GRANDE campeão



The unknown kid

Through the media all of us have easy access to information about the major catastrophes and atrocities that happen around the world. With so much exposure to these events we can become relatively insensitive to the pain and chaos that the TVs beam out all the time, hurriedly, spectacularly and not requiring thinking.
But last week I saw a photo report depicting what could be deemed a silent tragedy (as there are no crashes or explosions here) that left a deep impression on me. It is about a baby hatch in Guangzhou where parents and family members can leave their children anonymously. They do so mainly because they don’t have the financial resources to take care of them, or because the kids are sick or disabled.
A photographer planted himself at the entrance of the baby hatch and captured the moments when the kids are abandoned there by their sobbing family (many times by their mothers). In the most shocking sequence we see a mother on her knees, stretching herself to hug her son for the last time, whilst he starts moving away to the entrance of the shelter, perhaps instructed by the policemen who seem to have driven the mother and son there in a police vehicle similar to a golf cart that we see in the background.

he kid is at a crossroads in his life. What affects viewers more is that he is not a baby, like many of those who end up in these shelters. Perhaps aged four, he is grown up, he has a story, he was loved and nurtured (we hope).
In the next photo the kid is alone in front of a closed door. Hand lifted, he is preparing to knock. After all, he must start to learn to do things by himself. He looks back and that’s when the photographer flashes him capturing his perplexity, perhaps sadness. He surely can’t read the characters written on the wall he is half looking at. It reads: “To care for the abandoned babies. Life comes first.”
The kid senses that something is wrong. Even with their naivety and ‘magical realism’, children can see so much, perhaps more than adults. This is maybe the last time he will see his mother and vice-versa. It is difficult to imagine something more heartbreaking.
At this moment there’s some part of the mother that dies, and there is a part of him, so young, that is broken as well.
Well-dressed, with disarranged clothing because of the desperate hugs, the kid is facing the door. It is the moment when he is completely alone, helpless. It’s difficult to imagine a greater feeling of solitude. It is such a pitiful and atrocious scene. In this moment there is not one person there to stand by him, no parents, no family, no friends… Absolutely nobody. He is defenseless.
We don’t know, the photos don’t tell us, how this kid came to be abandoned in nearby Guangzhou and got into such a perilous situation, or what will happen to him. Will he be improbably lucky and find new parents to adopt him and give him the love that all kids deserve?
Or will he spend years incarcerated in inhumane institutions, lacking care and proper education, ending up becoming a broken man?
The text that goes with the photos published by the SCMP explains that the kid is far from an isolated case. It’s mentioned that there are so many abandoned kids that the hatch, run by a public welfare institution, had to close for lack of capacity to deal with so many cases. The Guangzhou hatch stopped accepting children, but there are similar places in 10 other Chinese provinces. 
The unknown kid knocks at the door expectantly. It is his future that will open along with the door, but he doesn’t know about that. I imagine that he enters looking for soup or a toy and a friend to play with.
(By PB, published in MDT)



An empire of affection

A 34-year-old Portuguese designer has decided to leave the comforts of his home in Lisbon and travel the world for five years. Everywhere he sees things that captivate his imagination and he stops to draw, filling notebooks with landscapes and portraits.
After two years of wandering, Luís Simões is stopping for a while in Hong Kong, where the quality of his artworks doesn’t go unnoticed. South China Morning Post did a story on his World Sketching Tour project (www.worldsketchingtour.com) and consequently he was offered a part-time job as an illustrator.
Simões has also visited Macau and spent time here drawing. Interviewed by Ponto Final, he beautifully described details of the worldwide journey. The story I particularly liked happened in Russia, where he was drawing in a back alleyway. An old lady passed by and suggested that he could draw the city’s churches instead. He replied that he had chosen the alley, where a timeworn Russian car stood, because that place ‘told’ him a story. The woman invited the artist to taste the soup she was cooking in her nearby house. After the lunch, she showed him a poster, upon which she portrayed aspects of her youth. But something was missing there. She hadn’t been able to draw a statue that she kept in her home and asked Luís if he could fill the empty space in the poster. Whilst he drew the statue, the woman started crying and told him: “Finally, I have got this done.” “She felt that the circle of all the things she needed to have in the poster was closed,” he commented. It was a moving moment.
The Portuguese that I most admire are like Luís Simões – adventurers and generous people -  and history provides us with numerous examples of that kind.  One of them is Jorge Álvares, a Portuguese explorer, who is believed to have arrived at the Pearl River Delta 500 years ago, and whose statue we can see in front of the Old Court building.
Despite the fact that Álvares was essential to the beginning of the relations between China and the West, no official ceremonies were held in Macau to mark the occasion until now. In December, around 40 residents gathered in front of the statue, holding a symbolic ceremony and stressing the importance of the sailor to Macau. It is sad to see the 500 years of the Portuguese presence in China marked only with this extremely simple ceremony, when we are permanently confronted with an official discourse that stresses the strategic relevance of Macau to the friendship between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries.
Making it clear that I’m not a chauvinist (I believe that no country is intrinsically better than another), the official coldness toward the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese arrival here puzzles me. Macau wouldn’t be more than a small Chinese city if that arrival hadn’t taken place, and if the Portuguese and other Westerners hadn’t been generously allowed to stay over the centuries.
I also disagree with the view of a certain Portuguese “intelligentsia” that devalues the feats of the Portuguese discoveries. Journalist and writer Alexandra Lucas Coelho recently dubbed the Portuguese “empire” as something “ridiculous.” I understand that all empires can be seen as vain, but it just so happens that Portugal never had an “empire” in the organized and methodical sense of the word. To exemplify what I’m trying to say, allow me to cite a letter from the Dutch governor of Batavia (nowadays Jakarta) written to his superiors in Holland: “One hundred years have passed since we expelled the Portuguese. If you think that we finished them through the strength of guns and ships, systematically destroying their fortresses, churches, monuments and pursuing the Catholic faith they brought, you are mistaken, because they are present everywhere through the language and culture they spread. We should change our system. We came here to make money and leave as soon as possible, they came also to make money but also to stay and at a certain stage they were not part of Europe anymore, they belonged to these lands.”
Huge mistakes have obviously been made by all the colonial potencies (slavery and racial segregation are the worst), but I have traveled to places where the Portuguese settled since the discoveries – like Salvador da Baía, Goa, Malacca, and Angola – and what I saw is a deep affection toward the Portuguese culture. In Angola, where the Portuguese were involved in a bitter and stupid war during the 1960s and early ‘70s, people said that they were only fighting “a system.” Nowadays, Angolans watch the Portuguese TV channels and cheer when Lisbon football teams grab a title. A taxi driver in Luanda commented on the trend of Portuguese and Brazilian people returning to Luanda: “It’s very good; they will help to develop the country. We are all brothers and cousins.” Let me be idealistic: If there was ever an empire made by Portuguese like Luís Simões, it was an empire of affection.   
(By PB, published in MDT)


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