There are beggars the world over and Taipei is no exception. I give them a few shekels now and then, buy them some grub – heck I’ve even shared a bev with one or two in my time (though generally I don’t give em cash if I think they’re just going to booze it away).
These down-on-their-luck tramps of the normal variety I’ve never had ant real beef with. It’s the professional mendicants with the veneer of piety on their side that get my goat. Don’t get me wrong: of the religions I’ve come across, the Buddhist and Taoist beliefs in Taiwan seem the most tolerant and least in your face. By that I mean they don’t go around like the fucking Mor(m)ons proselytising and harassing all and sundry with their crap.
But I don’t like the fact that superstitious Taiwanese (like my girlfriend) are cowed into giving religious beggars money by the the thought that it’s doing em some karmic good. In many cases these same people wouldn’t think twice about giving the dirty tramp outside the 711 a penny but they get all terrified into coughing up as soon as they see some baldy ‘nun’ or ‘monk’ in an orange cloak with an official card round their neck approving their scrounging and a metal bowl. Some of these lot sit there kowtowing, pressing their heads off the pavement to add to the guilt trip.
It ain’t like we never had this shit in Europe back in the day but there’s a reason why begging for alms died out there hundred of years ago. Simply put, no one thinks they’ll rot in hell if they don’t give some holy fraud money. Not that all of these lot are frauds in the sense that they are knowingly ripping people off. I’m sure some of them believe in the sanctity of their calling. I just happen to believe it’s complete hogwash.
In some cases, though, they are definitely crooked. I’ve seen a couple who are constantly shifting their eyes about em, looking to see if they are being observed before emptying their bowls full of crisp hundreds that they’ve made from their tough morning loafing into their pockets or wallets. Why? So the next hapless fool that wants a bunk up to Nirvana won’t see that they’re positively rolling in the readies. A bowl overflowing with notes doesn’t go with the image of the humble ascetic that these lot are trying to project.
Even those con men, though, pale into insignificance compared to new breed of aggressive ‘religious’ panhandlers I’ve come across in Taipei recently. I’ve seen these types in Southeast Asia and India but only here more recently. Their favoured technique is to get your attention and before you realise it, try and hand you some stupid little laminated ‘Buddhist’ image. Once you have it in your hand (which FTNM being an on-his-toes type who would never fall for such lame techniques never has), you are ‘obliged’ to give the fuckers a donation. The other day near Guting MRT, one of these ne’er-do-wells attempted this style on me. When I told him to do one, he followed me down the street declaring ‘No, no, no, no!’ (I’m not sure what this repeated denial was about but from his tone, rather than telling me I wasn’t allowed to refuse his advances, I think he was attempting to stress that he wasn’t engaging in any chicanery).
Another time I saw a guy (see two pics above) skulking about in Tienmu (they are moving up in the world), attempting to force his trinkets on people (even going in shops and disturbing owners and customers). Later I caught sight of him scoffing MacDonald’s fries, washed down with a large Coke in a shady nook of a park near the market in nearby Shipai. When the old charlatan noticed me trying to snap photos (I’m pretty sure he recognised me from earlier), he quickly got up and hurried off heading for the MRT station. As (for him, bad) luck would have it, I happened to be going the same way and tailed him at a leisurely pace.
We ended up on the same MRT carriage and – lo and behold – the toerag only goes and pulls out an iPhone and starts texting. An iPhone ffs! I don’t have a bloody iPhone. On his wrist was a chunky watch that looked like it was pretty good quality. When to his dismay he spotted me spotting him again, he got up at the next stop and and got off the MRT. Suspecting a ruse, I peered out the door and saw him scampering down the platform to re-enter further down. Needless to say, his terror was tenfold when he looked up from the latest priority seat he had occupied those couple of carriages down and there I was standing right in front of him again.
By the way, I’ve also heard that ‘official, accredited’ spongers like him (he had a card round his neck when he was roaming the streets, though who knows if it was fake) get subsidised or free MRT passes. Is that coming from taxpayers money?
Anyway, I think these ponces have a bloody cheek and that in most case they are bone idlers who need a good slap rather than the fawning respect that some seem to think they merit. I do have some other better pictures of some of the more aggro ones, people who go into shops trying to hand out these ‘cards’ but as I can’t seen to find them right now, I’ve just included a few of the more shady characters I’ve seen around town, especially the fellow I’ve just mentioned.
I’m not trying to say Taiwanese, or anyone, should stop giving to beggars. Each to their own. Charity, giving or whatever people want to call it, is admirable when well-directed. But I just don’t get why the poorest, dirtiest bums get routinely ignored while the ‘religious’ mendicants seem to get swamped with dosh. Do people really believe that you’ll earn more karma by giving to these ‘spiritual’ types when many of them are clearly nothing but hucksters? Even the genuinely ‘pious’ ones usually look much better off than the average tramp.
Whatever. I’ll stick to the really needy and leave others (including my gf and her fam) to be suckered in the name of religion!