A recent photo on the Internet showed a white-haired elderly man riding on the subway in Hong Kong with a heavy-duty public garbage bin. The man, 69-year-old Bo Yuan, lives alone in a public housing unit in the Wong Tai Sin District of Hong Kong, according to Apple Daily News. A reporter went to his home to get the story behind the photo and was met by Yuan’s friend, Mr. Chen, who explained he came to help after Yuan had an accident. Mr. Chen told the reporter that Yuan had been living there for years. He has no family, receives public assistance, and must work part-time as a cleaner in order to survive. His job requires him to work early in the morning and late at night.
In the Mong Kok area where he works, the bin provided for him to collect the garbage is old and has no wheels, making it hard for him to do his job. He found a newer garbage bin at his housing unit that did have wheels, so he took it along with him on the subway to Mong Kok, planning to return the old one to its place when he went home from work.
Yuan’s situation is not uncommon. Elderly people can often be seen stooping over to pick up discarded pieces of cardboard, which they pile on carts and shuffle along, pulling the load behind them. They can also be spotted scavenging through garbage cans or waiting in front of shops and stores for unwanted carton boxes around Hong Kong. What is only garbage to others is a much-needed source of income for these poor elderly. Al Jazeera Media Network correspondent Drew Ambrose reported: “These pictures are often seen in Hong Kong. One will wonder, where is the government? And where is their family?”
In fact, Hong Kong’s wealth gap has widened to a historic high, only second to New York.
In this world-class financial hub, the number of elderly people who resort to collecting garbage in order to survive is growing. One in every three elderly people in this “Pearl of the Orient” is living in poverty. The rising cost of living and a defective social welfare system make these elderly people the victims of superficial economic prosperity.
Translated by Cecilia