Front And Center

China, like anywhere, is a land of economic disparity. Recently, I had an interesting illustration of this. It got me thinking of why such “unfairness” exists.

It starts with the bus stops in Zhuhai. They are busy places where people carry change. Soooooooo, looks like we got ourselves a hotspot for folks looking for some charity. But it’s not like there’s 20 children crowding you for cash or anything. Here, it’s a guy with no leg, an old woman; maybe one or two at each stop.

Another customary alms-seeking strategy is to set up a karaoke machine minus the TV and sing to the enjoyment (or not) of those waiting around. A little Chinese street performance. (Interesting note: I’ve found there to be less embarrassment in this society when it comes to performing for others. In karaoke bars really bad–and really sober–singers will mumble away a the mic without any concern for who might be judging, which I’ve also found, is nobody.)

On the streets, though, most often it’s a man or woman who are in need due to medical reasons for them or their children. Sometimes it’s a tougher scene when a mom holds her sick child. (Though one never knows if they are truly sick.)

One day, I walked up and heard the voice of a small child belting through the speaker. So young; this was a unique scene:

With Mommy behind for support, they had written in front of them the reason for their predicament.

It was a telling sight. (I just didn’t know what was being told.) Was it their desperation or child exploitation? Perhaps on the contrary, maybe it was Mom’s way to nurture her daughter’s musical gift. But relegated to the dirty sidewalks, it was in stark contrast to a scene days later.

I was asked to take part in a photo shoot for my school’s new batch of flyers and posters. Naturally, they wanted some students, too. They came all prettied up and ready to dazzle:

Here’s our little pageant princess:

Check out the action:

Yeah, there’s “pageant moms” here, too. I think the one-child policy helps this cause.

It was quite a contrast. Why are these girls in the studio and that wee one singing outside? And she’s not the only one–though younger than most. I noticed a high school girl who, in school uniform, sang at a different bus stop. I asked my friend to ask her why she was doing so. She responded to him, “Wo de Mama mei you qian.” (“My mother has no money.”)

What do we say and think in the face of such disparity? These girls inspired me to think upon the bigger picture, and doing so created a bridge between these situations and countless others. There are all sorts of seemingly nonsensical leaps in prosperity and comforts based on seemingly arbitrary factors. A great baseball player is rich beyond belief. A great ping-pong player just gets by. I come out here and can teach English, thus, I make double what some professionals here get. Then again, I make a quarter of what I did in America waiting tables.

I feel a relief in seeing that this “unfairness” isn’t something directed specifically at these kids, but a natural constant to acknowledge throughout one’s life. It helps me to lighten up. We take things so seriously—whether threatened by another’s success, guilty for having more money than other people, or shame when we fail. But besides the factors we can control and see—hard work, education, financial decisions—there is a bevy of other variables we simply don’t know and are of a volume we can’t comprehend.

A terse and convenient statement, sums this all up as “life isn’t fair”. But when things can’t be explained, they can be troubling—especially when they deal with children. We just have to find the middle ground. Yes, we’re in a world currently, and perhaps forever, marred with inconsistencies. No, it doesn’t mean people are cursed to an existence without escape of the clutches of an unfair world. C’mon now. This randomness means we are not defined, and our worth not determined, by circumstances. No one is stuck in an unjust world, just a sporadic one, which, because of our relative powerlessness, we are free to enjoy. Each person’s situation is unique and success defined individually.

I tried my hardest not to take things too seriously. See? and look at the results:



What say you?