The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

December 5, 2006

Christmas, Collection Bin Style

I don't want to make this a depressing post, not at all. And I know it isn't telling anyone anything they don't already know.
But I do want to let you in on something I witnessed Tuesday.

These pictures were taken from a distance through my bedroom window of a woman I've seen for the last several months, a woman who looks Chinese, maybe about 50 or 55.

She rides around on a bike with paper bags hanging from the handle bars and goes through recycling containers and garbage bins (like the big blue one she's rummaging through above) in my apartment complex.

Her face is very weathered. I've seen her several times and she's seen me, but she never looks at me -- I've imagined that's because of some sense of lost pride -- and she always wears a mask.

There doesn't appear to be any embarrassment on her part. She doesn't try to hide what she's doing and is all business as she searches for bottles, cans and anything else she can salvage.

I have sometimes thought I should talk to her, or offer her help, or something, but I don't sense she wants any. Still, I somehow feel drawn to her and curious about her life.

The final picture below is a shot of her (bending down by her bike) and another woman, a resident here, walking by, carrying what very well could be a Christmas gift she plans on giving to someone on Dec. 25.

I wonder what this bike-riding woman will be doing on Christmas morning.


  1. You know -- I think there's dignity in any kind of honest work. I have respect for the recycle collectors (I know there's a word for them because Vancouver, homeless capital of Canada, has a lot!) because they are doing something positive for themselves.

    Can you predict when she'll next be there? Maybe a little figgy pudding would be welcomed right now.

  2. Here in India, almost everything is recycled. So what you describe in this post is pretty common sight here.

    We see kids rummaging through garbage dumps and that makes me sad. A few times I have tried stopping them only to hear that if they didn't do it, someone else would. Sad but true.

    Child labour is banned but what do you say to a kid who is working to survive?

  3. You have a big heart - I don't know what you should do but I feel your dilemma . . . I bet she's really interesting.

  4. Andrea:

    I agree there IS dignity in anything, it depends on the person who's performing that activity.

    I too have respect for her. While I don't know her story, what I DO know is she doesn't beg and does this with a very businesslike aplomb.

    And that you have to respect and not judge.

    I'm not sure what figgy pudding is, but I think I'll first start out with a smile and acknowledgment.



    Thanks for the wider context. In Canada, of course this goes on, but we usually see it in the downtown core or in lesser well to do neighbourhoods.

    I would propose to say nothing to anyone who must do this to survive and to offer something, if I could.

    And if they were of a mind to accept.


    Thanks. I don't consider it a dilemma, I just consider it is what it is, an eye-opener.

    I'm with you -- I bet she IS interesting. All I know is she's going to have a lot of cold to endure for these next several months.

  5. You could have titled this post

    It reminds me of a weathered old lady that walked up and down the beach in Acapulco braiding tourista's hair for a few pesos.
    One night as we strolled by the harbor I recognised her sitting in a shop smoking a big stogie and watching TV in a fancy store in one of the few modern strip malls.
    I asked the bartender at out hotel if that was her..he said that she not only owns that store but she also owned the entire strip mall.
    She still braided hair 6 days a week and dressed like a pauper to evoke sympathy from the touristas.
    Never assume....

  6. Wow! Thought provoking...

    Now I'm wondering what she will be doing. I'm sure she'll appreciate the aknowledgement.

    Keep us posted!

  7. HE:

    Yep, and for all I know this woman lives in a 2400-square-foot, $300,000 house in the neighborhood that I can't afford.

    I'm not assuming, but I am reacting on gut instinct based on what I can see, and this is not something I'd be doing unless I had to in order to survive.

    I can't wait til you're 50...


    Thanks for visiting. If I find out anything else, I'll let the blogworld know.

  8. Ah, that's a difficult one : "I have sometimes thought I should talk to her, or offer her help, or something, but I don't sense she wants any" Difficult, you don't have enough info. Give her an envelope with some money as a christmas gift, will she feel offended ? On the other hand, what if she stands at your door every week for money ? To give, what to give, how to give, what are her needs, how to stay in control ? Are there social services at yours where poor people can get food and clothes ?

  9. I think if she avoids eye contact, then maybe she doesn't want to be acknowledged. Her mask indicates that also. I think I would go out there and dump my recycling or my trash while she was there one day and say a simple good morning and see if she acknowledges or ignores, then take it from there.

  10. yeah tis the season for joy and love...and tis also the season for reminding ourselves how fortunate we r and for realising how very unfortunate some others could be.

    I do feel for such ppl. There r alot of things we can do to help. Donate gifts. Perhaps just talk to that woman and listen to her story. Some ppl dun need gifts..all they need is a smile, a kind word or a listening ear.


  11. Hildegarde:

    First, I want to say that twice in the past two days I've tried to comment on your site, but I'm doing something wrong, it appears.

    I see others commenting so it's probably something stupid, I'm a techno nerd.

    But could you email me at and maybe translate for me what the words mean with all those boxes where I want to submit a comment?

    Sorry for the bother...

    Now on to this woman:

    Again, I don't get that she's all that needy. She does this independently and with purpose.

    We do have social programs here, of course, which she could avail herself of should she require.

    I think I'm inclined to smile and say hello if and when I see her again, that's all, and see how she responds.


    The perfect approach. Thanks so much. I hope you're feeling OK.


    You're bang on. I think the talking thing, if she's willing, would be a good first step.


  12. Anonymous11:19 p.m.

    Your heart sort of lurches when you see things like this woman, doesn't it? I know that feeling well. You want to help, you don't know how to offer help without injuring that person's pride, or ....I don't know. It's a sad situation.

    You're a good man.

  13. ww, it's possible this woman has a supportive community. i've known of homeless people who want to be homeless rather than submit to social programs they don't want.

    like you i would love to know more about her. i could make a deal with you: i would write more "joey" chapters if you write more about her.. whatdoya think of that?


  14. Pam:

    Just call me Charlie Brown...

    I dunno if I lurched so much, although of course I had the emotional thing of I wonder if she's OK. And how does that feel.

    But she seems so determined, so strong in a sense, I think she's more got my admiration or piqued my curiosity about her than anything.

    She does seem just to want to go about her business, like a bee that won't hurt you if you just let it be.


    Yeah, exactly. And I don't know if she's homeless. In fact, I doubt she is. I don't see her as weak.

    To write more about her, I'd have to actually meet her and talk to her. If I can, I will.

    But I would not want to invade her privacy or intrude. I'll just see how that goes...

  15. KJ:

    Oh, and I would love to see more chapters on Joey...


  16. Anonymous11:59 p.m.

    Interesting.. and the woman seems intriguing! But I love this whole season!

  17. I take that back! I just discovered that Calgary is the homeless capital of Canada. With half the population of Vancouver they have 1200 more homeless! Guess that's the result of Ralph and his Texas of Canada economic attitude.

    Not a fan of right-wing capitalists. Grumblegrumble.

  18. This will be the first year i have been available for christmas i used to do fod for al every year packing hampers for the homeless. Your post has inspired me to do the same this year....

    Thanks WW

  19. hhmmm... can i look away without looking wracked with guilt? probably, scary innit!?! i blame tv...

  20. Perspective Inc:

    Nice to see you here. There is a certain intrigue to her. Have fun this season!


    Can't take it back!! OK, yes you can. Are you serious?

    But that IS Alberta: advertising all over Canada to draw people there...

    And oh, all those homeless people over there? Just ignore them. They'll be fine. It's a sign of success.


    Hey, I'm glad the sharing of this has been some inspiration. Good on you.


    You blame TV for what?

  21. Around here there is a man that gets on his bike every day with plastic bags and collects trash along the highway that has been thrown from cars. He then brings it back to his home and meticulously builds a "path" from the street to the back of his house with the trash. Its a mess but it must make him happy.

    I can't explain it and I know there are many people like him and your woman in the picture. It just makes me feel very appreciative of what I have and the way I live. I have always donated my time and money to help those that are in need, hopefully it has done some good.

    Since she's a regular at the trash bin, if you wanted, a little bag of maybe a blanket, socks or some food would be nice for her to find.


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