He begged and pleaded
Asked me to feed him twice, I didn’t believe it
Told him, “Beat it”
Contributin’ money just for his pipe, I couldn’t see it
He said, “My son, temptation is one thing that I’ve defeated
Listen to me, I want a single bill from you
Nothin’ less, nothin’ more
I told him I ain’t have it and closed my door
Tell me how much a dollar cost
~ Kendrick Lamar


My Grandmother has empathy in spades. She’s always just had the capacity to understand and relate to people. She feels their joy and shares in their pain, overwhelmingly so. Empathy is something – I believe – a person is born with.

Sure, anyone can become empathetic over the course of their life. But others have it intuitively, deeply encoded in their DNA.

Walking around the monolithic Eiffel Tower on a perfectly sunny Parisien day, my Grandmother noticed an intriguing game of cat and mouse take place around us. Along the streets of Paris, and especially around landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, street merchants pave the lanes with their little stores selling all kinds of Parisien paraphernalia. These products range from ‘I love Paris’ t-shirts, to French magnets, and miniature Eiffel Towers; all so you can take a piece of Paris home with you.

IMG_7976

It quickly became clear that these street merchants were not allowed to be on the streets in the first place. And every so often, the Paris police would gallop in on horseback, politely telling them to leave. So, the sellers would scoop up their product and feign leaving. However, once the police were out of sight, charging round the next corner to clear that street up of its merchants too, the same merchants would simply set up shop once more.

They would strategically set up along the street, some remaining as lookouts. If anyone saw the police returning, the lookouts would let the closest seller know. And before you knew it, the most efficient game of Chinese whispers had been played and the street cleared out.

IMG_7977

“They’re just trying to make a living for themselves,” my Grandmother bemoaned of the police,

She sat on a park bench, watching the police shoo a group of sellers away.

“These people have mouths to feed.’’

Recalling her own childhood and remembering how tough it was living from meal to meal, pay cheque to pay cheque, my Grandmother began to tear up. Then she got up, and headed over to one of the sellers who had just set up shop once more.

IMG_7978

“Don’t give them money,” someone hastily yelled out. But, my Grandmother didn’t care in the slightest and purposefully walked across.

“How much for an Eiffel Tower?” she asked him.

“1€ Madame,” he replied.

My Grandmother pulled out a 2€ coin and handed it to him. He smiled and gratefully passed a small, tin Eiffel Tower to her. As he was reaching to get her change, other sellers flew past – the police were back.

IMG_7975

“I’ll be back with your change,” and in one swift movement, he grabbed all his stuff and was gone.

5mins passed and he didn’t return.

10mins, nothing.

15mins, still no sight of him.

Now, my Grandmother would not have minded at all if he had run off with her 1€ change in his pocket. For her, in the general scheme of things, 1€ was not the biggest loss in the world.

Whereas she knew, an extra 1€ – in any other given moment – could change a person’s day.

Happy with her quaint miniature Eiffel Tower, we stood up preparing to leave the park and head home for some much needed rest. But before we could leave, bursting around the corner came the same street merchant, waving a singular € wildly in the air; “this is yours!”

He ran right up to my Grandmother, and placed it in her hand.

“Thank you Madame.”

Then, he was off again.

Good, honest people come from all walks of life, my Grandmother has always taught me that. But in our world of labels and division, it is often a lesson that is easily forgotten. We’re all too busy looking out for our own, looking out for ourselves.

That day in the park was a beautiful reminder that as a broader society we all have a responsibility to each other, that the ‘last will be first, and the first will be last.’

I never understood someone beggin’ for goods
Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could
And this particular person just had it down pat
Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked
Have you ever opened to Exodus 14?
A humble man is all that we ever need
Tell me how much a dollar cost
~ Kendrick Lamar


Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour

One thought on “How much a dollar cost?

  1. “Don’t give them money” – seems to be the standard motto everywhere now. I personally would rather support this than some corporate store where people don’t matter at all.

Leave a Reply