I had a spare hour this morning, so I tackled the kids’ drawers. I pulled out all the clothes that aren’t season appropriate (this because Kyra insists upon wearing shorts and sundresses if she sees them). Then I boxed them all up to take to the charity store down the street, figuring some hypothetical poor kids might need them.
I stopped at Starbucks on the way to the charity store and picked up a mocha (31 kuai – about $4.50!). Then I headed for the store, just a five-minute drive away, on the outskirts of the little Chinese hutong between my big house and the boys’ big school. When I pulled up, I saw a crowd about fifty deep outside the store. I parked my van next to a pile of rotten greens and crushed eggshells, making sure I didn’t run over any of the mutts pawing through the trash in search of something edible, and went to see what was going on.
Apparently, the charity store was having a sale. Normally, they collect things and then redistribute them to local charities in need. But it seems they had a lot of clothing piling up that wasn’t needed – wrong size, wrong season, whatever. So they put it out for sale to the villagers, at a cost of 10 pieces per kuai (about 10 cents). They figured if they just handed it out, someone would grab it all and re-sell it, but if they sold it, even for a very low price, it would get to the villagers who needed it.
Hence the crowd. Parent were crowded around tables in front of the store, under the watchful eye of the volunteers, looking for clothing they could use. They saw me approach and eyed my bags of clothing – probably hoping it would be dumped onto the table. But no – I dropped it off inside to be sorted.
“Ten pieces per kuai,” said the store manager, “but they’re still choosing carefully.” I’d just tossed 35 kuai on a mocha without thinking about it much, but here were these poor people, no longer hypothetical, searching for bargains out in the cold.
From there I hopped in the car and went two blocks further, pulling into the gate at my sons’ private school. From the parking lot, you can see the rooftops of the hutong where I’d just been. On cold days like today, smoke rises as they burn coal to stay warm.
The school has a heating system.
So anyway. Someday I’ll try to turn these impressions into an article. For now, just a pre-Thanksgiving reminder that I’m warm and well-fed.