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archenemy/[]/ n. 魔王, 主要敌人...

身在异乡,伸出援手

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It was almost two years ago when I first saw the disfigured man begging for money. He was at an intersection a few miles from my house and I was both horrified and transfixed by his severely burned appearance as I inched closer and saw that he was handing out a piece of paper to anyone who would roll down their window to accept it. I was ready to have a look, but the light changed, horns honked and I drove away.

About a week later, the scene repeated itself. This time I had money in hand but again I had to drive by. About 10 days later, I returned again, prepared to park and make sure I spoke with the man with the melted face. But he was gone.

I returned several times, but never saw him again. I wondered who he was, what had happened to him -- and where he'd gone. Months later I received an email forwarded by a friend from a friend of a friend. Other expats had been more persistent than me, learning the man's story and setting up a loose network to help him.

In our home countries there are plenty of people less fortunate than ourselves and opportunities to help out, but we often tend to live at a distance, both physical and cerebral, which isn't easily bridged. For example, our town of Maplewood, N.J. borders cities with high poverty rates and lots of problems, but there aren't people living in lean-tos in our backyard. Going overseas, however, we get knocked out of our comfort zone, and disparities can be particularly jarring in a developing country because of the rapid and arbitrary nature of growth and the lack of social safety net. Here in Beijing, there is huge contrast between the expat-dominated housing compounds in our neighborhood, filled with manicured lawns and spacious modern homes, and the surrounding local villages where families live in ragged unheated rooms. The man with the melted face proved to be a bridge between them.

It began in September 2006, with Justin Hansen, then a 16-year-old junior at the International School of Beijing. He had seen the man begging on the road near his apartment, seen people roll their windows up and avert their eyes. And he heard kids at school talking about the scary, freaky guy and the threats he posed.

Justin asked the man what happened and heard the tale of Wang Ming Zhi, a 43-year-old peasant farmer who had come to Beijing four years earlier to better himself and his family. He had been working in construction, making between 30 and 70 yuan (between $4 and $10) a day. His wife and three kids had been about 700 miles away, back in rural Henan province, continuing to farm wheat, corn, peanuts and sesame. In a good year the family made about $1 a day, and Mr. Wang had wanted more for them. 'I want my children to make a job with their minds instead of their hands,' he explains.

Mr. Wang had been in a basement room when a spark from a welder's torch fell and ignited the fumes of the waterproofing material he was applying, alighting his clothes and leaving him a molten mess. A fellow worker pulled him from the basement and an hour later an ambulance took him to the hospital. As a day laborer, he had no health or disability insurance. His employer put up money to have him admitted -- Chinese hospitals generally demand an advance -- but this was the end of their goodwill.

It was days before Chinese New Year and he should have been back home visiting his family. They were fearing the worst by the time he called after six days in the hospital. A doctor had removed a breathing tube and was holding a phone to his face. Mrs. Wang got on a bus to Beijing. After 43 days, the money supplied by his employer was depleted and he was to be released. The family's pleading won him one more day of hospital care.

Mr. Wang traveled back and forth between Henan and Beijing twice, in pain, finally staying here in hopes of getting more treatment and avoiding the humiliation he feels in his hometown, where he is mocked for having sought a better life. His fingers were fused together and he was unable to close his mouth even enough to avoid drooling. He dragged himself out to that intersection near my house, in the heart of Beijing's expat community, in the shadow of villa compounds and rising hotels, malls and convention centers.

This is where I saw him and, far more importantly, where Justin and later Craig Belnap saw him. The American Mr. Belnap asked him what he needed and was told: 'Burn cream and clothes.' He returned with a bag of clothes, and offered Mr. Wang a ride home, where he discovered a shabby single room with a bed made of plywood atop stacked bricks and holes in the wall covered with newspaper and magazine pages.

He listened to Mr. Wang's story as his wife wiped away the incessant drool from his chin. 'The room was so full of love and affection,' says Mr. Belnap. 'I gave him my phone number and promised to help.'

The Wangs put Mr. Belnap in touch with Justin and his mother, Chi Gao, a Taiwanese-born American citizen who had already begun to help, and they formed a loose confederation of expats assisting Mr. Wang. Mr. Hansen wrote an article about him in his school newspaper -- the first of five. He gave Mr. Wang copies, which he handed out to prospective donors. That eased people's fears, but only if they would roll down their windows. Many stepped on the gas and averted their own gaze and their children's.

Meanwhile, Mr. Belnap was reaching out to friends and starting to collect money. Given news that Mr. Wang's 14-year-old daughter had dropped out of school to work long days in a garment factory because the family could no longer pay her tuition, he raised enough money to get her back to the classroom. They now have enough money to pay her tuition of almost $1,000 per year through high school. Some donors have expressed interest in funding college education.

On Sept. 26, 2006, the U.S. Embassy issued a security alert about Mr. Wang, citing an 'aggressive panhandler,' and asking citizens to report his presence to the authorities. Apparently, this stemmed from uninvestigated reports. Around that time, local police gave him 1,000 yuan ($140) and told him to stay off the streets. This was a highly unusual action. Mr. Wang says that a local police chief felt sympathy and asked a large construction company (not the one that had employed Mr. Wang) to make the donation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hansen's mother had gotten her personal lawyer, a local Chinese, to file a pro bono lawsuit -- a small but growing field in China -- against Mr. Wang's employer. They eventually won a 60,000-yuan settlement, which got Mr. Wang out of debt and allowed him to have the first of several still-needed surgeries, separating his fingers some, and aligning his jaw so that he can chew better and drool less. His appearance is much improved -- which would be a surprise to anyone seeing him now for the first time. Sleep remains difficult, with continual pain from his tough, dry skin.

His two sons, ages 17 and 19, are now in Beijing working in a nearby grocery store. Mr. Wang is no longer as destitute but he is still barely able to work, because of both prospective employers' attitude toward his appearance and the harsh effect of sun on his skin. There is not a lot of sensitivity to disabled issues in China.

Mr. Belnap has relocated to Switzerland but remains in touch with Mr. Wang and other expats assisting him, all of whom have different motivations but the same goal.

'I am a Christian and the Bible repeatedly instructs us to love your neighbor as yourself but I have never had neighbors in need of so much help,' says Lisa Rassi, an American who is providing part-time employment to Mrs. Wang, in hopes that she can one day be hired full time with experience working in a foreigner's home.

Like Mr. Belnap, Mrs. Rassi was touched by the way she was welcomed into the Wangs' humble home and their gratefulness for any help offered.

'I have never known what it is like to live in hunger or face the elements in a home without the comforts of heat or air conditioning,' she says. 'I never want to forget what I have seen. I have also always tried to teach my children not to look away or be judgmental of those in need and this is was an opportunity for me to practice just that.'

'I could also do the same thing back home in Peoria (Illinois) and I hope I will, but such an intense need never crossed my path before,' she said. 'Also, if we assist the less fortunate there, we are so separated from it. Here the assistance is very personal and tangible and you can make a huge difference with so little.'

Mrs. Rassi says she feels honored to have been able to help, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Belnap from his new home in Geneva.

'It sounds like a cliché, but I got more out of this than he did,' he says. 'Mr. Wang is a very kind man with a very nice family who is simply of victim of gaps in the China system. And yet, he plugs along.'

Mr. Wang still has plenty of needs. When I visited him, he was out of burn cream and said his skin was particularly itchy. I'll be using my payment from this column to do my little part. I'm meeting Mrs. Rassi at a Traditional Chinese Medicine pharmacy soon to buy tubes of burn cream. It feels like the least I can do.

我第一次看见那位残疾人乞讨差不多是在两年前。他在离我家几英里远的一个十字路口,当我一点点驶近他时,我被他严重烧伤的外表惊呆了。我见他在把一张纸递给愿意摇下车窗接过去的人。我本来想看看,但交通灯变成了绿灯,身后的喇叭响成一片,我只好驶开了。

大约一个星期后,这一幕又重演了。这一次,我准备了钱,但又一次不得不驶过那个人。过了10天左右,我又回到那里,打算停下车,一定要跟那个面目全非的人谈谈。但那个人不见了。

我好几次回到那个地方,但再也没见过他。我很想知道他是什么人,出了什么事,又去了哪里。过了几个月,我接到朋友辗转转发的一封电子邮件。另外一些外国人比我更执着,他们了解了那个人的来历,还建立了一个松散的圈子来帮助他。

我们自己的国家里有许多比我们不幸的人,也有不少伸出援手的机会,但我们从身心两方面通常都会跟那些人保持距离,这种距离也很难逾越。比如说,我们的家乡新泽西州枫林镇接邻的城市贫困程度很高,有许多问题,但我们周围并没有人住棚屋。但到了国外,我们如同离开了温室,而在发展中国家,由于发展的快速和随意性,加上缺乏社会保障网络,这种差距尤为突出。在北京,我们这一片主要由外国人居住的住宅满是精心修剪的草坪和宽敞的现代房屋,而周围村庄里的住户却生活在没有暖气的破房子里。那个面目全毁的人成了二者之间的桥梁。

这一切始于2006年9月,由当时年仅16岁的北京国际学校高二学生贾斯汀•汉森(Justin Hansen)发起。他见过那个人在他住处附近的路上乞讨,也看到人们摇上车窗转头不顾。他还听学校的孩子们谈起过那个可怕的怪人以及他让人心里产生不舒服的感觉。

贾斯汀问那个人出了什么事,从而了解了这个名叫王明志(音)的43岁农民的故事。他四年前来到北京,想让自己和家人过上更好的日子。他当过建筑工人,每天能挣30至70元人民币(合4至10美元)。他的妻子和三个孩子远在700英里外的河南农村老家,继续耕种小麦、玉米、花生和芝麻。光景好的时候,这个家庭每天的收入也只有1美元左右,王明志对此并不满足。他说,他希望自己的孩子能凭知识挣钱,不要干体力活。

王明志在一个地下室干活时,一名焊工焊枪上的火星点着了王明志正在涂的防水材料,他的衣服也烧了起来,整个人成了火球。一位工友把他从地下室里拉出来,一个小时以后,他才被救护车送进医院。身为临时工的王明志没有医疗或工伤保险。他的老板出钱让他住进了医院(中国的医院通常要求预付款),但他们的善心就到此为止了。

当时已快到春节,他本应该回乡看望家人。等到他在医院过了六天后给家人打电话时,家人已经担心到了极点。医生拿掉了氧气管,把电话举到他面前。王明志的妻子登上了来京的汽车。43天后,老板垫付的钱用完了,他不得不出院。家人的恳求让他得以在医院多接受了一天的治疗。

王明志在痛苦之中两度往返河南和北京,最终他留在了北京,希望能得到更多的治疗,也是为了避免在家乡感受到的羞辱,老家的人嘲笑他痴心妄想去追求更好的生活。他的手指被火烧得熔在了一起,他的嘴唇也合不拢,无法止住口水往下流。他艰难地来到我家附近的那个十字路口,就在北京的外国人居住区的中心地带,在别墅、高耸的酒店、商场和会议中心的阴影之下。

我就是在那里看到他的,更重要的是,贾斯汀和后来的美国人克雷格•贝尔纳普(Craig Belnap)也是在那里看到他的。贝尔纳普问王明志需要什么,王明志告诉他:烧伤膏和衣物。贝尔纳普带回了一包衣服,还开车把王明志送回家,结果发现他住在一个破旧不堪的小房间里,床是胶合板做的,支在一堆砖头上,墙上的洞都是用报纸和杂志的书页糊起来的。

贝尔纳普听了王明志的故事,在这期间,王明志的妻子一直帮他擦去下巴上不停流下的口水。贝尔纳普说:“那间小屋充满了爱。我给了他我的电话号码,并答应伸出援手。”

王明志夫妇让贝尔纳普跟已经展开援助的贾斯汀和他的母亲、美籍台湾人高迟(音)取得了联系,他们组成了一个松散的外国人联合会帮助王明志。汉森在校报上写了一篇关于王明志的文章,后来又写了四篇。他给了王明志一些校报,后者将它们散发给期望中的好心人。这减轻了人们的惧怕情绪,但只是在他们愿意摇下车窗接过传单的情况下。许多人都是一踩油门加速驶过,转移了自己的目光,也让自己的孩子不要去看。

与此同时,贝尔纳普也向朋友展开宣传,并开始募集钱款。因无力负担学费,王明志14岁的女儿退了学,在一家服装厂打工。得知这个消息后,贝尔纳普筹到了足够的钱,让她重返校园。现在,他们已经有足够的钱支付她高中毕业前的全部学费,她现在学费每年近1,000美元。一些捐赠者还表示愿意资助她大学的学费。

2006年9月26日,美国大使馆发布了关于王明志的安全警告,说他是“有攻击性的乞讨者”,并要求美国公民一旦发现他的行踪,要向有关当局报告。显然,这一警告是源自未经调查的报告。那段时间,当地公安机关给了他1,000元人民币(合140美元),让他别在街上乞讨了。这是极其不寻常的举动。王明志说,一个当地的派出所所长很同情他,并要求一家大建筑公司(不是雇佣过王明志的那家)给他损了这笔钱。

与此同时,汉森的母亲让她的私人律师,也是个中国人,实施法律援助,起诉了王明志的雇主。法律援助在中国尚未形成气候,但正日渐发展。他们最终赢得了6万元赔偿,这笔钱让王明志得以还清债务,并接受了一次手术(除此之外,他还需要做几次手术),比如说分离他的手指,并对他的下巴进行整形,以便让他能更好地咀嚼,减少流口水的现象。他的外表有了很大的改观,但现在第一次见到他的人还是会吓一跳。睡觉还是很困难,因为粗糙干裂的皮肤老是疼。

他的两个儿子年龄分别为17岁和19岁,目前都在北京,在附近的一家杂货店里打工。王明志的生活不像以前那么贫困了,但还是无法工作,原因在于潜在雇主对他的相貌有看法,也因为阳光会让他的皮肤刺痛。在中国,残疾人问题没有受到太多关注。

贝尔纳普已被改派瑞士,但仍然与王明志及其他帮助他的外国人保持着联系,那些人伸出援手的动因不一,但目标却是一致的。

丽莎•拉斯(Lisa Rassi)说:“我是个基督徒,《圣经》一再告诫我们要爱你的邻居如爱你自己,但我从未有过需要这么大帮助的邻居。”拉斯让王明志的妻子做兼职,希望她有一天能凭借在外国人家里工作的经验而找到全职工作。

王明志一家人欢迎她来自己粗陋的小屋,并对自己所得到的帮助感激不尽,和贝尔纳普一样,拉斯也被此深深感动了。

她说:“我从来不知道生活在饥饿中是什么滋味,也不知道在没有暖气或空调的房子里过日子是什么感觉。我永远不会忘记自己看到的一切。我一直教育自己的孩子不要对有危难的人冷漠以对,或是随意评判,这正好给了我一个身体力行的机会。”

她说:“在伊利诺伊州皮奥里亚的老家,我也会这样做的,我希望自己有机会帮助别人,但我以前从没遇到过这么迫切需要帮助的人。同时,如果我们救助老家那些不幸的人,却无法感同身受。在这里进行救助能得到切身体会,而你付出一点点就能让别人的生活发生极大的变化。”

拉斯说,能帮助别人,她觉得很光荣,贝尔纳普也从他在日内瓦的新家表达了同样的感受。

他说:“听起来像陈词滥调,但这个过程中,我得到的比他要多。王明志是个非常善良的人,有一个和睦的家庭,他只是中国社会贫富差距加大的牺牲品。但他依然坚持了下来。”

王明志还需要很多方面的帮助。我去看望他时,他的烧伤膏用完了,皮肤特别痒。我会用本栏目的稿酬尽一点力。一会儿我就要去一家中药店跟拉斯碰面,给他买几支烧伤膏。我觉得这是我能做的最起码的事。
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