Desperate to raise funds for her ailing father’s treatment, a teenager in China’s Anhui province has taken to wearing a cow mask and charging people 5 yuan to ride her. She’s been at it for the past three months, but Hefei locals have branded her a fraud.
Now, news reports are featuring photographs of 15-year-old Hao Dongdong with her paralysed father, proving that she’s been telling the truth all along. “My dad needs 5,000 Yuan each month for medical treatments,” she told reporters. “My brother and sister need to go to school. I have no identity card [for work] so I have to beg.”
Dongdong’s father Hao Xinli used to be a farmer, but a back injury forced him to move to the city in 2000 to set up a small shop. Last year, when he and his wife were shopping in Hefei, they saw a mobile store giving away freebies as a promotional offer. They ran to the shop and tried taking what they could, but soon got into an altercation with the sales staff. Xinli was beaten badly, and his back pain became excruciating.
Xinli was diagnosed with a fractured spine and damaged neck, causing his upper body to be paralysed. He didn’t receive any compensation from the store for his injuries, so the family had to bear all his medical expenses. Three months ago, Xinli’s wife, unable to cope with the pressure, abandoned the family. That’s when Dongdong – the oldest of three siblings – dropped out of school to beg for money.
At first, she would just kneel on sidewalks and beg for money, but then a kind stranger suggested she try wearing a mask to get more attention. Since then, she’s been wearing a cow mask every day. She also has a little sign that reads: “I am willing to pretend to be a cow to let people ride me. 5 Yuan a ride.” And to prove that she isn’t a fraud, she sometimes takes her dad along with her.
“At the moment I get around two to three hundred Yuan a day from begging,” she said. “I stay at home when it’s raining. But it’s not enough because my dad’s medical costs are too high.” She also has to face a lot of humiliation and hostility on the streets. People are often rude to her, and shop owners think she’s bad for their business. A drunken man slapped her once, while a woman offered to make her an escort.
Dongdong’s story is quite similar to a Chinese father who begged in a horse mask earlier this year for his son’s leukemia treatment. When his story spread, he received widespread attention and got lots of donations. That’s probably why Dongdong’s cow mask is being perceived as a cheap trick. But she says she’s willing to try anything.
“I know about the father with the horse head mask,” she said. “Wearing horse and cow masks is just for getting people’s attention. If I can help cure my dad and feed my family, I don’t mind what people say.”
“I hope kindhearted people will help our family,” her father added. “I want my child to return to school and study.”
Photos via NetEase