“Grandpa, what are dreams?”
My grandfather and I were walking home, in the neighbourhood where we lived at the time. My six year old self had heard of this word at kindergarten earlier that day and being as inquisitive as always, I hastened to ask Grandpa what it meant.
“Dreams are what you achieve if you work hard. As for I, I want to see the world.”
“Wow. How do you do that?”
“You travel. By bus, by boats, by airplane. I wanna see all of China. But, like all dreams, I have to work hard at achieving this one. You are too young to understand the situation, why we are poor, and why we have very little means and can’t afford right now the privilege to travel.
Perhaps one day, when we have means. when you are older. We could go together.”
I had long since lost interest. I was busy looking at the words on the taxi as it passed by.
Grandpa fumbles in his pocket and finds one yuan, the equivalent of a dollar. “Look, Bill. On the way back, we can stop by the corner store and get one of your favourite Big White Rabbit candies.”
That caught my attention. Mouth watering, I hurried to hasten my steps, thinking of the sweet confection of delight ahead.
On the way back, we passed a man kneeling. His head was on the ground in a sign of submission. What little of his hair remained was white and wispy, obviously past his prime working years. His forehead covered with sweat, and where his left arm should have been, he had a badly healed stump. He had a metal plate and a cardboard sign, and kept whispering please please please in a hoarse voice, as if he had not spoken other words for so long he had lost the ability to say them. Without hesitation, grandpa took the one yuan meant for my candy and put it into the kneeling man’s plate, adding to the merger sum that was already there. The total might not have exceeded ten yuan.
When we passed the store, my grandpa did not have one yuan to buy the candy for me, nor did he have the five jiao (50 cent coin) to put into the lion machine for me to ride.
All of a sudden understanding flooded to me. “Didn’t you say we were poor, grandpa? Didn’t you just say they? Why are we giving money away?” I asked indignantly, thinking only of the candy we now could not afford.
Grandpa took this opportunity to press into a very important life lesson. “Remember, Bill.” He said. “It doesn’t matter how much we have, there are always those less fortunate. You must save something for them. Listen to your grandpa. One day, when you are older, you will understand.”
I reluctantly agreed, still feeling bitter about the candy that should have been mine. Later, when I was old enough to afford to by my own candy, they had lost their distinctive flavour and I had outgrown them. Sometimes I think back to this moment, feeling that I was cheated.
But not, I realized, as cheated as Grandpa. He passed away as our family situation improved. I never got to travel with him. He never got to see me grow up enough to understand the meaning behind his words.
Whenever I visit a new place, I often think of my grandpa. I will never forget his words. I wonder what he would say, how proud (or more likely disappointed) he would be in me, how absolutely jubilant he would be seeing a new place for the very first time.
Yesterday, while walking through Hong Kong with a huge stomachache that confined me to the inside of toilet stalls for the better part of the day, I passed another begger. He smiled at me, and held up a handwritten, cardboard sign. He couldn’t have been more different than the man I passed all those years ago. He was standing taller than I, with a head full of golden, luscious hair that had this been rural China the local girls would swarm him just to get a feel of it. He was handsome, had blue eyes, and at his feet were pictures of other places with blue skies and him, beer in hand. An iPhone, at least an iPhone 6, poked out of a back pocket, connected to a battery pack. “Hello,” he said, in an Australian accent. His sign read in English, “Travelling around the world. I am without money, please support my trip. Photos: with me, 10$. Printed: 30$.
I don’t usually lose my temper, but I lost it right then and there. All at once, grandpa’s words came flooding back: travel is a privilege. Give to those less fortunate. I was furious: how dare he make such a mockery of charity? Had he no shame, begging while travelling? In what world is this acceptable? Why does he, a young, able to work child in a man’s body get to travel the world on someone else’s dime when my grandfather, who in all likelihood was the greater man by far because he never would have dreamed asking for money unnecessarily in such a blatant way, never got the chance?
I should have hit him. Had grandpa been here, he would have scolded me all the way home. I wouldn’t have cared. It would have been worth it.
I don’t get it: is this the life changing experience you were after? You’re really gonna be telling your grandchildren that in your youth you travelled the world by begging? Have you gone mad? Do you not see the poverty that runs rampant here, or do you not care? When did this level of entitlement become the norm?
I doubt this Australian will ever read this post, but given the fact that he would rather stand on a street corner begging instead of exploring one of the most vibrant cities in the world, there’s a small chance that he stumbles on this rant one day. Please, if you are reading, learn some self-respect and stop fucking beg-packing in one of the poorest regions in the world by average income, where many many many people, hundreds upon thousands upon millions live day to day with a quality of life you shudder to imagine. Understand that travel is an extraordinary privilege, a luxury that an overwhelming majority of people on this earth never got to and will never get to experience; that people in real need are not begging to travel around the world, they are busy trying to scrounge up enough to feed the mother in the family so that her tits are not dry when the infant cries for milk. Even they have the common courtesy to at least bow when asking for money.
Oh, and for the record, you’re not pretty enough to be this stupid: you are in Hong Kong. Foreigners who understand English are the norm here, not the exception. No one will pay to take a photo with you. As for your 30$ photos, I’m willing to bet that a good majority of them that don’t include a beer and your ugly face you found straight off the internet. What an effing joke.
I could be the richest person in existence, money could not matter to me and I would rather gamble the money away over funding your trip. You cannot eat your iPhone. Your stolen and/or drunk photos will not help a family survive the day. Please, for your own sake, get a job like any other person, learn some respect, and ga terug naar eigen land.