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Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

Two weeks ago, a foreigner friend of mine borrowed 200 yuan($29) from me. She still hasn't offered to pay me back yet, and I think she never will.

I met her through an interview I conducted, and we have been friends for six months. That cooperation was great, and we have kept in touch ever since.

Two weeks ago, I asked her if I could interview her again for a video report. She kindly agreed, and we set up a date to meet.

However, as the time came closer for the appointment, she kept giving me excuses as to why she could not meet. First she said she was too tired to do an interview, then she told me she needed to exchange some US dollars to yuan to buy bus tickets, and then she told me she couldn't exchange the money because the guy who was going to help her had to cancel.

Naturally, I offered to help her by loaning her some money. She told me she only needed 200 yuan, and I agreed. However, since then she has never mentioned anything about paying me back.

Thinking about why she would do this, I believe that she felt the money would be some sort of reward for helping me with my interview. After all, she put in a lot of time and energy.

I understand her choices. She is a single mother with an 8-year-old daughter back in her home country. She is in China to earn money to support her family and to provide her daughter a good life.

She once told me that she is not here to spend money or to enjoy life, but she is here to make money, so every penny counts.

In order to save on rent, she lives in the suburban area of Beijing where the prices are lower, and every day she travels over two hours on different modes of public transportation to get to work. When she is sick, she does not even go to a formal hospital because it's expensive, and she will just get treatment in a small clinic.

I complained to my husband about her not paying me back. My husband was angry for me too, but he also admitted that she is a good mother because she is saving and earning money in every way she can for her daughter.

The locals always assume that foreigners in China lead a care-free life in terms of money because they earn a lot more than the locals, but the truth is, some of them also have heavy burdens to shoulder. They struggle to find a job and live in China without being able to communicate with others and without any friends and family members to support them.

Foreigners are similar to locals, some of them are lucky and have an easy life, and some of them have to do everything to survive and to help their families to survive. I guess I just need to see that and understand what my friend is going through.