Jiu Yuanwei, a 20-year-old student of electrical engineering from China, has been in Mumbai for three weeks.
For a tourist who has travelled for over 2,000 miles, the places she visits are quite unusual. The girl has been visiting and filming the city slums and its toilets to understand the prevailing sanitary conditions.
It was love for Buddhist scriptures that had brought Chinese scholars Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang to India in the third and sixth centuries, respectively. However, it is filmmaker Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which she watched three years ago, that drove Jiu to India.
Jiu, who loves to be called as Rose as the non-Chinese find it is easier to pronounce, says, "Since I watched the movie, I wanted to come to Mumbai and see its slums myself. So when I got the chance to come down to Mumbai for a month, I was overwhelmed."
Jiu came to India under a student exchange programme of the students' organisation AIESEC (Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales). She is working with a Vile Parle-based NGO Pratha, which works to provide better sanitation in slums and builds toilet blocks with the BMC's help. Studying the old and new system of toilets, the second year student of Harbin Institute of Technology in Tianjin city has visited the slums of Bandra and Wadala till now. Set to visit the capital and Agra on Saturday, she said would visit a couple of slums next week.
When asked if she found any differences between what was portrayed in the movie and the reality, she said, "The movie portrayed Mumbai's slums perfectly. Six to eight people live together in a small room. There is just one toilet for nearly 35 people. People here care about their own room, but not common areas like staircases or their locality. I think toilet conditions for the poor in this city needs a lot of improvement. There is also a large divide between the main city (south Mumbai) and the slums, which is obvious in the prevailing toilet conditions as well."
Apart from being surprised on learning that NGOs build toilets for people in Mumbai, not the government, she was equally taken aback by slum people hiring others to clean their toilets instead of doing it themselves. "A few toilet blocks don't have separate facilities for men and women either," she said.
Despite all that she observed, Jiu finds Mumbai beautiful and its people, helpful, and expressed her desire to visit again after graduating. "I would like to work in the social field, especially in the field of education," she said.