Thursday, April 2, 2009

Beggars -real or fake?

If you’ve been in China you’ve also probably encountered a beggar asking you for ’money, money, money!’

There are a lot of different kinds of beggars over here. I’d say the majority are old women/men, but then there are also fairly young women that walk around with a small kid in their arms (often around night time) and wants you to give them money (and if you don’t they often run after you). Then there are people with disabilities…. Men who are missing a leg, or an arm, or children with defamed faces. You often see them at the Shanghai metro.

Yesterday evening I was walking along Guan Qian Jie in Suzhou when an old woman came up to me, started pulling my arm and asked me for money. I was walking together with my Chinese friend, who quickly pulled me the other way, frowned and walked on.

-Oh, those people, you never give them money do you?

-Eh… ehum… well…

Yeah, that’s the thing. I sometimes do. I cannot help it. My heart bleeds for homeless people. When I lived in London I used to give both food and money to some homeless men that always sat outside our living complex (although one guy was funny –once I gave him a sandwich that he took, looked at and gave back to me, and said: “I don’t like eggs!”).

Here in China, I don’t give beggars money on an every day basis, but sometimes it happens. I never give anything to the women with kids because I have heard so many stories about them working for someone and that they give the kids sleeping pills so that they are going to look really groggy and miserable (having said that, I have no idea where all of those stories come from –so who knows what is the real truth?!). Also, people that pull me or push a jar on me never get anything either. I only give to a number of people: an old lady outside the Suzhou train station who’s always there, day or night. And then this man who often sits close to the gate of our complex. He never says anything but his whole face shines when I give him a few kuais of my change.

When I told my friend this she frowned and told me that I shouldn’t give them money because they are all ‘fake.’

-They are working for someone! Or, they are already really rich! They probably have more money than you and me!

-Really, you think so??!

-Yeah, and those ones that are missing a leg or an arm… some of them are fake too.

-How can they be fake?!

-They are wearing this artificial limb to actually cover their real arm…

-Really?

Really?!!!!?  

My friend was so sure but when I asked her where she got this information from she became all ‘ehhh, ahhh, well… everybody knows that’ which makes me question what the real deal is.

I have heard numerous stories about the beggars, where the most common one is that they are working for someone who provides them with food and housing as long as they spend the days on the street asking for money. Now my friend told me that they are ‘rich’ and they do this as a ‘profession’…. Hm… I somehow find that hard to believe?!

Then again, who knows what the real deal is? Probably no one but themselves. None of us has been begging on the street so all this information telling us it’s like this or like that is just… words, rumors and ‘information’ that no one can confirm or ‘prove’ to be real. There are probably a good mix of ‘real’ and ‘fake’ ones out there.

I remember once when I was walking on a street in Shanghai and two Chinese women, wearing normal clothes (one of them had a kid) came towards me, chatting, laughing. When the woman with the kid saw me she suddenly stopped, pushed her kid forward, reached out her hand and said (with clear English): ‘hey, give me some money!’ I was so angry I didn’t know what to do, but simply walked on. Definitely a ‘fake’ one. But the rest of them? Yeah, who knows?

36 comments:

Ramesh said...

Some could be fake, but many are really poor and needy. Its a very degrading thing in life to beg. Nice of you Jonna to spare some change espcially to older people. I would rather by duped by fakes a few times, than never give, even to a needy person.

Alex W said...

Jonna, I agree with you... I wouldn't give money to people on the street either unless something is really pulling at my heartstrings. But it's important to remain compassionate and charitable. There are plenty of established and well-known organizations that provide support for vagrants and the homeless. It's a much wiser investment to give some money to them. You can read this NYTimes article about one specific effort being made on the internet by a very caring Chinese citizen. The blog discussed in the article is in Chinese, but for those who can read Mandarin, it's worth a look.

The Casual Observer said...

I live in a college town in the US, and there is a lot of begging (college town = liberal people). Some may actually be needy, but some are not. The scammers are easy to spot at times.

Last year, the temp was 100F+ (~38C) one day. Within a mile, I saw three people begging.

All three were wearing black sweatshirts.

What is the coincidence that they would all be wearing black - the absolute WORST color to wear on a hot day - unless it was a coordinated effort? It was obviously a ploy for sympathy.

When I passed back that way about an hour later, the three people had switched corners.

I agree with Alex that I prefer to give to an organization that helps the needy, to ensure that it actually does go to the needy.

It's unfortunate that some people would pretend to be needy, but it definitely does occur.

flyingfish said...

@ Alex W: Thanks for the tip!

@ Jonna: Isn't giving food or clean water different from giving money? Someone who is hungry needs to be fed, and you're just giving that person a chance to get through the day. But with money, who knows what they'll spend it on? Maybe food or lodging, maybe a blanket for their kid, or maybe drink or drugs.

There's a newspaper in Cambridge, MA that's run by homeless people. It's called "Spare Change." I guess buying it is really pretty patronizing and make-work in a way, but I always do buy it! I don't know if they have such an enterprise here.

Mark's Blog said...

When I was in China, I heard the same stories and these fake ones take the chances of these who need help, making the real homeless' lives even more miserable.

Just googled 职业乞丐 for this, here are some interesting results
大学生调查发现职业乞丐收工后吃烧烤
http://life.people.com.cn/GB/1089/6073291.html
大学生跟踪假乞丐四昼夜,被发现险些挨打
http://news.xinhuanet.com/school/2007-07/23/content_6416909.htm
职业乞丐每天挣三四百元 月收入超过白领(图)
http://news.xinhuanet.com/society/2006-09/25/content_5133179.htm

职业乞丐春节七天能赚数千元
http://bbs.book.sina.com.cn/treeforum/App/view.php?fid=683587&tbid=2098&bbsid=9&subid=0

Neozinho said...

You're absolutelly right Jonna! Here in Brazil we have some people that brings children to streets to get some free money too. SCHOOL's the children's place! Not the street!

sour said...

give ME some money
haha

Tripfriend said...

There's really only one guy I give money too. He's an old guy who sits on a mat bowing. He barely moves and never says anything except thank you if you give him some change. I give him the money because he doesn't bug me, and I respect his discipline.

Bill said...

You did it right by giving the guy a sandwich. If they ask for money to buy food, get them the food. If they need money to go to the doctors, take them to the doctors. And you will find who is real and who is fake real quick. "I don't like eggs" = "I am not really hungry"

At bus stations, I run into people asking for money for bus fare, and when I gave them my ticket, they went away.

Lydia said...

I think they've gotta be real! I agree with Ramesh. It is very degrading. I don't think people would do it unless they had to.

Please ask the old man by your living complex if you can take his picture so we can see his smile! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!
Good on you for giving them money. Your friend and perhaps most Chinese seem to be using the 'fake' thing as an excuse to ignore them :(

mantse said...

i will follow my heart. if i feel i wanna help them, i will even put coins (or a note with i just change back) to them.

is this really care on real or fake? i don't know as i do not find the truth yet, the touch my heart is what my first feeling at that moment.

Jonna Wibelius said...

I agree with all of you -it is better to give food than money.. it's just that I am not always carrying around a spare sandwich and then I find it easier to give change...

Flyingfish -there is a similar magazine in Sweden called 'magazine by the homeless'... so when I am home I always buy that one and by that u support/help those ones in need.

J said...

I have to confess that I never give money to beggars here in Shijiazhuang, mainly because they are so aggressive, sometimes almost frighteningly so. They will push us, pull on our clothes, almost smack us in the face with their cup, once on even threw herself in front of someone as they were walking. Kind of counterproductive as a)it seriously peeves me and b) I feel like if I got my purse out they'd just grab it and run off!

Carl said...

Hi Jonna. I too agree it is best to give food rather than money when possible. Once when I was in San Francisco, my then girlfriend and I had were enjoying the sights downtown and had just left a candy shop when we were approached by a begger asking for money for food. I offered the bag of chocolates (not great food, but at least edible) and the guy just smiled and turned away. Obviously fake, that one. But others really need it, so why let the fakes stop us from helping the needy? Great blog - keep up the good work!

Brad F. said...

Jonna, watch that new movie, Slumdog Millionaire. This sort of organized begging is common in Asia. It happens in the Philippines too. according to my wife, who grew up there.

CD said...

When we live in the middle east, beggars are also popular, I kind of feel sorry for the ones sitting outside the Tamimi Market, under the 48degrees Celcius temp., carrying a baby. But a friend said to me, don't feel sorry for them, they earn like 30k a yr doing that. , but I always offer them drinks or food instead. (but I think, they prefer cash) :-)

ccna said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!
ccent

Anonymous said...

Guys, China has no social safet net. Many panhandlers are really poor, destistute and helpless folks. They would work if anyone could hire them. This is so unlike the U.S. where basically poverty is a choice. So I would give to help the beggars in China, at least from time to time. Mark has provided some good links from his google search. It's also true that panhandling is a profession for some. Then again, they are better than robbers and pickpockets IMO. Here in America, before too long, the poor people will not need to beg on the street. We've got Barack Obama. He is going to take money from the rich and give it to the poor.

konichiwa, bitches. said...

whether they are fake or not, aggressive beggars are not much fun to have to deal with. Here there are many gypsies, or Roma if you prefer, who have all sorts of schemes. The ones who play accordions and do fortune-telling are OK, but the ones who drag around the children and literally shove them in your face, or follow you around, or yell at you in English, or (this really happens) sit cross-legged intentionally in your path and wail, as in cry, moan, and even scream, for money while shaking a dirty Starbucks cup at you make me so angry that I sometimes just yell "NO!" and keep walking.

In other places begging is different, perhaps you have been to Prague, and seen how the beggars there kneel down with their elbows and foreheads on the ground, and hold a cup above their heads, or in Budapest, where the gypsie girls follow you around crowded places smoking and cursing and stealing your bags, unafraid to be caught, because there are more of them than there are of you. There are actually fake beggars in Budapest as well though, ones who pretend to be bent over with arthritis or something, I have seen two guys taking turns working a bridge, and a little old lady who stood up and walked normally when she realized that she was in a cold spot and needed to move on quickly to where the money was.

One way or the other I never give money to beggars anymore because I used to do it when I was younger and started noticing that the junkies I gave money to just got worse and worse and slipped out of begging into prostitution. There are places to help them, but they choose not to go. I would rather save the money. :/

Hopfrog said...

Last year I visited Beijing with my chinese wife and was approached by a little girl who was filthy and rolling around on a small wooden platform looking like none of her limbs worked. I got into the biggest argument with my wife when she refused to let me give her money. When I saw two more just like that girl I felt rather naive. However it feels so good to give someone who really needs it a helping hand, like the burn victim who never asked and didn't need to. I've gotten pretty good at spotting the fakes and would never be pressured to not give to someone I felt was legit.

Kate said...

It is so frustrating wondering if the person you just helped was truly in need. Just keep going with the promptings you feel inside and I don't think you can go truly wrong. As the giver, you are also benefiting from the act of charity. Happy April, Jonna!

Edward said...

The beggars themselves may not be rich, but those who control them often are.

Many of the children one sees in the street have been bought from rural areas by gangmasters who are well aware of how much money these kids can make through begging. As for their disabilities, it's a sad fact that they are often inflicted upon them to garner more sympathy from passers-by.

Considering that this is a popular ruse used by criminals worldwide, I don't see why it should be any different in China. I would probably side with your friends on this one! :-)

Brad F. said...

CD, in Angeles City in the Philippines last month I gave a beggar in front of the mall a cheeseburger from a local fast food place. He looked at it, sniffed it, and then gave me a dirty look, like I'd done something wrong by giving him food instead of money. Ha ha ha!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Brad F -I have watched the 'slumdog' movie.. it kind of made me ponder about the beggars over here and their situation...

Really interesting to read about everyone's experiences/opinions.. keep sharing!

Although just to make one thing clear -I am not saying that 'all beggars here are fake'... and I don't buy my friend's theory of them 'making big cash' by standing all day on the streets... like Edward said, the people 'in charge' of them might have a lot of money, but I honestly don't think most of those people who beg would beg if they had a choice.

Diane said...

Some years ago, I was approached by a woman who showed me the staples in her head from an accident and asked for money to buy baby formula. I gave her some money and later saw her coming out of a liquor store, drinking something out of a brown bag. Lesson learned. I've heard that you see kids in Manila with paint around their mouths because they huff the fumes from spay paint to kill the hunger pains.(This is tragic.) Yet, you can't give them money because they give it to whomever controls them, like a beggar's pimp. It's best to find an organization that provides food and education to donate to.

Lover of Life said...

It is so hard to know. There is a little "ring" near one of the bookstores we go to in Reno. I see them there all the time, after giving several girls money. I have a soft spot for girls that might be in trouble - having two of my own. I always feel that if my girls were in trouble I would want someone to help them. But I never give to young men. I figure they can get a job. I know this makes no sense - it's just how I am about begging. The women with the children would be hard.

TERI REES WANG said...

Sadly, oddly there seems to be no difference between the gypsy beggars around the world and the uniformed solicitors in the Airports. It is their job and they do get paid for standing there making an effort, a hustle, a living...how ever it reads to you. The "Salvation Army" workers dressed up like nurses, holding a bucket and ringing a bell, get 40% of the profits they bring back. Truth.

Edo said...

i don't think beggers "make cash"- and that it's a sustainable 'industry' per say, however I don't believe in giving them money as my reasons are you never know where they spend them- a lot of beggers are alcoholics or drug addicts. If you have food, that would be better to give.

And I never give to beggers who are choosers, those who aren't appreciate of an "egg" or whatever because it shows me their conditions aren't bad enough where anything will suffice- even I will eat something I don't normally like if I'm starving.

Hopfrog said...

Had a feeling this one would draw a lot of comments. Another thing I was fond of doing in China when the beggars would ask... I would do a charlie chaplin kind of thing, pulling out my empty pocket liningsm and making a sad face. If they threw their hand in the air and looked away in disgust, well then I walked away. If they laughed or cracked a smile, then I got my benevolence on!!!

Little Tiger said...

I prefer to give beggars the benefit of the doubt because it does take a lot to swallow your pride and go begging.
I remember the beggars in Harbin in the winter. They had frostbite scars and limbs missing. I also once saw a high school student who while begging for money for his school fees, had stripped down to his boxer shorts (and this was in the middle of winter)

Clark said...

I like this post. I've been meaning to write my own observation of beggars in China but felt a little guilty doing so. All my Chinese friends encourage me not to give money to beggars, too, though.

Brad F. said...

@Clark: I didn't have any trouble writing a post about beggars in the Philippines. It was part of my Philippines travelogue from a trip I took there about a month ago. My wife is from there, so we went to visit her family. ^_^

If you want to read it: http://tinyurl.com/chqxaw

Anonymous said...

Wow, China has changed a lot since 20 years ago. Most laowais here have indicated that their Chinese friends tell them not to give to the street beggars. Twenty years ago when I lived in China, it was the opposite. Usually some kind local Chinese, myself included, would sometimes give our changes to the beggars but many times, laowai friends would tell me that they did not believe those were genuine beggars or they were on drug or something. Chinese used to be more sympathetic before they opened up to the outside world. I don't argue that many beggars are pro and are controlled by a pimp. That might be why Chinese people don't want to help them as much today. What a change in 20 years!

Anonymous said...

I have to write because just today, here in China, one chinese mother told me this as a warning: Kids kidnapping in Shanghai is quite common. Their friends child was kidnapped / stolen. The family found him one year later and by that time his legs and arms were broked /cut that he would get more money when begging for the kidnapper/ organisation.

It is just too terrible to believe. I have given money to child just like that .. I have done just like they expected. Please, don't give money, when child involved.

Abhishek said...

Well, here in India we get a lot of beggars. And it really is difficult to tell the real one from the fake.
What Alex said though is true. It's far better to give the money to an NGO or Organization that helps them. Because you never know what they'll do with the money.
And if you really, really want to give them something, food or clothing is the better decision.
(some of them are rich, though, but are just too lazy to work. And I've seen people without arms work. So it really is no excuse.)

Anonymous said...

Its true we should not give money to beggars if we are doing so this wil make them dependent on us if you really want to help real needy people to reduce the poverty rate is to pay zakat every year after having surety that they are really needy