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August 31, 2009

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Retired man enters easy street after living rough

THANKS to help from a Shanghai police officer, a 74-year-old homeless man eking out a meager living by selling garbage for recycling has turned into a "middle-class citizen" overnight.

He also found he has about 200,000 yuan (US$29,283) in unclaimed pension funds and possibly owns a flat in his hometown.

Lou Hezhi, a retired worker of the Shanghai Ballpoint Pen Refill Factory, is now living in Jinhui Hotel on Dalin Road - accommodation arranged by the company.

Staff of the company will today set out for Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, Lou's hometown, to find out if he owns an apartment.

The man has not collected his pension since 1997 when he was jailed in Ningbo for offences he remains vague about. Lou was released in 2004 and found himself homeless as his old apartment had been demolished.

In three years, Lou saved 51 yuan from selling bottles and cans he collected, bought a train ticket and came to Shanghai in 2007.

"My factory is here in Shanghai," Lou said in the hotel yesterday. "If I didn't come back, the factory would never know my whereabouts."

He said his pension now would be at least 1,500 yuan per month.

However, when he came to Shanghai he could not find the company as it had relocated.

So it was back to being homeless, relying on trash for a living and sometimes eating out of garbage cans.

Last Thursday, police officer Wang Jianmin noticed Lou picking through rubbish in Gucheng Park near Yuyuan Garden.

When asked his name, Lou, shabby and smelly, thought for a long time and said: "I don't remember my name. I am just called old man."

The only name he remembered was Yang Wei, "a young woman who paid my pension every month" at the Shanghai Ballpoint Pen Refill Factory.

Police found Yang, also retired.

She remembered Lou had retired in 1985 and had been out of contact for many years. Lou did not want his pension sent by mail as he feared it would be stolen or lost, Yang said.

Lou came to the factory annually for his pension. "But he hadn't turned up since the mid-1990s," she said.

He was all showered and spruced up yesterday in new clothes and shoes.

"Thank-you, Yuyuan Garden police officers for a second life," he said.


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