Spare some change Guv?

I'll curse you if you don't help me
by Somchai


Like most cities in South East Asia, Bangkok has its fair share of beggars; the mother and hungry child, the amputees, the old and infirm, and the plain old unemployed. There are also a group that take great joy in displaying their open wounds and sores for all the world to see. Some of the injuries look disgusting, but owe as much to theatrical make-up as they do to actual self-infliction.

The number of beggars has decreased considerably over the last few years, thanks largely to police crackdowns. The pan-handlers are unceremoniously rounded up and loaded into an open truck. Where they go from there I donít really know.

To be honest, beggars are not really a great problem. I suppose that the mother with hungry child can be a bit of a nuisance as you are strolling down the Sukhumwit road, but as anyone who has been to Indian cities like Bombay and Delhi will testify, Bangkokís beggars seem almost anonymous in comparison.

The Bangkok population has always felt it necessary to spare a few coins to the needy folk, after all, in the Buddhist philosophy, this is indeed a gesture of considerable merit. But slowly, they are beginning to learn that many of these beggars are in fact controlled by a mafia gang who provide shelter for the beggars, and keep a considerable proportion of their meager takings. Therefore rather than give hard currency, Iíve seen many Bangkokians give offerings of food such as yoghurt or fruit juice. One Thai told me recently that the look of utter joy on a beggarís face when they receive such items makes the gesture very worthwhile. Not only are the foods healthy and very much appreciated, you havenít got some despicable mafia gang who are going to take them away. It all makes good sense.

My own personal point of view is that I try to help them whenever I can. Whether they are controlled by mafia gangs or not, there is no social care system in Thailand for these people, and I can't begin to imagine what it is to be disabled here in Thailand. I sometimes give a few hundred baht, food or some clothes. Where I used to live a beggar used to come round collecting the plastic bottles for recyclying, he had no shoes and looked like he hadn't washed for about 5 years, but he had a sparkle in his eyes which gave off the aura of intellegence. Next time I saw him, I got him cleaned up, showered hair cut etc, gave him some clothes, some cash and sent him on his way. Total cost about 600 baht, but the look of gratitude on his face will never leave me.

Q: Have you helped anyone?

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