New Man on the Block

I saw him yesterday for the first time and then again today. Exact same clothes, dark skin, and a slow meander to his steps--in Japan, these are sometimes the only signs of a homeless person. The homeless in Japan are vastly different from those I've encountered in Canada and the United States; they have their own society, their own world, they often dress quite well, and they almost never speak to me; they never ask for anything.

In my park, us regulars know each other's faces. But yesterday there was a new face. I wasn't sure he wasn't just a man enjoying a stroll until I saw him again today. Unlike the handful of homeless who frequently hang out here, and can often be seen chatting and laughing together for hours at a park table, this man seemed so lost and so painfully thin, his mint green sweatshirt all but flapping in the wind, with nothing within to protect but a sheaf of skin and bones. At one point, I saw him crouched against a fence, his gaunt face in his hands.

What does one do in this situation? The homeless in Japan do not beg and do not welcome the charity or attention of passersby. But it seemed so wrong to simply keep walking, to pretend there wasn't a man by the side of the road, utterly alone. Should I speak to him if I see him again? Being the cowardly custard that I am, I gotta say I'm a bit afraid to do so.

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You know, homeless people in Montreal always ask for money and I usually say 'sorry' as I shake my head but over the past week three different homeless people have asked me not to say that I'm sorry. 'No' on its own just seems so harsh though...where is this aversion to the word sorry coming from and what should I do? 

from Jaime

5/12/2005 10:12:00 PM  

What I usually do is just say " good morning' then sometimes start commenting on the weather. eventully , they will let their guard down and say a little more.
Reminds of the time I was at school in NZ. I would see this same.group of working people at the bustop. We would just say Good morning or nice weather today but everyone would ignore this snobby guy.Imagine the typical uppercrust Brit guy with brolly minus his bowler hat ( I could 'see' that hat though), thats him. He especially didnt care much to see me .. the only Asian for miles around and invading his totally white affluent neighbourhood. I kept saying good morning to him for months . ( My feelings wavered between sincerity and just plain trying to annoy him)
One morning I was late for the bus .. and had to runup the wretched hill..while i was huffing and puffing I saw the bus actually wait and people were calling to encourage me..( my 2 mins of fame or embarassment seeing i definitely was not physically fit to run up a hill)

Guess what? The bowlerhat ( I swear I saw it) guy stood on the steps to hold the bus. From that day, he was always the first to say good morning though it started off rather grufflyand abrupt at first. :) 

from keona

5/12/2005 10:18:00 PM  

Jaime, I find myself positively dumbfounded that there are so many homeless people in Montreal. I swear I'm not being sarcastic when I say, "Why be homeless somewhere so bloody cold?"

I'm afraid I have no answers for the sorry aversion either. Maybe they hear people say sorry so often, they believe everyone's being insincere?

Keona, oh, that was such a nice story! You thawed the ice in that frosty man's heart with your determined good cheer. And you're right, I should just start slowly with a smile and a hello--not like I can say much more with my limited Japanese anyway.


from Rachel

5/13/2005 02:25:00 PM  

Rachel, your story broke my heart... I could just imagine this man with his head in his hands, utterly alone. But I really have no idea what you should do, within the explicit and implicit rules of culture and homelessness...but I can't see how you could go wrong with hello (famous last words, I know). 

from Jessica

5/13/2005 09:08:00 PM  

It was a really distressing thing to see. I very much hoped I'd see him the next day but he seems to have disappeared--hopefully to a place where he might find friends.  

from Rachel

5/15/2005 01:15:00 AM  

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