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I WAS enjoying my late evening bubbly beverage at a neighbourhood coffee shop when this scrawny none-too-prosperous-looking Chinese boy tried to push me some illegal CDs.

Then he sat down at the next table drinking a glass of cold Chinese tea, which at 40 cents, was the cheapest item on the menu. He also looked hungry. So I ordered some fried rice for him. He acknowledged my gesture and wolfed down the meal like a ravenous beast.

I started to get him talking about himself by asking some strategic questions in my broken Cantonese. He was 16, he said, still studying in a Chinese junior secondary school. But he could not study well because his family could not afford expensive tuition classes.

His parents were hawkers selling food at a local market. They had to get up at four or five in the morning, and would not be back until two in the afternoon. They would spend the entire evening preparing for the next day's business. Yet, they did not make enough money to make ends meet.

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