Knowing my incorrigible hunger for words and stories, M chose her welcome gift for me: three copies of ‘Big Issues’.
‘Big issues’ gathers Taiwanese writers around the world and put words of their worlds together. The magazine discusses environment protection, movies, current events, politics, and comics. Nothing serious. Rather every article is short and light-hearted. But there is something more special about ‘Big Issues’.
‘Do you know who are ‘street friends’?’ M speaks her version of mandarin, which I understand most of time. But occasionally we need to clarify a few definitions in order to understand each other, such as the vocabulary ‘ Street Friends’.
‘Does it mean homeless people?’ I took a bold guess. In terms of using refined language, I am always the less cultured among the two of us.
‘What is your impression of them? Can you describe them?’ M is a journalist at her deepest core.
‘Well, I think they don’t have a home. They are poor, wandering around with few friends and families’
‘You are mostly right. They got to live on the street after losing support from their families. Maybe a divorce with the wife or fall out with the family. Some of them do work but on a daily base with meager income.’
It turns out M has done a documentary about ‘Street Friends’. That explains the knowledge and compassion she has. “One street friend I interviewed makes a living by selling ‘Big issues’. ” Every wanderer can get current copies of ‘Big Issues’ for free. He/she can sell the magazine with a standard 100 Taiwan dollar price and keep 50% of the revenue. The government is also making more effort for this disadvantaged group. There is a program for tourists – Taipei guided by Street Friends. As a tourist, a ‘street friend’ shows you around the city. Combining his story, this friend will show the city using his experience and from his eyes. ’
M never lost her heart towards social justice and equality. The ‘Big issues’ suddenly increased its weight a lot more.
I shared my guilt by sometimes turning blind towards street friends. In the subway, on the street, I see them. Some with a baby, some with a speaker. I turn away my eyes sometimes. My choice of not to see them does not make them disappear, rather it makes me look quite small in front of ‘Big issues’.
[Beggars in Spain] asks ‘ What do you do if you meet one beggar in Spain?’ Mostly likely there is a selfless voice asking us to give him some coins. The book continues to probe our generosity ‘What do you do if you are surrounded by beggars in Spain?’ Or the better question might be ‘What do you think these beggars surrounding will do to you?