Big Issue Taiwan vendor Kuen-hua Shiu has been with the street paper since the beginning

By Yu-ruei Lu, The Big Issue Taiwan

I haven’t seen Hua in ages. His hair has whitened. He struggles with mobility in his left leg, so he now owns a second-hand electric mobility scooter he got from his friend for £320. It gives him the freedom to travel: He can ride it to meet his friends. Getting around isn’t a bother anymore. I’m still wondering, though, what brought him back to The Big Issue Taiwan?

“I’d had loads of part-time jobs after leaving the street paper, but none of them lasted long,” Hua tells me. “The most recent job I had was doing dishes at the food court of a shopping mall. I did it for a year, but it was a drain, and I was always at the mercy of my supervisors.” He eventually quit, despite the fact that he was earning a steady income, and came back to working as a vendor.

“I’m given more flexibility here, plus the freedom over when I work,” Hua explains. “[I’m] no longer bossed around like a maid. I do work hard, though. I go out and sell magazines on a daily basis.” Hua works from 7am to 6pm every day at Dingxi Station, New Taipei City. He’s almost always to be found there, sitting on his scooter and waiting for customers under the pedestrian arcade — except when the weather is unpleasant.

Kuen-hua Shiu, The Big Issue Taiwan vendor at Dingxi Station. Photo by Yu-rei Lu.

“I’ve noticed that the selling is going more slowly than before,” Hua frowns, “and COVID-19 just fans the flames. Only three magazines sold this morning.”

Born in the east of Taiwan, Hua lost his mother when he was in secondary school and later moved to Taipei with his father at the age of 19. He learned how to repair watches and clocks in Shezi, Taipei. When his apprenticeship ended, the company arranged for him to work at a different shop in Jiangzicui, New Taipei City. I ask if he still remembers how to fix watches. He smiles: “I do, but I have presbyopia and I can’t see clearly anymore. I was finished with that job a long time ago.” Hua has switched jobs multiple times since then. He even found himself in one of what the Taiwanese call the ‘eight industries’ that are, more often than not, sex-related. Having been through ups and downs, he has now found his purpose in life again.

“Time flies. It’s been nearly 10 years since The Big Issue Taiwan came into being — it’s come a long way,” Hua muses. “My hair has become grey, but hey — life goes on. At this age, all I can do is to ease up.

Kuen-hua Shiu, The Big Issue Taiwan vendor at Dingxi Station. Photo by Yu-ruei Lu.

“If anything, a peaceful life is all that I want,” Hua adds, his words tinged with melancholy, as he leans on his electric scooter.

Time does fly. I still remember how Hua was sleeping in the parking lot of Taipei’s Main Station a decade ago. Social workers helped him to improve his life back then. He spent many years away from The Big Issue Taiwan and always worked hard in order to support himself. He never stops trying even when life doesn’t treat him well.

Under the pedestrian arcade in front of the metro station, all the passers-by are wearing masks. The pandemic is yet to end. Hua gets ready to return to work.

Translated by Sunny Tseng (Taiwan)