A Few Yuen

So sometime in December, my dad and I went to China, had a grand old time hiking between villages, visited some cities, bought stuff. We travelled with a backpacking travel tour group that's Malaysia-based. Nice people.

One of our stops was in Lang Shuo, and my dad and I were wandering the shopping district streets for something or another. We passed by a girl who cleared a bit of floor between two stalls, laid down a sign, and knelt down, head bowed.

I couldn't read the sign, but I'm pretty sure it was asking for money, giving the reasons why. She didn't look much older than fifteen. She didn't move at all, just knelt down and bowed her head, her hands placed neatly in her lap. She didn't call out to anyone. She didn't try to attract attention. I think her eyes were closed, too.

When we'd passed her by for the second time, I said to my dad, "we should give her something."

My dad said no, and I didn't press it for a bit. Then I asked why, and he said, because it's possible that she was sent out to beg for money, and to give her money would be supporting the cartels that do these things to orphan children, and if she got money but didn't get enough, she would be beaten.

I'm still not sure how his argument supports not giving her money. I was kind of mad, of course, that he would even bring that up. It took me a couple of blocks before I figured out what to say to him.

I finally said, "c'mon Dad. What's a few yuen to you?"

He gave me A Look. You know, the kind of look that sort of says, I know I'm middle-class and more privileged but you didn't have to bloody remind me, but he pressed a five-yuen note into my hand.

I ran over to her, and I said to her, "xiao mei, xiao mei, nah..." and held out the note.

She didn't say anything. Didn't even raise her head. She only bowed deeply to me. I had to tuck the money under the cardboard sign.

And you know, I wanted to feel good about it. That I got her a bit closer to whatever goal she needed to reach so she wouldn't get beaten. Or that whatever the money's for, maybe to feed her family, maybe to help her continue school, I'd helped her, just a bit. It's a drop of water from her sea of troubles, but at least I'd tried.

Thinking about it now makes me mad, because I was helpless to do anything. We weren't there for a long time. I didn't know of any place she could go to for support and financial aid. If she was indeed being used and abused by a cartel, there was no way I could have helped her get out.

I still think about her occasionally, especially when I pass the homeless on the streets of Halifax. I've bought coffee, sandwiches for the occasional person on the street. Thrown coins to buskers.

I hope someday, if I'm ever in the position where I could help someone the way I wanted to help that girl, I will act upon it and do so.


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