It had been built to promote the television network owned by General Electric, but last night when I went to take a screenshot of their New York City ice rink and their lit-up Christmas tree, he was already there, silently using NBC's site in Second Life for a purpose of his own. I said hello several times, but the thin frail kid said nothing-- though if you clicked on his cardboard box, an automated message told you he was collecting Linden Dollar donations for a Spanish NGO to help the real world's poor. (And if you're going to do that in an online world, why not do so in a virtual recreation of the world's richest city?)
Since I hadn't heard of the non-profit and he didn't respond at the time, I couldn't confirm right then that he was a genuine emissary of the group. (But in retrospect, that appears to be the case.) And eventually, my attention wandered over to a man with a pompadour and limited English skills at the edge of the skating rink, who had needs of his own.
I said hello and asked AcereroBen Rothlisberger what was up.
"Nothing," he declared. "I cant' speak english." I knew enough Spanish to get that he was from Mexico, but confusion set in after a few lines of chat. So I brought out Yossarian Seattle's translator device, and gave it to him. After a few false starts, he was able to get the device working, and something halfway comprehensible started coming across my screen:
AcereroBen Rothlisberger: ok ya me entiendes?
Translator v1.6: ok already you understand to me?
"Yes!" I wrote back. "Now I read it in English!"
"I hope it helps you in Second Life."
AcereroBen Rothlisberger: me ayudaste muchisimo
Translator v1.6: you helped me very many
So from there, we were able to talk about many things, such as Oaxaca and the state's current civil unrest, and whether I should visit.
AcereroBen Rothlisberger: si, no te preocupes eso se solucionara
Translator v1.6: if, you do not worry that it solved
I told him I hoped so, and offered him friendship as I got ready to go.
AcereroBen Rothlisberger: muchas gracias por todo. cuidate y recibe un abrazo de Mexico
Translator v1.6: thank you very much by everything. cuidate and receives a hug of Mexico
I offered him a hug from the USA, and that's right about when I took leave of my new acquaintance from Mexico, standing there next to the avatar of an unspeaking homeless child from a Spanish charity on the digital Manhattan sidewalk paid for by the National Broadcasting Corporation.
Update, 12/5, 12:05pm: Rik Riel and a gentleman purporting to represent the Spanish advertising agency that introduced the homeless child into Second Life sends along a link to this YouTube video:
Update, 12/5, 1:20PM: I just contacted representatives with NBCi, sponsors of the Second Life site, asking them about the homeless avatar begging on their virtual property. Will post any reponse they send here.