A Mobile Home
There is nowhere called home. The only way is to sleep around.
In recent years, the number of people living in fast food shops, cyber cafes and even cheap hostels has increased day by day. Without a place to lay their heads, the homeless carried with them all their clothing and daily necessities. There is a saying that “to shoulder the responsibility of a household is a tough job”. It is even tougher to carry their home on their back, rain or shine. The stumbling back of a homeless is disappointing.
McRefugees /Photo: LEI Jih-sheng
Danny used to stay overnight at McDonalds. /Photo: LEI Jih-sheng
Fa in the wheelchair, can only “have a nice dream” at the door of the agency because he cannot afford renting the $4500 butchered room with elevators advertised by the agency… /Photo: LEI Jih-sheng
Long hair has slept in cyber café many years. /Photo: LEI Jih-sheng
Taipei Main Station /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
Stay overnight in a fast food restaurant. /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
A bike of a homeless person. /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
The homeless people locked their baggage to the bike racks. /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
We are invisible
Written by Chan Yau Nga Alpha / Translation by Ng Hon Wah / Photo by LEI Jih-sheng
Pulling a cart with her left hand and holding a box with her right, with big and small bags hanging off her shoulders, 60-year-old Maymay, staggers and wanders the streets alone every night looking for shelter. In the very early hours of the morning, she enters a McDonalds. All she wants to do is lay down all her baggage and find a spot without glaring lights, where she can spend the night resting her head and arms on a table. Compared with the all the baggage she carries, the life she has gone through is even more burdensome.
Maymay, who was born at the grassroots level, was poor when she was a child. It is often said that knowledge can change fate and lift people out of poverty. However, although she had a strong desire to learn, she was suspected to be suffering from dyslexia. In the end, she passed only one subject during the school certificate examination. Under the encouragement of her teacher, she studied part time but only at evening school as she worked as a salesperson during the day. Biting the bullet, she gradually established a life.
She got married at the age of 30. And though the marriage could be regarded as a good one, her husband had a strong desire to control her. Two years later, her daughter was born. It was then that her husband showed his real face and his attitude towards her deteriorated. When her daughter turned one, she couldn't stand it any longer and decided to separate. In order to make a living, she became a tutor, and realized it was her dream to be a teacher.
After deliberating over the pros and cons, she eventually returned to her husband in order to fulfil a mother’s duty. But because she couldn't give up her educational dreams, she had to plan in secret to set up a tutorial school. She hoped to help the grassroots and fringe groups, such as the youthful delinquents and suicidal school children.
However, paper can't be held with fire and eventually, her husband found that she incurred credit card debts for buying teaching material. One day, her husband, together with a group of friends, forcibly cleared her belongings from her residence. Furious, she stormed into the room and took a lighter from the drawer. She held up her apron and pretended to ignite it. During the confrontation, her husband had called the police and a police tactical unit squad arrived quickly with shields. They pinned her to the ground and sent her to hospital for treatment. The psychiatrist said she was suffering from personality disorder and so she eventually spent two years in a private residential home for the disabled.
Once she was discharged, she rented a sub-divided unit of sixty odd square feet, which was infested with bedbugs, and made it impossible for her to live there. She began to wander the streets, but didn't dare be so reckless as to sleep on the streets, she could only go to McDonalds which operated around the clock.
Whenever she walks into McDonalds, countless eyes are on her, be it the staff, customers, cleaning workers or homeless people. Some cover their noses and leave. There are others who are infuriated and feel that they have "been robbed of their territory” and angrily throw the food trays at her, “I am scared all the time while I am sleeping.”
Looking around, she sees many female and young homeless people, for whom she has compassion for. Were it not for her own suffering, she definitely wouldn't have been so sensitive to the underprivileged. And so, she started to take part in self-help organizations to serve rehabilitated patients, grassroots, street-sleepers, etc. “I hope to bring them together. If you support me, I will support you. If the government does not care and people are not heard, it is difficult to arouse society’s concern. Better to be united,” she said.
We ask about her hope for the future, upon hearing the question, she says with a bitter smile, “The government seems not to have seen us at all, as if we are invisible.” Loudly and clearly with every word, she says, “It doesn’t mean if you have hope that you fight for it. You will not fight forever; it will always end in zero. Instead of waiting, waiting and waiting, why not do something about it?”
A wanderer for 50 years, who became a protester in the “Umbrella Movement”
Written by Stephanie Yang / Translation by Ng Hon Wah / Photo by LEI Jih-sheng
Inside the High Court building, Lou Tit-man was involved in a lawsuit. He was charged with contempt of court after occupying Mongkok during the “Umbrella Movement” four years before – the pro-democracy demonstrations that started in the autumn of 2014 in Hong Kong. He didn’t agree with the charge and told the judge that his protest had been just.
At the time of his court appearance, Lou Tit-man was 73 years old. He says he’s wandered the streets of Hong Kong for more than 50 years and has received free meals from 124 different places across the territory as he shuttled from one corner of the city to another.
“I sleep on the street; I’ve always slept on the street,” he says.
His personal belongings consisted of a small trolley stuffed with daily necessities and food given to him by passers-by. The most important things he kept inside his backpack. His cherished items he chose to put inside his waist pack, which was old and stained with orange patches and the stitching frayed. While chatting with me, he retrieved a transparent bag from his waist pack – the type you’d use for the freezer. It contained two rumpled-up newspaper articles: one from Apple Daily, the other from Oriental Daily News, both reporting on his court case.
“Occupy Central [provided me with] the happiest days of my life. It was very happy for us, all together, to practise democracy and freedom,” he says.
The initial organisers of Occupy Central launched the campaign on September 18, 2014. Mr Lou joined the throngs that flocked to Admiralty to support the protesters. Mr Lou had been listening to the news on the radio, and rushed to the Star Ferry to join the demonstration. But he didn’t even have his ferry fare and had to beg for the money before travelling to the site at Admiralty.
Shortly afterwards, the Occupy movement also occupied a site in Mongkok. Mr Lou happened to be sleeping on the streets in Mongkok at the time, so he headed to the Occupy site every day. “I often think about the people there,” says Mr Lou.
Prior to the Occupy Movement, he did not wish to apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and says he would try to earn a living. But in the end, he did decide to claim it - because he wanted to use the money to help the cause. HK$3400 per month, “Nearly all the money was spent on distributing food and water there,” he says. He would often buy in bulk from the supermarket. On one occasion, he bought all the cakes and bottled water on a shelf, and dragged it to the street for distribution to the occupiers. He also brought brooms to sweep the streets.
I asked him how he perceived the Occupy Central movement. He said that based on what he heard on the radio, “it was for the people’s benefit, to protest against an unreasonable system” and “to fight for genuine universal-suffrage elections”. I asked him whether he understood the concept of civil disobedience used by the organisers of Occupy Central – so to break the law, but by peaceful means, and, ultimately, to plead guilty. “Yes,” he says, “everybody has to pay the price anyway for the sake of the society”.
After his arrest, he eventually chose to plead not guilty. It was based on moral intuition: “To plead not guilty is to insist on justice. Support the movement and you support it to the end.”
On 26 October 2018, Lou Tit-man was sentenced in the High Court to four months’ imprisonment. He was the first to be imprisoned.
Now his appeal was successful. SoCO’s Social worker applied an accommodation for him. He now lives in a hostel room shared with three other men. He keeps a note-book the size of his palm to record various slang phrases and poems. Eventually, he turns to a certain page and reads: “When I am in abject misery, don’t ask me why.”