Our vendors: Mei-hung Sung (The Big Issue Taiwan, Tainan, Taiwan)

By Yu-ruei Lu, The Big Issue Taiwan

In Tainan, the shopping area around Guohua Street and Zhengxing Street has become a new popular spot, with lots of people visiting to shop on weekends. Under the signboard of Ximen Asakusa on Guohua Street, Mei-hung has the current issue of The Big Issue Taiwan (with Emma Watson on the cover) in her hand, trying to catch the attention of passers-by. “It’s been sunny, and I’ve got tanned over the past few days. It’s Sunday today, but despite the big crowds, there’ll only be a few people who buy the magazines,” she says. Starting to sell magazines at the beginning of February last year, she was originally working at the glasses manufacturer OEM through the Jam-yang Charitable Foundation. As the need for outsourcing decreased, she tried to sell magazines. “I can’t stay unemployed because I need to pay housing rent. I’d done other jobs before, but bone spurs, and Sciatica, wouldn’t allow me to stand for a long time. I also feel a lot of pain when the weather changes. I worked as a cleaner and a dishwasher before, but I quit both jobs since my body couldn’t afford them. I’m fine with standing while selling magazines. I take a break from time to time by sitting on the bench on the pavement, and resume working after getting enough rest.”

Mei-hung Sung, magazine seller on Guohua Street, Tainan (Credit: Yu-ruei Lu / The Big Issue Taiwan)

In fact, besides Sciatica, Mei-hung underwent a nephrectomy on a solitary kidney. In spite of her body being in pain for years, which tends to cause unsteady jobs, she was introduced to a variety of temporary jobs thanks to her friends and other people that help her tremendously. “I even sold roasted sweet potatoes before. My friend introduced me to that job. I taught myself how to roast sweet potatoes. At first, the selling went pretty well. It was winter time. Every morning I washed sweet potatoes one by one before burning black charcoal where sweet potatoes were roasted. After roasting, I got all the sweet potatoes wrapped individually. Then I sold them on a booth on Qianfeng Road, near the rear exit of Tainan Railway Station. They sold very fast in winter. There was barely anything left at the end of the day. But for some reason, it moved really slowly once summer arrived. As soon as the weather got warm, no one wanted roasted sweet potatoes. I prepared a lot of sweet potatoes every day, but they didn’t sell. I ended up giving them away to my neighbours. So by the time summer ended, I’d quit the job.”

Mei-hung Sung, magazine seller on Guohua Street, Tainan (Credit: Yu-ruei Lu / The Big Issue Taiwan)

Mei-hung hasn’t sold the magazine for a long time, but despite that, when she first came to sell on Guohua Street, the owner of Zhen Fruit [an embroidery shop that sells all kinds of handmade bags and purses] greatly assisted her by designing a handmade sign for her which was then placed on the crossroads and could carry current issues of magazines, as well as introducing people to buy her magazines. This really touched Mei-hung. There was also a security guard who would help deliver new magazine stock to her at the beginning of a month, since she didn’t have any transport. Without private transport, she just walked or took the bus to travel between her home and workplace. The security guard happened to drive through her workplace on his way from to work, and so did her a big favour. “I really appreciate the help of these friends. Their assistance has allowed me to have a break, otherwise it would’ve been very difficult to do everything myself. Owners of nearby shops help me when I sell magazines. I’m truly grateful that these people are willing to help.”

Mei-hung sells magazines on Guohua Street every day, except on Wednesdays. “No matter how much effort it takes, I will strive to make money in order to rent a house. It’s my principle not to be homeless. In spite of the illnesses in my body, I will work hard to support my life,” says Mei-hung determinedly. With the sun setting, the crowds in the shopping area are still streaming past. Plenty of people are waiting in long lines in front of local restaurants. Mei-hung remains standing all alone under the signboard, waiting for magazine readers to come.

Translated by Sunny Tseng