.
Yes, it's a little naive to sudden come to the conclusion that there are poor and unfortunate people in the world. Yes, there are poor people on this earth; and yes, there will probably always be poor people. Money isn’t the problem. The problem lies in the fact that these poor people, these men, women, and children, don’t have an opportunity to be someone. The true atrocity is the fact that they don’t even have the opportunity to overcome obstacles such as poverty. Each and everyone of us has the power to do something for the world, no matter how small or minute.
Nearly half the world’s population wonders when they will get their next meal, or even if today is the last day of their lives. African women are abused because of their sex. Islamic women are murdered for an act of unwilling adultery. Twelve year boys are given guns instead of going to school. Twelve year old girls unwillingly give themselves to men three times their age. Men are lying dead in the middle of our own streets here in America. In the short few years that I’ve lived my life, in all the people I’ve seen come and go, in all the despair and poverty I have seen and heard, there is only one thing I’ve found that makes it all somehow bearable, and that’s each other. Let’s give every person that opportunity to be someone. Who knows? That little beggar girl could be the leader of the next Chinese revolution? Or perhaps a doctor? Or perhaps even a school teacher who makes a difference?
Emily Dickinson once wrote in Poem Number 1741, "That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet."