Friday, January 10, 2003

Over the Bridge

China has a lot of beggars. I don't imagine that this was the case during the cultural revolution. Now, however, they are in swarms. Many of them appear to be persons with one problem or another, while some just seem to have taken the idea that someone else ought to support them. Today 3 little children chased Geoff and I down the street. Geoff gave each of them a piece of candy. That, he thought, should have done it. Well, it did, depending on what the definition of it is. Walking became an Olympic event. I wandered all over the sidewalk trying not to trip over these kids who could walk backwards right in front of us and not bump into anything. We ducked into a shop, as they won't go there, and they, thinking we were going to be there for a while, found new donors. But where there had been a few, many were waiting. We had to cross a foot bridge over the main road we were walking along. And on the bridge, they waited. They knew that the bridge was narrow and at the same time where many would pass. The stairs up to the bridge were clogged with beggars. A blind woman sat quietly thinking that her son was watching the tin cup. He, however, had discovered traffic flowing below them on the 6 lane road. From somewhere he had acquired a length of bamboo. This he dangled between the railings, taunting motorists with visions of possibilities. Well he knew that the only person who cared would never see him. Not 5 feet away she sat smiling. His quietness not giving the alarm it should have. A man covered with rags rolled back and forth from side to side, covering a lot of the walking space with his floundering. And there were others until...

Just before descending the stairs at the far side of poverty's gauntlet, a young husband and wife sat smiling. They had two dishes for gifts, and both were full. He had no legs or hands. She was missing one leg. On the walkway they had spread out paintings. And he, with brush tucked into the sleeve of his coat, was painting beautiful Chinese pictures and writing perfect Chinese characters artistically along the side. Then he would lean forward and blowing hard on his work send the paint off here and there in ways that gave the work an air of long planning and perfect execution. Geoff and I stopped to stare. The contrast between this happy couple and the hopeless before them was startling. How much was a painting? They said it was 28 yuan. That is about $3.50. I will have mine framed and even when I am not looking at it will remember and admire them.


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