Beggars can't be shmoozers


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Asia » Vietnam » Northeast
July 17th 2011
Published: July 17th 2011
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Walking down a path in the majestic region of Sapa, I venture towards a mountain village, which for the moment lays hidden in mist. A woman approaches pushing a wheel barrow, her aged face warm with hope. Getting closer, I see her retarded son lying still and uncomfortable in the wheel barrow. Removing her bandaged fingers from the handle, she extends her hand. I couldn’t help feel a little confronted.

I take out my wallet packed with a Vietnamese annual salary and remove a few dollars. Continuing further down, the serenity is picture perfect… almost. The small path is lined with even smaller shops bearing hand-made craft. A shopkeeper, dressed in traditional clothing sits on a plastic chair drinking Coca Cola out of a straw. The beautiful tribal huts are connected by a thick black electrical line. A little boy begging on the path pushes past me. His clothes ripped and torn, his face covered in dirt. How sad I ponder, quickly distracted as he pulls out an iPod.

Suddenly that warm fuzzy feeling you get from ‘making a difference’ disappeared. Who had I just ‘helped’? Did I just put money towards her new TV? Am I taking it too far by thinking her son may not even be retarded? How much are beggars ripping us off? It’s no stretch of the imagination to say that some of these people desperately need our help. But how do you tell a charity case from, potentially, a woman ‘acting’ as a distressed mother and a boy acting as a retarded son? After all, my retard face is pretty convincing.

My driver in India once told me of a woman in Jaipur, a beggar worthy of an Academy Award. His voice was filled with excitement as he told of her mansion and multiple fur coats. Are we so in need of that warm fuzzy feeling that we look past the act? Or do we simply choose to help, knowing that our money might be going towards a new release on iTunes? My heart tells me that most of these people ‘do’ need my help. They don’t choose to beg, they live a tough life of necessity.

My head is telling me that most of them are playing off the guilt of a good life and see an opportunity for easy money.

Mmm. I guess either way, I could spare the few bucks.


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