Riches to rags to happiness

I’ve been shopping at WuXing street market for nearly twenty years. I go there in the morning for the freshest ingredients, and to have breakfast or snacks. But I also go to hear people’s life stories. In fact, the stories are the thing that interest me most. I could say the storytellers have become my life teachers.

This is a true story about my friend who sells fruit and vegetables from a street stand in the market – cucumber, tomatoes, peaches, guava and so on.

Many of the fresh food vendors finish selling at around midday, although other shops and eating places stay open until the evening. One summer weekend, I didn’t go to the market until 2pm. I went passed a woman who specializes in selling vegetables from the northeast coast of Taiwan. She always greets to me as she hasn’t seen me a long while, so she always makes me feel like an old friend.

That afternoon, she wasn’t very busy, so she started chatting with me. She told me that, unlike most people of their age, she and her husband don’t own a house. They must rent an apartment. But fifteen years ago, they used to run a large construction company. Their company worked on one of the stations for the huge Taipei Metro (subway) project.

But when their work was done, she told me, they were cheated out of their payment – more than four million US dollars. She and her husband had spent their lives working hard. They owned five properties. They lost it all in a day.

When I heard this, I had difficulty imagining her as a company owner. I’ve known this woman for more than ten years. She seems like most of the other vendors in the market – she greets everyone passing her stand, never missing a chance to sell her product. She always smiles.

She works hard and her day is long. Every morning, she leaves her home in Taipei at 2am and drives her small truck 90km (50 miles) to Ilan on the Northeast coast. She buys vegetable from farms. Then she returns to Taipei to open her market stand at 7am. She finishes selling vegetables at 4pm.

I asked her frankly how she could handle this terrible change in her life? To go from rich to poor in a day? How could she live a normal life after losing all that money? And how can she accept a little stand in the street after running a much bigger business? I had so many questions in me, that speaking seemed too slow to express them.

She looked at me as if she could understand all my doubts. She smiled, and said: “I enjoy this moment. If I have good business today, I will treat myself to a good dinner, and enjoy it.”

I felt she was telling me that it had been hard to enjoy a relaxed and happy dinner when she was busy running her big company, when she had four million dollars.

She and her husband work hard – he is now a limousine driver – but they are happy. They are proud of their son. He has a good job and his own property. He still calls her everyday, just because he likes to chat with her.

I still see her often in the morning market, smiling behind her fresh green vegetables, saying hello to her friends. And now I understand what her smile means.


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