A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The people at our feet

The man stood out in the crowd of hundreds leaving Samseong station for one obvious reason:

We were all on our feet.

I couldn't see his face— only a bald spot. He sat in the most suppliant of possible positions; his chest on his knees, and his head on a cushion on the dirty thoroughfare. In front of him was a cap with a few coins in it.

I haven't seen many beggars in Korea. In Halifax there are probably more per capita.

What struck me about this man wasn't that he was a have-naught in a sea of affluent Seoulites, but that I've never seen someone look so vulnerable in a public place. He was just lying there in front of the railing that split the stairwells leaving the station. He didn't move. No one bumped into him. The stairs were packed wall-to-wall, but there was a little bubble of emptiness around him.

When I came back down into the subway on my way home he was still there. It was about 2 hours later, and I'm sure thousands of people had poured past him in that time.

He was just lying there. No rattling cup. No sign. No plea or justification to the people who passed by. Just an old cap, and complete surrender.

The image of begging for attention by disappearing is something I'm having trouble getting out of my head. I can't fathom what it's like to feel that helpless— to be a human flagstone.

3 comments:

Pam said...

How moving.What surprises me is that his cup was still empty after two hours. Where is compassion ?

Sam said...

there was a little, but not much.

Shane said...

I've said before that there is a whole new level of begging here. After seeing a few legless fellows pulling themselves across the ground in rubber pants, or blind guys shuffling through a subway car with a tape player strapped to their chest playing 'Amazing Grace'...well... it makes the begging teens back in Halifax look like lottery winners.