Being that I’m half the world away from home, making phat cash and living it up, I sometimes forget that I am in a country where a lot of people are poor and have to work very hard for their day to day existence. Most of my associations are with well to do Taiwanese people or foreigners – not out of snobbishness, but because these are the types that are most likely to speak English – the only type I can currently communicate with. Because of this, I tend to forget that some people on this island live a hard life. The other day, my Gucci bubble was pricked by the following incident.
I was driving home and stopped at a BBQ stand. The scene was typical – husband cooking and wife cutting, spicing, bagging and dealing with the money. It was a little late (around 10:00 pm). The other people present were an older lady and the omnipresent betelnut chewer/spitter. I ordered what I wanted, paid and sat on my scooter, waiting. I was staring around aimlessly when a movement caught my eye. Looking over I saw what I thought to be a package of some sort on a nearby bench. The package then sprouted arms and legs, and a sleepy face peered out for a moment before disappearing back under the brown blanket. It was a child.
I experienced a MOMENT.
Here I am wondering if my next hair cut will be a disaster and if I need a new pair of shoes, while there is a child sleeping on a park bench. Suddenly my lack of places to do laundry doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I know, I know…all things are relative, and poverty exists everywhere and blah blah blah…but I was really struck by this image.
Usually in Taiwan, the grandparents watch the kids when the parents are at work. For the richer sort, the kids are at a bushiban (cram school – a sort of after school, school) – studying any number of subjects – until the parents get off work.
Here, this poor kid was sleeping on the side of the road (no doubt after an exhausting day at school) while her parents tried to scrape up enough cash to pay the rent. Cars and trucks were rushing by, mosquitos were buzzing around – hardly a place to get some rest, but she had no choice. I think that I was really affected by this because I had forgotten that Taiwan is still a poor country compared to Canada. All my experiences here are with well to do folk, so this sudden dose of reality hit hard.
I started observing the parents. Both had smiles and were talking animatedly to each other. Even though they seemed really poor, and I felt sorry for the child, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful for this family. Despite their obvious poverty, they were still positive and seemed to have good attitudes. This is a trait that I have noticed in a lot of Taiwanese people. They accept whatever hand they have been dealt, and continue on. There is no bitching and whining that I so commonly heard (and participated in) in the west.
There is something to be learned from these people. Seems to me that even with a shitter lot in life, they seemed as happy, or happier than me. They live much simpler lives, and maybe that’s the key, but I really don’t want to give up my bohemian lifestyle for a spartan like existence yet. Maybe there is a balance that I’ve got to find.
While I’m glad, I was never that little girl lying on the bench, I wonder if being her would have done me a little good.