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NY homeless angry at China tycoon 'publicity stunt'
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) June 25, 2014

Surviving without money, German woman's year-long adventure
Leipzig, Germany June 25, 2014 - For one year, Greta Taubert renounced our consumer society. Eating, drinking and dressing without spending a cent, the 30-year-old German woman wanted to see what life would be like if the economic system collapsed. The first thing she badly wanted after her 12 months of consumer abstinence? "Tights," she replied spontaneously, nursing a cappuccino in a cafe in Leipzig, a city in what used to be East Germany. "And toiletries," she added quickly, pushing aside a strand of her long blonde hair. Gone now are the homemade deodorants, face creams and toothpastes, all guaranteed 100 percent organic. "I even made my own shampoo," she said. "But I started to look like a Neanderthal. My friends told me, 'Now you're going too far'," she laughed. For an entire year Taubert, a freelance journalist, swapped skirts and trousers at second-hand clothes exchanges and tilled the soil to grow cabbage and potatoes in a community garden. For a holiday, she hitchhiked some 1,700 kilometres (more than 1,000 miles) to take time out in Barcelona, albeit in a squat. Having endured the extreme experience, she wrote a book, "Apokalypse Jetzt!" -- German for "Apocalypse Now", the title of Francis Ford Coppola's epic 1979 Vietnam war movie -- which came out in February. In the book, she recounts her life far from the clothes racks of H&M, the cardboard boxes of discount supermarket chains, and from the considerable waste of modern consumer society. - 'More, more, more mantra' - The eco-minimalist adventure began one Sunday afternoon at her grandmother's house, where she contemplated a table laden with ham and cheese canapes, apple pie, cheesecake, cream pie, vanilla biscuits and coffee -- just a couple of hours after a hearty lunch. "When I said 'I would like some milk', my granny put on the table powdered flavours to add chocolate, banana, vanilla or strawberry taste," Taubert recalled. "Our economic system is based on the perspective of infinite growth, but our ecological world is limited," she wrote. "The mantra 'more, more, more' will not take us very far." In Germany, in 2012, nearly seven million tonnes of food landed in the garbage, averaging 81.6 kilogrammes (180 pounds) per person. Taubert says Europe's years of crisis have heightened awareness about the limits of the current economic model. "People have realised that they haven't settled anything with the bailouts and the European Stability Mechanism," she said. "We're just continuing as in the past, but this system doesn't have a sound basis." Her arguments reprise those made in the 2012 book "How Much Is Enough?" by British writers Robert and Edward Skidelsky, who argue that the modern world is ruled by an insatiable desire to accumulate ever more money and things. The less-is-more trend has drawn a growing band of followers, spawning online food-sharing sites and "book trees" in Berlin where people leave and pick up their favourite reads. In southern Europe, hard hit by the crisis, unemployed Greek youths are teaching skills such as gardening in exchange for English language courses. During her adventure, Taubert met neo-hippies, eco-extremists and end-time "preppers" or survivalists and, as she humorously recounts in her book, learned to negotiate the finer points of an outdoor composting toilet. "Today I try to incorporate into my daily life what I learned during this year," she said. "But I'm glad I no longer live as radically."

A three-course lunch hosted by an eccentric Chinese millionaire for 250 homeless New Yorkers in a posh restaurant degenerated into fury Wednesday when guests were denied $300 cash handouts.

It had seemed such a good idea. Recycling tycoon Chen Guangbiao last week took out ads in American newspapers promising a first-rate meal at the Boathouse in Central Park and $300 each.

Guests were bused in and treated to a sit-down meal of seared tuna, filet mignon and seasonal berries, waited on by staff in suits and bow ties, but anger flared over the cash no-show.

As Chen spoke to a gaggle of Chinese journalists while dessert was being served, one guest started shouting.

"Don't lie to the people!" Ernest St Pierre told AFP. "We came here for $300 but now he's changed his tune."

Chen announced through a translator that he was heading to the New York City Rescue Mission -- which helped organize the lunch -- and invited guests to join him there.

"This individual who's filthy rich put it in the paper," St Pierre, a former US Navy medic, told reporters.

Retired Vietnam War veteran Harry Brooks told reporters he would be "highly upset" if he didn't get the cash, despite enjoying the food "very much."

"I could use $300," he said. "Clothing for one thing," he said gesturing at his shabby attire when asked how he would spend it.

Not all guests were unhappy. Many said they enjoyed the food and called the experience "beautiful," saying they were touched that someone had flown all the way from China wanting to help.

- 'Fraud' -

But as they were herded outside to queue up to get the bus back, complaints multiplied.

Quin Shabazz, 34, said he felt the homeless had been exploited and branded the lunch -- covered by a mob of TV cameras and reporters -- "a big publicity stunt."

Al Johnson, 42, said he had been banking on the money to get his life together and go home to his family in Texas.

"This was going to change my life," he said. "Fraud. This is fraud with a capital F," he added. "I feel used for a photo op."

Craig Mayes, executive director of the New York City Rescue Mission, was left to deny there had been any injustice.

"I'm really sorry. It was misrepresented in the paper," he said.

Michelle Tolson, director of public relations at the Mission, said Tuesday that no cash would be handed out to individuals and that it had taken 1.5 months of negotiations to convince Chen to instead donate $90,000 to the group.

The money would be ploughed straight into the Mission's $5 million yearly expenses to feed and house people, she said.

The shelter provides people with a hot meal, a clean shower and a safe bed, clothing and assistance in addressing their problems.

Chen, known for publicity stunts and reportedly worth an estimated $825 million, serenaded his guests with a rendition of the 1985 charity single "We Are the World."

The smiling, bespectacled businessman said he wanted to give back after wealthy Americans had contributed to relief efforts after disasters in China.

"Hopefully, I will really lead the way to encourage other people who are in a position to help to follow through," he said.

Coalition for the Homeless says around 60,000 homeless men, women and children bed down in New York's shelters and thousands more who sleep rough on the streets or elsewhere.

The number of homeless New Yorkers has risen by 75 percent since 2002 and in recent years has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s, according to the advocacy group.


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