Why Singleton Lunch? Why invite someone to Handshake 302, have them prepare a meal, share it with a group of friends and strangers, and call it “art”? What’s the difference between a Singleton Lunch meal and more traditional forms of art like painting or theater or even a happening?
This past week I have been listening to stories from the residents of the Tangtou row houses. Here is one:
Old Xu was born on November 12, 1945. In neidi, he was an accountant on a production team and then for the village enterprise. After the redistribution of land during the household responsibility system, he and his wife did not receive enough land to farm cotton profitably. Consequently, his three children left to work elsewhere and the land has gone fallow except for a small vegetable plot.
Two years ago, Old Xu came to Shenzhen at the age of 65 because he did not want to burden his children with the cost of his retirement. His wife continues to live back home, taking care of their grandchild.His pension is only 30 or 40 rmb a month. Together, he and his wife need 20,000 rmb annually, or about 1,700 a month to meet their expenses. In Baishizhou, he makes a living collecting and reselling cardboard boxes and other garbage. He says he can save money this way because although there’s no real profit, he makes enough to support himself and to bring a little home for Chinese New Year.
At present Old Xu lives with two other old men in one of the 25+ square meter houses. This house is one of the cheaper in the settlement, with a rent of about 600 rmb a month plus water and electricity. His share is 200 rmb a month, or roughly 5 times his retirement pension back home. A bathroom has been added to the outside of the building. Inside, the space has been divided for sleeping and simple cooking.
When I asked him how the environment could be improved, Old Xu said that old people have no place to exercise. Instead, they just sit around talking, but that was the fastest way to an unhealthy old age! Old Xu also admitted that he was lonely because except for his roommates, he didn’t know anyone in the area. He then shrugged and asked rhetorically, “What can be done? If I go home, I can only become a burden for my children.”