Published: June 19th 2008June 3rd 2008
The night train from Pingyao to Xi'an kept thudding to a halt and the AC didn't work, I was still grieving the death of my second camera and did not sleep at all. The train arrived 3 hours late into Xi'an and within seconds of exiting the station a man ran up to us to asked if we had anywhere to stay, of course we didn't, so he gave us 2 options of youth hostel, one right by the station which I felt no vibes, so we chose the one furthest away in South Gate which was more like a three star hotel with a touch of Philip Stark meets Hidden Tiger and costs $$$ per night to match, what happened to the old school of youth hostelling, scummy dorms, leaky taps, rowdy youths, everyone was in their mid 30's and sensible. Hostels in China are fantastic, but the beds in China are traditional back breaking futon kind that are raised high off the ground on bricks, in olden China the rich used to have a stove next to the bed that heated up the bricks thus the bed. Blurry eyed I went straight out in desperate search of a camera
I felt so tired my legs ached to the point I wanted to cry, no one understood English nor what I was looking for, deep down I kept asking myself why had I been so clumsy and foolish with my beloved camera, as I could be busy resting in bed? I soon noticed many street folk, young women with their babies, kids and elderly who were all in desperate states of poverty some supporting various disabilities, I had not seen any of this so far in China but here in Xi'an the poverty lines were clearly drawn.
One man caught my attention he was lying face down flat on the ground, he had one arm out stretched and slightly raised, which if you do aerobics is a killer position at the best of times, his other arm clutched a metal bowl near his chest, he had no movement apart from a slight rib crushing body shuffle. I just stood and looked at him, I was half in a sleepless daze, but then if by a small miracle I noticed he was actually pointing to a camera shop across the busy main road, as tired as I
Tony and a greatful friend
This picture makes me cry with happiness.
was my observation was spot on, it was a good sign. I put a heap of money in his bowl and thanked him in English. In the shop the camera repairman got his tools out and checked the battery that was full, I demonstrated in full animated detail the height the camera dropped from tibia to foot to floor. He did not speak any English apart from 'OK OK'. Two hours later the camera opened and closed, opened and closed and it took good clear photos again.
That night I grabbed some local magazines from the bar in the hostel, the man on the floor stayed in my mind, as I could not get over him pointing to the one camera repair shop in town, then one relevant story jumped from the magazine page about The Soup Kitchen. The moving story was about a man from Preston in Lancashire England, his name is Tony Day. He had been a very successful businessman specialising in the world of finances and he had a vision via a mediation retreat where he could no longer see the point of continuing with his former English lifestyle. He soon sold everything he owned from
his business down to his last Lancashire brass buttons, he got rid of the lot. At the time he didn't really know where he was going so he started with Paris France and he volunteered at a soup kitchen there, but after six months his feet became itchy. Tony is a big thinker so his thoughts directed him to assisting with big time poverty aid, so where else to start this quest than India! But destiny had other plans for him when the sticky fingers of fate ushered him on to a Trans- Siberian train from Eastern Europe to Beijing China which by passed India altogether. His plan was to stay in Beijing for a couple of weeks, go to Xi'an see the sights then head off back to India, but again fate stepped in. He arrived in Xi'an and between visa renewals has stayed for three and half years.
I felt I already knew him, his soup kitchens were said to be a skips distance from the South Gate hostel, proving another strange coincidence with my choice of hostels. The soup kitchen opened on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 18.30 to 20.00. The next morning was a Friday,
all day, so I passed the next day traipsing around all the terracotta solders, old emperors tombs along with hordes of tourists being herded around by mega phones, but at least my camera worked.
A SOUPER DAY
I had been given two different and very opposite directions to get to the one Catholic Church in Xi'an which is on Wu Xing Jie Street. I found the right main road to start heading in the right direction. I found the Catholic Church which was inhabited with many tents, but it turned out that these tents had nothing to do with Tony Day; they were very scared residence of Xi'an city anticipating another mighty earth quake. We spotted two men in robust wheelchairs and knew we had found the right location.
As I entered there were many men sitting on orange plastic chairs happily chatting to each other, there were piles of donated second hand shoes in one corner, one whole room full of second hand clothes in another corner, a main trestle table that is where the pots of thick soup and bao zi steamed dumplings were handed out. The men were curious, they came and looked at
Chinas living homeless armies..
Who are not visited or helped by the hoards of tourists that come in to Xi'an
me, I shook their hands which made them smile and relax. I introduced myself and Tony seemed pleased that I showed such a keen interest in his project, then the food van turned up and many helpers showed up after that, they had all developed an organised system, the volunteers were of Chinese origin from all walks of life who come weekly to offer their support. Around the world the term 'Soup Kitchen' is not an alien concept, these places are necessary life lines to those who find themselves for whatever reason on the streets, but here in China they have never thought about doing this for their poor. Tony had introduced something so foreign to China that many Chinese questioned its authenticity and his motives. Why would one man from England come all this way to personally feed Chinas homeless using his own cash? His actions clearly went against traditional Chinese culture.
When Tony first arrived he was greeted by a street woman who asked him for some money, at the time he didn't give her any as he did not believe in giving them money direct, but then he felt rotten about it and went back the
next day to talk to her. She told him there were no support systems in China and a few people would beg outside the Catholic Church. Three days later he set up the first soup kitchen in China. After two and a half years Tony went back to England to set Yellow River Voluntary Alliance as a legal Non Government Organization, this means that he is now a registered charity and able to accept donations from other sources.
Tony was warned from the outset to be careful, as people did not understand what he was doing, but China is not alone in this problem, the world over has homelessness and poverty issues even on the affluent streets of central London. Over all good created good, he worked on and gave what he could, things started to happen such as the pastor of the local Catholic Church offered to build him a community room to base himself, until then he worked in the snow storms and blizzards or during the extreme heat of summer, to make it clear this charity is not based on any religion, it’s not Catholic, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, anyone from any faith or background in need
Earth Quake fear.
Tents in the Catholic Church grounds
For a while Tony had his trials, things happened that tried and tested his strength and faith, during those early days there was a full scale coup where other volunteers tried to take over his project. They tried to claim that Tony had done enough for their people; the Yellow River Charity now belonged to them, attempting to push him out the door. But again over those bleak days that turned into six dark months, his down to earth attitude along with his calm, honest valour and by simply putting a few simple systems in place and the problems seemed to take care of themselves and have never since returned. Proving the darkest moment is just before the new dawn.
Throughout all this he has always felt a greater sense of safety but he is a man of Great Spirit and this for him was his lowest ebb. If you meet Tony he is the kind of guy you feel you have known all your life, he is passionate about this cause, caring, loyal and robust in his efforts to do some good in this ever changing world, fate brought him here in the first place,
This man gave free haircuts
over 100 to date, he is a local and loves to help out.
he now speaks fluent Mandarin, he literally has put all of his own money where his mouth is and has kept many people alive by feeding and giving them a place to meet for 3 nights a week all washed down with much personal hope. Xi'an is the poorest province of China Shaanxi province. He believes that the relationships with his volunteers and the homeless and the community as a whole is slowly over time getting better, he has been invited to give lectures about this new concept in China and is now a very important part of this small community, most of the people finally understand his work and motives and are genuinely moved by what they are experiencing.
By word of mouth came 500 volunteers, one woman was praying in the Catholic Church just next door, she was praying for some purpose on this earth asking her creator what her calling was, she walked outside and saw the homeless men queuing, she volunteers every week. Many return time after time, each volunteer has their individual input, for example I claimed that how come Christmas had come in May? I meant in relation to all the Red Christmas
He just had all his hair cut off.
Starbucks venti sized coffee cups, this is because someone had asked Starbucks to contribute, which they did in cups. His volunteers go out on the streets to feed even more people including women and children and they have a great compassion and respect for the homeless and now finally visa versa. There is a local man who comes in and cuts hair for free; there is also a shower programme. They provided an English summer school in the nearby villages for the kids, there is a Christmas party held every year; the Chinese from other religions join in the fun. Tony has nine managers who share the work and responsibility so he can go off and start other projects elsewhere with the reassurance of no more talk of any more coups.
I was over whelmed when I went along on that Friday evening to meet them all, so much so I went along on the Monday night and offered my help. I was greeted with more handshakes and warm smiles and they all wanted their photos taken, no one spoke English but we got along well. I have personally worked with real low life drop outs in North West
London, when my Ambulance days took me to the scummiest doss houses, stinking refuges, run down shopping centres and dark back allies, where we were mostly called to 'man - dead/collapsed' usually from extreme intoxication. This new Chinese drop in centre was very different; there are no boozy alcoholic's, no stench of urine or men pissing up against the walls or pissing on me for that matter which has happened in England many a times, none of the Chinese men I could see were out of it on opiates or cheap glue, all these men queued up in an orderly line for their food and anyone who has been to China will confirm no one queues here, they all jump the queues it’s just their way of doing things, this usually pisses us English off but here at the soup kitchen they patiently queued.
There were also no scrums, spitting, fist fights or bullying as they all know they were going to get nine dumplings and as many bowls of soup they needed, no man tried to grope me or was improper in their conduct, they were truly grateful, another example of where England's individuals have little respect for
Tony my new English Hero!
those who are trying to help and expect too much for doing nothing at all with their lives even when they have no jobs, families, money or homes and then wish to do nothing to help themselves. Within my own country of England I have experienced this kind of irrational behaviour, while receiving bruised arms, kicked legs, pissed on hemlines and spit that dripped off my face.
The homeless live on the streets mainly because they had come from the villages in search of work usually with little or no education, but could not find any work because of their age or health conditions. I'm told a lot of these men cannot face up to the fact of being unemployed and loose themselves in self pride and dropped out of the family support system. The guys in wheelchairs have had a different story to tell with severe illness or freak accidents that dealt them their fate and like America China also has no free NHS support system like we do in the UK. One guy had lost all his family and then became ill caused by the stress; he was found living in the adjacent church yard. Yellow River
Charity finds second hand clothes and shoes, occasionally they have begged the two local hospitals for simple patch ups or paid for the operations if necessary and anti biotic medications to crutches, wheelchairs to life saving operations and the hospitals have agreed on many occasions.
This is unheard of in China as another interesting fact is that if you witness an accident and the patient is unresponsive in some way the people check pockets and bags first to see if there is any medical insurance, if there is they call for an ambulance, if there is not then the person/stranger who calls for help is fully responsible for the entire medical bill as the hospital ask for full payments before any treatment is given. The Yellow River have a minimal medical set up, one first aid box to be precise, something id loved to have given more time too.
Tony's energy is endless, his giving heart knows no boundaries, he gave up everything to help others and more ideas and projects are on the drawing board. If only more people of wealth got down from their gold plated high horse and physically gave to those less fortunate without
a TV camera, pap or gossip magazine being present, this world would start to rock to a new beat! People like Tony Day have selflessly fought tooth and nail to make sure his money, his time and his efforts go directly to the people, in many respects he has put his own life and comforts on the line, while still maintaining the up most respect to Chinese customs and its people.
You know I could be relaxing on a beach in Australia each day of the year. But, honestly, I just don't see the point in that. I would be wasting my time, skills, and past experience. I believe that my time is better spent working here in Xi'an giving everything back - Tony Day
My camera broke for a greater reason, I would never have gone in search of a repair shop after not having a wink of sleep in 24 hours, I would have gone to bed. I would not have seen the man lying on the floor who was not only pointing out where the camera shop was, but he was showing me that China has its problems and a solution was already in motion in the same city. The day then unfolded with my finding that magazine article and then finding Tony who I was then able to help out by taking photos with my newly fixed camera. I do believe that some accidents do happen for some other kind of greater reasons that are if we
are open to its suggestions and listen to that inner voice we can find something amazing just around the corner.
Tony Day & The Yellow River Charity can be found: Tony Day & The Yellow River Charity can be found:
http://www.yellowrivercharity.com/ TO DONATE
Click here... Yellow River Charity
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