Saturday 27 November 2010

People power

My regular walking circuit includes, just before the dreaded 132 steps, a flat concrete bridge across a small creek that drains mainly stormwater from the hill behind. It's an uninspiring affair, usually clogged with pine needles and leaves and other vegetable detritus which is overlaid each high tide by junk from the inner harbour which includes a dispiriting amount of plastic. The creek opens onto our only beach, which scarcely deserves the word, since it's more mud than sand and is constantly being colonised by mangroves, which get hoiked out now and then by the Sea Scouts whose hut stands over the water.

There are, um, prettier parts to my neighbourhood. But that may change, because this morning there was, head down and hard at work, an Asian man dressed in spotless white shorts and tshirt, busily raking debris out of the bed of the creek. He'd already worked along the scant stretch of sand at the edge of the beach, and made small piles of leaves, pinecones and other untidy things. I was delighted to see such public-spiritedness, even though I imagine he's probably just moved in nearby and is wanting to improve his outlook. I told him what a good job he was doing and that myself, I probably wouldn't have worn white to do such mucky work. He smiled cheerfully but clearly didn't understand much of what I'd said, so I waved and went on my way.

Asian people and rakes: such a busy combination. And so effective! If you include brooms and besoms too, there's nothing they can't leave looking better than they found it.In China we saw them scratching away in parks, public monuments, streets and building sites where here we would break out something macho with a motor, or at the very least an electric plug. It's good to be reminded of what people can achieve with simple tools, if there are enough of them - or even one man, if he's persistent. I'll be trotting down that hill tomorrow, to see what he's accomplished.

(I must say though, I was astonished in Xiamen, a big modern port full of skyscrapers and fancy new cars, to see a trail of little old men with shoulder yokes carrying rubble out of a building that was being altered, and dumping it in a pile on the footpath. Would a chute from the window into a truck have been too high-tech? (And none of this is to mention India, where women roadworkers still carry tin bowls of gravel on their heads.))

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