This is a true Story!
Sixteen years old, gay, and homeless in SuZhou City China, accurately describes a young boy I took to lunch today, Saturday 21st April 2007.
The day did not start well, because I went to bed last night suffering from 'hay fever', and found it difficult to get a good sleep. Additionally, before the full onset of the allergic reaction last night, I had made arrangements with a foreigner, for Chiara and I to travel with him to Taihu (lake Tai).
|Beyond the facade, life is not always so beautiful. |
When the alarm went off this morning, I groaned, turned it off, and fell back to sleep. Forty-five minutes later I got up, made my bed, had a shower, and checked my emails. Chiara came up to my apartment a little earlier than I had suggested, and 'forced' me to set off for the day. Because I had risen so late, I needed to pack my camera and other 'stuff' and then grab a coffee and some bread. As it transpired, we ended up leaving at the originally planned time.
We were supposed to meet the foreigner at the Jasmine Holiday Inn, but having failed to pay close attention to the instructions given me, instead of getting off the bus at the stop in the street in front of the hotel, Chiara and I got off in the side street, and walked to the front of the holiday Inn, where we spent the next hour waiting for his arrival.
As it transpires, we were waiting for the missing foreigner just one hundred metres from where he was standing. Although we were all standing around for a whole hour waiting for each other, none of us saw each other. After our one hour wait, Chiara and I scrapped our planned trip to Taihu and set off by bus for the Walking street.
As the only reason for going to the Guan Qian walking street was that Chiara had been wanting to visit the Xinhua book store located there, upon arrival we made a 'bee line' for the store. As we walked up to the entrance, a young man appeared by my side and greeted me with a cheery 'Hello! It's nice to meet you!'
|Temple area off Guan Qian walking Street|
As a foreigner in China I am well used to being accosted by people wanting to say a few words in English, so I gave a cheery 'Hello!' back to the boy, and without missing a beat, continued on into the bookstore with Chiara. The boy, also not missing a beat, continued to talk and followed us in.
So there I was, in a bookstore, (not on my way to Taihu); hungry, tired, and desperate to go home to bed, being forced to chat to a youngster thrilled to bits not only to be standing in my august (read overweight) presence, but actually speaking to me. Although my initial reaction was a desire to provide him with a particular destination to which I would have liked him to travel, as the conversation continued, I found myself intrigued by his level of English competency.
It being obvious that I was going to be 'preoccupied' (read trapped) for some little while, Chiara announced that when I was finished talking, I could find her on the 4th floor of the bookshop. She headed off, and I remained talking with the boy. Over the next few minutes, quite a number of young people (and others) gathered around intently pretending to be reading. Their reactions to the boy's statements, made it obvious that no one was interested in reading. Finally I took him outside.
During our chat in the bookstore, it became obvious to me that I was the target of a professional beggar, albeit, one highly skilled in the English language. He had informed me that he had run away from home 5 days earlier, after stealing some money from his parents, and was now living on the streets, eating garbage.
Once outside, I began to ask him specific questions designed to trip him up in his answers, but he held fast to his story. Finally I suggested that he was lying, and that the best thing for me to do would be to take him to the police. From that moment on, his story began to unravel. Each time he gave me some 'more information', I challenged him.
He originally told me that his father beat his mother. Later this changed to indicate that his father beat both mother and himself, and later still to his father being a sick man who beat his family. He informed me that he had run away to SuZhou because his married sister to whom he had turned, would have nothing to do with him, because she only cared about her mother. This is not how Chinese custom works, so I challenged him.
Finally I told him that his English level indicated that he had been to a private school; that his parents were rich; that he had been a very bad boy and so had run away from home. I also told him that he was lying about living on the street and eating garbage, because I have had too much to do with street people, and he did not fit the picture. He was not dirty enough; his clothes were not dirty enough; his features were not gaunt enough; his body odour was not strong enough; and his manner was not right.
|Not everyone enjoys the good life.|
The conversation I describe here, took place over the course of almost an hour. Yep! Chiara took a whole hour to buy one book! She arrived downstairs at the entrance to the bookstore, within moments of the boy's admission, that sometimes he gets money by cheating 'gay boys'.
More than desperate to eat, and figuring that this kid could do with a meal no matter what the truth of his story, I suggested that the three of us find some place to eat, and immediately set off down the street where we found a nice homely Muslim Restaurant. On the way, Chiara and I both asked him very pertinent, direct, and personal questions about his 'cheating gay boys'. It didn't take long to force him into a corner 'so to speak', and he admitted that he had become a gay prostitute.
Chiara later asked me if I thought that the boy had invented his whole story. Whilst a western boy might easily have done so, I find it hard to believe that this boy had done so. When we sat down to eat and before the food was ordered, he made a point of confessing that he was in fact 'gay', and was concerned that we might not like him because of this. At the time, it occurred to me that at that point in the conversation, the admission was not required, and that therefore this was his first step toward making full disclosure.
Over lunch, the whole story unfolded. As he entered his teenage years, he found he had no interest in girls but could fall in love with boys. He was bullied at school, and after the boy he loved 'Cheated him' (don't ask cause I don't know), he ran away from everything. In SuZhou, he began to be propositioned by gay men, and very quickly learned the ropes, knowing where, when and how to engage in his activities.
He currently sleeps in 'the computer room' (somewhere), at the pleasure of two men, who, from his description, are into sadomascicism.
|How do you climb out of a deep well without assistance?|
He has been in SuZhou for four months, and does not want to return home, because his sister and parents will be proven 'right'.
I did not question him about this, but it appears that they must have known he was leaving, and had told him that he would come crawling back.
I don't know what services there are in China for boys like this, but I do know that in both Beijing and Shanghai (which is 45 minutes by train from here), there are gay organisations.
Last week in China Daily, there was an article about the gay organisation in Beijing providing free and anonymous medical treatment for gays, and it further suggested that there are between 5 and 10 million gays in China.
Now I haven't written this story because I want to tell you a story about a male prostitute. I write it because of something else. As already mentioned, this boy's English is incredible. This kid has a future if only he will follow the right path. That may be a lot harder done than said; and yes it is true that once on the streets living this lifestyle, it is very difficult for street kids to 'choose' to get out of it.
But this is China. Street kids don't have access to the sorts of facilities available to western kids. This boy has obviously worked very hard indeed to reach his level of competency in conversational English, and easily surpasses the abilities of most of the kids I taught at university, and certainly surpasses most of the teachers as well.
|Not everyone enjoys a stroll with friends and family.|
Whatever may be his true story, this kid at sometime in the past, had a destiny that was calling to him to be fulfilled. Today that destiny is hidden behind a wall of hopelessness. What can be done? I don't know!
I spent quite sometime explaining to him that he has a bright future, if only he chooses to follow the right path, and return to school. I told him that he had an option to return home, or to do an internet search for gay organisations in Shanghai that may be able to help him. Beyond this advice, there was not much else we could do for him.
|On the otherside is Guan Qian Walking Street. You only have to walk through the door.|
None of us exchanged names, but I did show him my pass which identifies the school, and told him that he can come find me if he needs to. At one point he was very concerned that we did not tell anyone about him. Well! Who could we tell? I figure that if he gets desperate enough, he will search me out, but I didn't make it easy for him. Maybe the whole time spent with us was just a scam (whether the story was true or not is irrelevant) to get money. If so, he just got 20 rmb. Enough to pay the deposit at the internet cafe so he can search for the gay organisation in Shanghai, and enough to buy a couple of meals.
I do not know who this boy is, or where he is, or where he will be, but between now and the next time I run into him, I am going to do some research in the hope of finding information and contact numbers, so that I can refer him to professionals who will be of assistance to him. It's far too dangerous for such a young man to be living this kind of lifestyle at this age.
|Some people miss out on the chance for a good education, friends and a happy life. Others perhaps don't know how lucky they are.|
Those of you who pray, remember this nameless and faceless Chinese boy in your prayers.
This Story was written on April 21st, but for technical reasons, was not published. Since writing the article, I have been in contact with Raymond Zhou (Journalist with chinadaily.com), and would like to express my thanks and appreciation for his advice, assistance and interest in this boy.
Having previously written an article entitled: Gays live a difficult life under social bias (Chinadaily.com 2005-09-06), Mr. Zhou was interested in the boy's story. On April 26th I came across this boy again, and took him home with me. I emailed Mr. Zhou to advise him of the situation, but he was on an overnight train trip. On the Evening of the 27th, he telephoned me, and then spoke with the boy.
At this stage, nothing concrete has been done. It is the May holiday time, and both Mr. Zhou and I have been away. Although I got the boy and his clothes cleaned up, and ensured that he had food to eat for the week, there has not been time to verify the boy's story.
When that is done, there may be some concrete help forthcoming, but until that time, this kid is very much on his own. There was a reaction from my school about having him in my apartment, with suggestions that my motives were not altogether pure, and it will not be possible to provide him with any further hospitality of that kind.
Of all the people I wrote to about this kid, Raymond Zhou was the only person who was able to provide me with any useful information and the hope of some assistance.
I am truly in Mr. Zhou's debt. This is not the first time we have corresponded. He has previously provided me with assistance, advice and referral, in relation to Chinese Law as it pertains to certain other matters that I have discussed with him.
Thank you Mr. Zhou.
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R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran (www.kingscalendar.com) and is a contributing columnist at Magic City Morning Star News.
From Brisbane in Australia, BenDedek comes from a Multi-Faith and Multi-Ethnic family (including Muslims), and is currently teaching Conversational Business English in SuZhou City Jiangsu Province China.