Yesterday when I was having lunch at a fast-food Chinese restaurant near my office, an elderly woman dressed in a navy blue Mao suit, looking a little confused, shuffled in. She stood out from the office worker crowd who were chatting with each other or just having a bite to eat.
She was soon shooed out by the manager despite her pleas.
I finished my lunch and wandered into a nearby boutique selling cute accessories, toys, notebooks and clothes. And then I saw that same woman standing there, trying to get the attention of the young shop girls who tried to ignore her and then she eventually left. I don't know where she went after that.
Today after work I did a bit of shopping at Wu-Mart, the Chinese version of Wal-Mart. It's not an upscale supermarket which is surprising for the neighbourhood, as the produce doesn't seem that fresh and the selection of foods and goods is limited.
Nevertheless, I picked out some vegetables that needed to be weighed and priced. And as I looked around for the shop assistant to do this for me, I saw an elderly man who had disheveled hair, and he had a blazer on, hanging carelessly as dirty bags hung from his shoulders.
He just stood there, eyeing all the food as hungry shoppers went around him, completely unaware this man may not have eaten for a while.
Later on he moved into the sauce section and again was ignored.
To see this in the past two days and never before in all my time in Beijing was disturbing. Don't get me wrong -- I have seen beggars on the streets and others eeking out an existence scrounging for bottles, but never before homeless and hungry people going into shops hoping for a handout.
While the west hasn't found the ideal solution to deal with this problem either, at least many major cities have soup kitchens for these people to gather and have some sense of community.
Social welfare is crucial in maintaining a "harmonious society", and this is where China falls short. This is ironic considering the country used to pride itself on its socialist values.
But these have fallen by the wayside in the past 30 years as its people are caught up in a race to catch as much money as possible.
Seniors do get some small pensions called dibiao depending on where they worked, what job they had, and for how long. But these hardly amount to much, totaling less than 1,000RMB per month. If they haven't saved enough before retirement, how is a few hundred yuan enough to feed oneself for 30 days?
While China's silver-haired population is fast increasing, they deserve more -- especially those who aren't supported by or living with their families. They have suffered through so much before and after the founding of the People's Republic. Would it hurt to make sure they had enough to eat in their old age?