Liu is a happy man. His petite frame defies his strength. Every single day I see him transporting heavy boxes on his handheld trolley, from the grocery store, to the warehouse and back. He waves everyone a ‘hello’ with a smile. He has an infectious laugh much like that of an amused child with his favourite toy. I have seen him bring little trinkets for the children he meets along the way, Santa hats for Christmas and small treats on Chinese New Year. We all like his genial presence. He is every child’s favourite Uncle. Tirelessly he walks back and forth, from dawn to dusk, his rickety little trolley rumbling and groaning from the weight of the boxes. I have become accustomed to these sounds, much like the ticking of a clock, which one never really notices unless it stops.
Then one day, stop it did. He is nowhere to be seen, neither him nor his tottering cart. Then its two days and three without his familiar smiling face. That’s when I decide to go looking. I am worried about the little old man.
Armed with his address, which the store gladly gave, I venture out to the old city, a part yet unexplored in my five years in Hong Kong. After changing two trains and walking a mile, I finally reach the old worn out building, mentioned in the paper. I go to the flat number specified and knock on the door, but no one opens. I push the door slightly, and it offers little resistance as if waiting to be discovered. There I was, standing in the dingy room, with about 10 cage homes stacked one on top of the other. It felt like a blow in the chest. This was an insult to humanity and dignity. To live in these infamous wire cages is difficult to comprehend. All your belongings and you, are cramped into this tiny 6ft by 2.5 ft. metal cage.
I hear footsteps. It’s Liu. I feel embarrassed to have discovered his secret, but he is smiling! He shows me his cage. By far the neatest of all. Of his very few belongings what stands out is a picture of his wife who passed away years ago.
He notices my unease and takes me out to a small open space outside the room where I could catch a glimpse of the sky between the encroaching buildings.
I am at loss of words, as fact, no words would suffice, so I let him do the talking. “I have been living here for the past ten years now.” He says. “But how?” I ask as some words finally stumble out of my mouth.
He says, “I have learned to accept it. After all, how much space does a man need! I choose to be happy so I am. I have seen a lot of sad people who live in enormous mansions. Happiness has got nothing to do with possessions. You cannot find it outside as it already within you. After I am back from a hard day at work, all I need is a bed to sleep and some food to eat. By God’s grace, I am lucky to have them both.”
I am humbled and contrite. I look at my life and its worthless complaints. I have learnt a lesson today. His words echo in my ears. “Look for happiness within”.
I reach home and see it in a new light. I feel blessed and content. He is right. Life is only as good or bad as you believe it to be. In a few days, I hear Liu’s cart outside again. It’s nice that he is well again, smiling that bright smile at everyone he sees.
Photos sourced by the author
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