Last semester I was doing some research into the beggar/homeless situation in China and found an article entitled "China extends cost of living benefits to homeless, beggars". According to this article from August 2007, the government will offer a basic living allowance to those begging because of poverty. The basic living allowance for those living in urban areas has been set at 169.6 yuan ($23.75). So, if someone living in a city makes, say, 100 yuan each month, the government will give that person an additional 69.6 yuan to reach the aforementioned basic living allowance. I was both immediately struck and convicted by this insanely small amount of money the government has stated to be sufficient for basic living costs. This article was the inspiration for what has become known as "Meager March". Originally the idea was to challenge ourselves to live only on 169.6 yuan for the entire month. However, the specifics of Meager March are very much hazy as a whole because there's no right or wrong way to participate. The most important thing is for the people who participate to discover their own purpose, their own motivation, and their own need for becoming involved. One of my personal motivations for participating in Meager March comes from a realization that I am so abundantly blessed, I've lost touch with an understanding of what it is like to not merely be without things like luxuries but to be especially concerned that even basic necessities might be inaccessible. One of my purposes for participating is to rediscover forms of entertainment that cost nothing but are productive, meaningful and challenging. The great thing about Meager March is that I'm likely to be challenged and convicted in ways I can't even conceive now.
However, Meager March is an imperfect challenge for a variety of reasons. First, we don't pay for our apartments, electricity, water, television, Internet, and phone. If we were in poverty, we wouldn't have these "perks" and 169.6 yuan would be, in my opinion, wholly inadequate to cover all the basic costs one would encounter daily, monthly, etc. In light of this (and to fulfill one of my purposes for Meager March), I will be charging myself for Internet usage (an undebatable luxury) the amount it would cost to use the Internet at an Internet bar. What this really means is I will seldom be using the Internet because I won't be able to afford it. Although there's some debate as to whether the TV should be off-limits during Meager March, I, personally, will be abstaining from or charging myself for television viewing. I also plan to be more conservation friendly by using less electricity and less water. I hope to become more conscious of the actions I take and the decisions I make. Realistically, though, I do realize that I'm still blessed during March with things like a warm apartment and hot running water that I wouldn't have on the government mandated basic living allowance.
That said, 169.6 yuan is still a small amount of money, and there are several things we will be changing about our daily lifestyles to accommodate this decrease in funds. For example, the majority of our monthly expenses probably goes towards food. We eat out for nearly every meal (which is still very economical since food is so affordable here), but for the next month we will be pulling our community funds to purchase cheap vegetables and other foods to cook things like porridge at home. Another very small yet, for the month of March, significant cost is bus fair. It takes only one yuan to ride the bus, but that's two yuan round trip which adds up quickly. Therefore, we will be walking a lot more.
The second reason Meager March is an imperfect challenge is because we have responsibilities here that cannot and should not be ignored. For example, I often use the Internet to prepare for classes. Previously, I mentioned I will charge myself for Internet usage, but that only applies to personal entertainment and unnecessary activity. I consider using the Internet for school something unavoidable and quite necessary so I will not be charging myself for time spent in class preparation. We are also here working for a specific purpose which involves a lot of relationship building. If there is a need to spend money to further the work here, then we will not hesitate to spend liberally.
Meager March has evolved into a beautiful event with participants from other cities in China creating their own purpose for and method of becoming involved. I've heard that some friends in Wuhan have modified Meager March: for every yuan they spend on themselves, they will spend the same amount on others. I love this idea!
A MONTH OF CHALLENGES
We've also decided to make March a month of challenges (as much in an effort to create some entertainment outside of costly activities as to get us outdoors and active so as to avoid "cabin fever"). Here's what we have so far:
Brian to Jessica and me: Coax five students from one of his classes to dress up like the five Beijing Olympic Mascots and sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his birthday - March 11th.
Brian to me: Get two people to buy him the two remaining Beijing Olympic Mascot keychains he hasn't acquired merely by hinting he would like to have them (no asking, begging, or bullying shall be allowed in this challenge).
Me to Brian: It's a secret, but it involves Jessica's class.
Me to Jessica: No make-up for the whole month!! (Except for class)
Amanda to Me: Once a week, send a text message to a friend expressing the way I feel about him/her with lyrics from a song.
Me to Amanda: Choose four things she does everyday and fast from each one for an entire week, beginning with one the first week, and changing to another the second week and so on. For example, she might fast from listening to music the first week. The second week she might fast from eating sugar. Etc.
So my challenge to YOU is to find a way to challenge yourself during March. It's a great way to grow personally and a fun way to step out of the humdrum doldrums that we so easily fall into.
Take luck! I'll be back for Active April...