After years of personal struggle, formerly homeless man finds calling as tour guide

By Enru Lin, The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A-Chiang (���j), full name withheld for privacy, takes a group through the streets of Wanhua at least once a week. When they pass Monga Park, he tells them about the ��friends on the street�� (����) �X the homeless �X that they encounter in the area. Not all the loiterers in the park are homeless, he says. Most are seniors with a home but no spouse or adult children in their lives. A homeless person will carry a folded sleeping bag, usually provided by the social welfare department, he continues. A-Chiang, 64, was once homeless, too, and had spent his nights in Monga Park, Taipei Railway Station and various MRT stations. This year, he became the first formerly homeless person to transition into his role as a tour guide for Hidden Taipei (���C). Operated by Homeless Taiwan (�~���߷O�����|), Hidden Taipei helps homeless and vulnerably housed people become paid alternative tour guides. It’s based on London’s award-winning Unseen Tours, and similar initiatives have been launched in Barcelona, Berlin and Copenhagen. ��When I joined the class, the hardest thing for me was having to face people,�� A-Chiang says. ��That is the main hurdle �X your private feelings. The thing is that you feel ashamed of yourself.�� A Man in Jianghu

A-Chiang, a native of Nantou County, spent most of his young adult life in prison. He received his first sentence at 21 years old for military desertion and two long terms later for gang violence, for a total of 23 years behind bars. When he was released, he tried to break his ties with the organized crime ring by going to Shanghai and starting a business. After his jewelry store was robbed, he closed up and returned to Taipei. Within a year he was living on the street. ��That happened very naturally,�� he says. ��I was in a low mood and had only a little money left. What I had, I wasted on drinking.�� Meanwhile, he was unable to find stable employment. With no technical skills or high school diploma to help him, he applied to become a parking lot attendant and a condominium security guard but was turned away by wary employers. ��I had a criminal record. How can a boss who knows that hire me?�� he said. ��Sometimes, even if you have the intent to be better, it is too late. When a man is in Jianghu (the underworld), he cannot choose (�H�b�����A�����Ѥv). The things he has done in the past will come back to haunt him.�� A Friend on the Street

A-Chiang was homeless for about eight months. He showered at free facilities and lived on meals provided by local churches and other charitable organizations. For the most part, though, he kept to himself, avoiding mainstream society and avoiding old acquaintances.