Saturday, November 15, 2003

Beggar's banquet
There's a beggar on my block whom I've become somewhat fond of. Of indeterminate older age, skin like tanned leather, balding, stubbly, with a sturdy upper body and withered legs, he appears semi-regularly on the sidewalk in front of a message he's written in white chalk in Chinese that apparently is the equivalent of "Need money for food." Except his tidy caligraphy is not scrawled, but comes from an obviously trained hand, and it is about two sidewalk pavements long. The lengthy plea is usually scrubbed away early every morning by the brigades of street and sidewalk cleaners, only to reappear again when he stakes out his territory.
Unlike many of the beggars I've encountered here he has a quiet resigned dignity. No guilt tripping. He rarely, if ever, makes eye contact, even when I drop some change in his bowl. And best of all he doesn't have a half-starved monkey that scares the living bejeezuz out of me and anyone else within leash range like a notorious Shenzhen beggar near a downtown train station whom I've nicknamed "Bonzo Goes Bonkers."
I had imagined he barely noticed me and my small donations. That is until Thursday evening when I was coming home from work and saw something new in his message, though by then he had packed up his bowl and cardboard mat and scuttled off.
Following the usual Chinese script, it had an addendum in English that read: "Thank you for helping me. I wish you good fortune."
As far as I know I am one of only two barbarians within perhaps two miles of the Lucky Number Apartment so the gratitude was obviously directed at me or both of us. It was a simple, classy touch I thought, and his grammar was perfect. That alone was a tiny joy after a day of editing Chinglish.
Perhaps I'm a sucker, but I appreciated his effort. When he returns I will give him a raise.

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