The gaping wealth gap
While the clock was counting down to the four-day weekend before the Dragon Boat Festival on Wednesday night, I passed a Taiwan Cement tower along Zhongshan N Road Sec 2 in Taipei. Lo and behold I spotted a Taiwanese trash picker, easily 70 years old, bent over a planter at one corner of the impressive office building.
He clearly was not about to indulge his taste buds with an iconic zongzi, the traditional, pillow-shaped snack of sweet-rice filled with mushroom, egg yolk, dried shrimps and chestnut being handmade en masse for the annual festival.
He was not even about to scoff down plain rice and grungy vegetables, as many drifters in the city do.
As I snapped a photograph, this man was emptying packets of spices into a paper bowl of instant noodles.
Few consumers consider such convenience-store bought fast food as “prolonged suicide” or a guaranteed ticket to an intestinal specialist if eaten regularly.
One can be sure that this old man is a faithful patron of the tobacco-smoking equivalent of cheap, do-it-yourself, instant meal-in-a-bowl.
One can also be certain that this man does not care about news reports that could change the nation. That US delegates suggest Taiwan increase its defense spending, or that the president has been proclaiming the need to inject younger blood in the system, or that Chinese tourism dropped 15 percent last month.
What happened to the timeless tradition of filial piety that is still honored and taught in Taiwan?
Where are his children if any? Why is he not helped by social services? And why is he not a recipient of the generosity of Taiwanese who reportedly led global donations to Japan in the wake of the March 2011 quake and tsunami?
Across the intersection is one of Taipei’s most established churches that recently spent a princely sum on sprucing up the buildings exterior. In addition to gray granite walls, the church now has an inset flat-screen monitor on the ground floor. A soft-spoken narrator spreads messages of goodwill often quoted from the Bible, but this old man probably cannot hear such inspirational words over the grumbling of his hungry stomach.
Rumors are that many of the patrons of this church are well-heeled property investors. Maybe some of them can actually afford the ritzy condos being put up at frantic pace in this neighborhood or already stand haughtily with uniformed doormen on guard.
Some of these condos go for about US$6,200 per square meter, exceeding many Western cities with hourly wages double or more than in Taipei.
While only a block away is arguably the oldest five-star hotel in Taiwan, The Ambassador. Every other Friday night outside the lobby are gleaming Porsches, Ferraris, BMWs, Mercedes, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Audis and even the occasional Maybach.
This trash picker likely cannot even afford a set of lug nuts off an alloy wheel on any of these European cars.
The Grand Canyon in the Yellow Stone National Park is undeniably breath-taking, but catching a view of a Taiwanese who can show visitors the invisible yet immensely wide wealth gap in Taipei is truly memorable.
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