In Shanghai, and I can only assume in the other major capitals in China, there is a vast chasm between the rich and the poor. Not surprisingly though, China has the fastest growing middle class in the world. There are more millionaires made here each day than in every other country in the world combined. The wealth here is tangible and it is exponentially growing. In 2012 it was reported that there were just over 1 million Chinese millionaires, in 2014 it has been reported that there is just shy of 2.5 million Chinese millionaires. The over population of luxury retail outlets and shopping malls pays testament to this also. In Australia we have, say, 1 Burberry store in some of our capital cities. Here I walk past 2 within 1500m. The cars on the streets are also not your average mix of cheap and cheerful small hatchbacks up to the not-so-common high end vehicles. Your average low end is an Audi or BMW and then it moves into the mid range of Jaguars and your upper range Maserati's, Bentley's and Rolls Royce. It feels skewed. The only rubbish cars on the road are the taxi's. Otherwise observing the vehicles feels like being in a car show in Europe.
To get a license plate for your vehicle in China, it costs around $11,500 USD and you have to go into a lottery to get one. For every 70 applicants one person is issued with a set of plates for their vehicle. It is a huge show of wealth to drive a vehicle in China.
For every millionaire there are around 400 people who live close to, on, or below the poverty line. Earning little more than a few dollars a day in mostly poor conditions enduring extremely long working hours. The government has done an excellent job in Shanghai of employing people to do not much at all. There are street cleaners who look after a block or two each. They have their little rubbish carts and sweep the streets and keep them clean. It is acceptable to toss your rubbish on the street here. It is acceptable for the fruit stalls or vegetable stalls to toss their rubbish in the street because it gives someone else a job to clean it all up. There are also a LOT of traffic police and neighbourhood security. In fact I'm not even sure they are security, they are more like 'observers of the people and going's on in the neighbourhood'. They do nothing but walk the streets in uniforms. You can jay walk in front of them, they do nothing. People have fights in front of them, they do nothing. What they do, is walk the streets and observe. It's a job and that is a good thing.
Our local bar/ restaurant strip is the perfect illustration of everything I have written above. There are a number of alleyways with hundreds of single room apartments in them. Some have a bathroom and some do not. The bathroom is in the kitchen for some. Some are fortunate enough to have separate bathrooms. All of them have the living room that converts to the bedroom. In the summer people live out their entire lives on the streets. The washing is hung out over the street, no matter how busy. The kids have their hair washed in the street, breakfast in your pyjamas on the street, sleep under the shade of tree in the street. Then there is a huge apartment block that clearly has huge modern apartments in it. Sitting across from the entrance to the parking garage at my favourite cafe, you will witness all kinds of luxury vehicles entering and exiting. Jaguar, Aston Martin, Maserati, Bentley and the most grand of all is a big blue Rolls Royce. Complete with white leather interior and driver. It is huge and grand and opulent and completely outrageous. I believe it is the most overt show of wealth anyone could ever display.
On Friday and Saturday nights this particular strip is full of ex-pats and wealthy Chinese dining on western food, drinking over priced beer and wine and smoking. It is a small haven for westerners. It is a novelty for the locals.
There are number of poor people from the adjacent alleyways, who wander through all of the restaurants begging. Some sell flowers, some just shake cups for change. There is one lady whom I really like. She stands no more than 3 1/2 feet tall, has a club foot, short greying hair and always smiling. Even when I see her in the grocery store she smiles at me. She is very different to pretty much every other local in the grocery store in that regard. She is genuinely friendly and brings a little cheer to my day when I see her. She pushes a ratty old baby stroller full of flowers through all of the restaurants. It helps her walk and because she is friendly she does a good trade. She earns her money and she is proud of what she does.
Then there is a boy. He is in his teens, he stoops when he stands, he is clean and tidy with short hair and slender build, he holds a thick cane made from bamboo and he is blind. His mother leads him around the bars and restaurants to beg for money. The look on his face encapsulates so many emotions and feelings that he is experiencing. It is so raw and unabated, it moves you. His faces shows his teenage awkwardness, his teenage lack of confidence and most prominently it shows you his utter grotesque humiliation. His desperate, dogged mother leads him around and stands in front of each person at each establishment until they either get some money or are waved on. This poor boy is slowly dying with each wave of his mothers cup. She is relentless, he is humiliated. She pushes and pulls him around. He stumbles and trips as he tries to be brave but he is sad. His face tells the story and you can see by the expressions on his face that all he wants to do is crawl into a very dark hole away from his mother and everyone he is placed in front of to pity him.
So here in this small street living side by side, you have a boy who is blind and a big blue Rolls Royce. Neither of which need to be paraded around, but both of which are. Desperation to get money and desperation to show money.