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The vulnerable observer: Fear, sufferings and boundary crossing

The vulnerable observer: Fear, sufferings and boundary crossing

Jonathan Sullivan18 Apr 2014Leave a comment

Written by Yunpeng Zhang.

On a windy afternoon in early April, I was on my way home before a thin woman intercepted me and asked me if I would be interested in her experience of forced eviction. After I had spent a month in this neighbourhood, displacees started to recognise me, a liuxuesheng (student studying abroad) working on Expo-induced displacement, but familiarity had not yet developed into trust and easier access. Therefore, I was a bit surprised when she approached me in this way. I cancelled my later appointment and sat with her on a wasted couch inside a bicycle shack.

I made a snap judgement of her age based on her looks: wrinkled and dull face, full mouth of dental implant, grey hair, etc. Therefore, it was a great shock to me when she revealed her real age. “I am now ren bu xiang ren, gui bu xiang gui (half human, half ghost),” she bitterly commented on her stigmatised self, “when I was displaced, I was overweight. Neighbours called me Miss Big. Look at me now.” Her eyes filled with tears when she related to her suicide attempt during the eviction day. Her family of three, collective owner of a private property, was excluded from all negotiation meetings and was not offered any resettlement deal.  On the eviction day, she jumped off from the roof of her home as a desperate act of protest. She was rescued but with permanent scars: broken ribs, dental implants, clinical depression. “I feel so unfairly treated. Are they government officers?” She asked me a rhetoric question, “They are thugs. No, they are worse than thugs, far worse.” After saying this, she had a sudden emotional breakdown, hysterically crying out loud in the bicycle shack. It was so sudden and so intense that I felt so unprepared and emotionally incompetent to deal with this situation.

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