I was 20 years old when a woman begging on the street tried to thrust her baby into my hands. We were in Zhuhai, China, and I’m pretty sure she was even younger than I was. Nine years on, I don’t think I will ever forget that day – but I don’t think I ever counted how many girls came up to us. I couldn’t.
We were a group of gwailo, across the border from Macau for just one day, as part of a two week trip with my old Kung Fu club. Most of us were from Auckland’s affluent North Shore.
After spending a day on the Mainland, our Sifu – or master – told us that he had to take us to dinner so that he could pay his respects to a very important man. We were driven in minivans to a stunning hotel. To put things in perspective: lunch had been in a private room named after a Swiss watch company in a restaurant called ‘Rich Garden’. Our Sifu had influential, wealthy friends. We walked into the restaurant – or, well, restaurants – off the hotel lobby, and a man who in my memory looks a lot like Al Pacino in the mid 1980s greeted us with a wave of his hand: ‘Eat whatever you want. I own it all.’
After dinner, we walked back to the vans. It was just a few blocks, but I think I saw more homelessness, hunger, and desperation in those few blocks than I’d seen in the first twenty years of my life