PAUL J. MOONEY

Freelance Journalist

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, JANUARY 11, 2004

About 7, and working the district

 

 

BY PAUL MOONEY IN BEIJING

 

Nan Nan has been working the bustling Jianguomenwai district since August. About seven years old, her hair is always tied in neat braids, while her face and clothes are always dirty. She is sharp and has a set of ready answers. 

When asked where her parents are, she invariably points over her shoulder, and says 'over there', where no one can be seen. Her 'older brother' is considerably shorter than she is, and when asked about this she explains, with vivid expression in her eyes, 'he just won't grow'. 

Later the boy confides that Nan Nan is not his sister. When asked why she is not in school, Nan Nan goes into a long explanation about farm children starting school a month later than urban children because of the cotton-picking season. Not true. In late September, she says her grandmother will take her home to start school. She returns a week later with a four-year-old girl in tow, who she says is her sister. This also turns out to be a lie. 

Nan Nan works a gruelling schedule, 10am to 1am, catching office workers and tourists in the daylight hours and the night crowd heading to Joe Banana's disco in the evening hours. 

In December, a man appears to be hovering around Nan Nan. She says the man, who appears healthy and happy, is her father. When he is asked if he is not worried about her health, he smiles and says 'she's in good shape'. He attributes this to her life on the streets. 

Like many beggars, Nan Nan's 'father' says he is from Shangqiu. When Shangqiu's reputation as a beggars' colony is raised, he claims ignorance. Moments later he points to an old farm woman standing a few metres away, saying quietly, 'that's not her kid; she's rented'.

© Paul J. Mooney 2013