This past week, a group of us recently returned back to North America after running the Great Wall Marathon in China - what a fantastic experience! The marathon itself was challenging, enlightening, and of course rewarding. That aside, the trip was filled with time spent in rural villages around the Great Wall, sightseeing of historical sites in Beijing & Shanghai, and cultural experiences such as a Chinese acrobatic show and a traditional Peking Duck lunch.
One of the biggest eye openers of this trip was the worldly perspective one always seems to gain when they remove themselves out of the day to day in North America. And this is the premise of the story for today. During our travels we were amazed to come across many inner city Chinese that were disfigured and disabled - yet, were the primary individuals that were begging for money - better known as 'street beggars'. From missing limbs, to significant burns and disfigurement, these individuals were definitely dealt a hand that most would kindly pass on. And as we asked our tour guide about these individuals...we became privy to one of the many stories.
'When I first came here they beat me so hard I nearly died. They beat me and they beat me,' she says. It was three years ago when a man she calls 'uncle' came to her village. There was a cash transaction with her stepfather, who was promised the equivalent of $250 Canadian dollars in instalments. In the land of the rampant capitalist, this was just another business deal.
Since then, most days from early morning to nightfall, she has been hunched over her pitch - a patch of pavement close to Tiananmen Square, amid the crowds of tourists and shoppers. Most don't offer a second glance. Some pause long enough to place a few notes into the tin she holds out. On a good day she earns 300 yuan (less than 50 dollars Cdn). It goes to 'uncle'. 'The man who took me here is a very powerful man. Everybody in the village is scared of him. He can chop off anybody's arm or leg. Whatever he wants. He's got men all over China. He told me he will find me wherever I go.'
And above all...this is not an isolated story. Apparently it is common for the parents of disabled children to offload them in this way. Left to fend on their own and live as 'slave beggars' amongst the millions of people that reside in cities such as Beijing - let alone the millions of tourists every year.
So, today's blog is a reminder for when we awake in our homes (as small or as big as they may be) in North America, enjoying the breath of fresh air, possibly with a view of the mountains and/or the ocean, surrounded by great people (whether it be family or friends), away from war and fighting, and privy to endless amounts of opportunity - to truly be reminded for what we have. Because at the end of the day, we come home after a long day of 'work' while as the night falls on Tiananmen Square, Gao Zhou Zhou will be picked up by her 'uncle' and will hand over the day's takings, and she'll be back there tomorrow with no other place for her to go!