If you’re feeling whiny this morning about how everything in your life sucks, stop all that you’re doing and take 5 minutes to read this. The following email written by a Shanghai-based expatriate working in a German company found its way into our mailbox, and we thought we’d share it with you.
Dear Shanghai friends and acquaintances,
sincere apologies for disturbing you, but for this issue I felt justified to indiscriminately cram all Shanghai addresses I could get hold of into the mother of all spam mails. It is for a good cause and the chances are slim enough that any single one of you may be able to help. So please feel free to spam others to pass on the pain.
I would like to share the following story with you. Two weeks ago I went for alone for quick Hunan dinner to strengthen myself for an all nighter in front of the laptop. In front of the restaurant was a beggar of maybe 20 years, who had only one leg and a touching aura of fragile innocence about him. It later turned out he wasn’t from cynical Shanghai, but from a village in frosty Heilongjiang near Harbin.
Maybe this kept me from doing the usual, that is, tossing him a coin (or not) and going about my business. My business in this case being the sampling of another of the many recommended eateries I had not yet gotten around to and crossing it off my to do list. But this Instead of a coin, I pulled out a banknote, together with a pack of cigarettes, and I had a casual smoke with him outside, sort of pretending he was a normal human being. A mixed group of expat and Chinese businessmen bypassed us in in the widest possible perimeter, impatient to sample the restaurant’s famous Ziran Paigu while getting each other drunk to soften up negotiations. This did not prevent them from giving me looks as if I was french kissing a leprous sewer rat. When I then entered the restaurant after the cigarette, I was stopped by the manager, and, expecting to be reprimanded for encouraging beggars at his doorsteps, mustered up my defenses. I was baffled that instead of attacking me he extended his sympathy, and explained to me, that this man (let’s call him Chen) of all the poor bastards on the streets of Shanghai, was probably the poorest of them all. Far from wanting to drive him away from the restaurant, the manager and the staff regularly fed him with leftovers from the kitchen after business hours, which was the reason for him begging in front of the location in the first place. I was impressed, as this is not something I have seen often in China. It both speaks well of the staff as well as it does document the severity of the case. The boy never had so much as the whiff of a chance. He was run over by a tram cutting his leg off when he was six.
I was then placed at a table right next to the group of Samaritans that had passed us by earlier, carefully avoiding to contract any diseases in the process. The westerners among them were a bunch of ghastly social climbers who looked like dressed up monkeys in designer suits, sporting bling gold watches, which to their defense could have been from the fake market, but in the worst case may even have been real. They were already loudly offering toasts to each other with Mao tai, which the expats pretended to love but obviously hated from the depth of their guts, as was visible to anyone except for the Chinese hosts. While they outdid themselves in swearing that this evening was definitely laying the foundations of everlasting friendship and prosperity for everybody, I couldn’t help but continue to look out the window to the poor bastard who lived in a parallel universe dominated by rather different concerns than those of my neighbors. The atmosphere of the enemy table table tuned down considerably, after I had suddenly got up, left the restaurant and come back with Chen, inviting him to my table while making sure he was cozily seated back to back to the cheerleader of the other group. Not that I had any reason to take any moral high ground, as I was usually not much more selfless and empathic than they were. Which was exactly what shocked me, and the guilt trip probably made me relish both the bewildered looks of my neighbors, signaling that I now had irreversibly crossed the line to certifiable madness, as well as the suppressed and encouraging smiles of the waiters. I quickly assessed the physical proximity of Chen to his neighbors and computed it against the probability of him having seen a public shower in the last six months, liked the result, and smiled.
Then during dinner I learned the rest of Chen’s story. Shortly after his accident his mother ran off with another man, and he hadn’t seen her in ten years. Recently, his father, finally realizing his offspring as the bad investment he actually was, since he would not be able to support his venerable begetter in his old age, kicked him out of home and left him to non existing mercy of the Chinese streets. He had then made his way to Shanghai hoping for better chances around six months ago, but of course nobody would give him any chance of work. The only benefit being that sleeping on Shanghai streets gives a better upside for survival than doing so in Harbin with it’s everlasting winters of minus 30 degrees. When he was sitting there, and being asked by the waiter, what he wanted to eat and drink, probably for the first time in his life, tears shot out of his eyes, and he sobbed like a child, further weighing unfavorably on the hilarity of the neighborhood. The other table showed signs of premature dissolution and the quickly headed off to be fleeced by the hardened female drink animators in a nearby KTV.
I am sharing this story in detail hoping that you will take the same route from apathy to empathy. We are all hardened and busy in this crazy city, and isolated in a bubble of expat privileges, that rarely cracks open for a brief moment to make us aware of the misery still present in the backyards of boomland, where we all seek our fortunes. When that happens, we usually close it again quickly, saying to ourselves that we cant make a difference anyway, and wouldn’t know where to start in the face of the omnipresence of hardship once you open your eyes to it.
But instead of feeling overwhelmed and consequently doing nothing, what keeps us from trying to make an arbitrary choice, deciding to go a tiny step out of our way in order to make a difference with one specific life? It is so easy. This boy doesn’t want to beg. He doesn’t have a choice. All he needs and dreams of is a miserable, unqualified job where he can sit down with his one leg, instead of stand. Sorting stamps, letters, corking bottles, or sitting at a reception desk, for a lousy pay of maybe 1000 RMB a month. If we all put our networks at use it should be possible to find it.
Since I am leaving China soon for at least a year, I will not be able to coordinate this. But I have informed the manager of the restaurant, who will be happy to make the contact to Chen, of anybody has any ideas.
The venue is the [RESTAURANT NAME REDACTED]
The name of the manager is Tang Wei (汤伟）:
Mail: [email protected]
If you can help, please contact Tang Wei, if not, please forward this email to as many people in Shanghai as possible.
Chen can never repay your kindness, just as he won’t be able to repay his father for the education he never received.
However, to anyone who can either find him a job, or who will forward this mail to at least 20 people with contacts in Shanghai within the next 24 hours, the following things are absolutely guaranteed to happen:
1.It will be equivalent of burning 50 Joss Sticks daily for Cai Shin the god of wealth for 20 years.
2.He will become a Taipan with a mansion on the peak of Honkong island within 3 years
3.Within 5 years years he will be able to buy Switzerland (and Greece within 2 weeks)
4.Lotus flowers will blossom under his feet, wherever he treads
5.The effect on his longevity will be that of eating 2 Kilos of Hongkong sea turtle jelly daily for 200 years
6.He will have the sexual prowess of a Chinese water buffalo
7.He will be freed of the wheel of reincarnation, enter nirvana, be given the ability to dissolve the universe at will ( and create something even more bizarre in it’s place)
8.He will be given the gift of honestly loving Maotai without having to fake it in business negotiations in China (his tongue will fall out)
If any of these promises unexpectedly fails to materialize, he will still have done the right thing.
Please see what you can do.