Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Beggars United Pte Ltd

Was out for an early evening stroll with PGFNB when I ran into an old Malay lady sitting forlornly in the corner of the MRT. I went to her and gave her the remaing coins in my pocket. I figured that the lady was old, frail and unable to work. Yes, I'm broke and won't another penny until my cheque clears tomorrow, but she needed it more than I did.

PGFNB saw things a little differently. Her only remark was, "Haven't You Heard of The Beggars Syndicate?" Yes, there we have it, the lady who needs to appeal to the State for legal aid, won't give to the "Beggar's Syndicate," out of fear that her pennies would either enrichen some old lady who should be doing a job or some gangsters who were preying on poor people like her. 

OK, let's get it clear, this is not a session to bash poor old PGFNB who has had to endure my terms of affection - within the past 48-hours, I've called her a virus and suggested that she's toxic in the sex department - nay, I didn't suggest, I told her. PGFNB is merely exhibiting the high moral fibre of your average Singaporean brought up in a middle class background. I've had some good friends spend minuites in an MRT checking if old men could walk properly before deciding if they should give away their pennies. 

Let's also clarrify things. I am aware that begging in many cities is something of an industry. Beggars can only beg in certain streets and kids are maimed by parents to make sure they're ability to beg remains at full blast. I don't doubt that begging, like other activities on the streets, is overseen by less savoury forces. There is a dilema at play. If you give, are you feeding a nasty system and disincentivising people from getting a job? 

Perhaps I'm naive but I like to think that when it comes to street beggars, it easier to make a personal decision about whether to give than it is with organisations. When I lived in London, I tried to avoid giving my pennies to many of the homeless. Most were for the better part - young, able bodied and white (no racial discrimination). Many had drug problems and I don't see why I had to support people who could easily find simple work. The main exception to this was "Dave" a local tramp who slept in Dean Street - both Tara and I liked him - unlike the more belligerant ones, he was actually polite and never asked - so it made it easier for us to give the pennies we didn't have. 

When I discuss the issue of the guys on the streets with friends, I like to bring up the fact that we're screwed up in as much as my friends, family and I find it easier to donate spare change to the guys doing nothing than it was to buy copies of "The Big Issue," -which for non-Brits was magazine designed to get the homeless into some sort of employment. 

An old man I once knew described begging about being "All About MONEY." To an extent he's right and where possible, it's best not to encourage it. I'm all for options of teaching people to fish (feed them for life) than just giving them money. 

But let's make something clear, begging is a shit awful option for most sane thinking people. If begging was a wonderful lucrative career option, I have ask why we don't have more people in the industry. Can you imagine if some clever clot in the Sinapore Government figured that this could be the next export industry? You'd have schoolarships awarded and our best and brightest would be sent overseas to beg and remit the spare change into the national economy.

Well, it's not happening and there's a darn good reason for it. Although I've been blessed with the fact that I've never had to beg on the streets, I believe I've seen my fair share of beggars to realise that begging for a living is a shit awful experience not to be wished upon anyone. 

While Singapore's streets are mercifully free of beggars when compared to places like London, the number of beggars are growing and in the land of "Asian Values," a good chunk of these beggars that you see are the elderly - also known as the people who built Singapore's prosperity. I think something's wrong here, particularly when you think that this is a country that trumpet's things like Asian Values, respect for the elderly and efficient government with a wonderful grassroots mechanism. 

I remember my grandmother telling me that it was good to go through my poor struggles when I was young. Being poor and young has a romantic ring to it, being old and poor on the other hand is shit and if you look at the streets at certain hours of the street you'll see a growing number of people in this situation. 

When I see an old person begging on the streets, I realise that this person could be me. It's by God's Grace that I was born into a family that can provide me with all sorts of support systems but that's only God's Grace. It can be removed from me anyday and so, I think, if that were me, would I be greatful to anyone to pass me a few pennies. So, that's just me, if I see the elderly having to beg, I try and give - it's just a few pennies but I still pass them on to people who need them more than me. Yes, perhaps the elderly are being used as part of a syndicate, but then again, are we, as individuals and society offering them something better? Furthermore, if some old person is faking a leg injury to a few pennies, then so be it - if they have to go through great lengths to fake things for a few pennies, they must really need it. 

But that's not really my beef with those who seem so terrified of passing on their pennies to the elderly. I find that most of the people who talk about not contributing to the beggars syndicate are usually contributing to something more repulsive. In the case of PGFNB, she's contributing to the New Creation Church, run by one Pastor Prince. The young pastor has recently made the papers for having a S$500,000 salary and he deserves it too. If you believe in the concept of paying for talent and giving people rewards if they bring in vast sums - Pastor Prince is comming very cheap - his S$500,000 salary is "peanuts," when you consider the fact that he raised S$90 million from his followers in A DAY. In case you were wondering if this was going to help get the beggers and hookers off the street, you'd be sorely mistaken - God, it seems is more interested in osentatious buildings than he is in the poor, though, I must have been out of the theology market for a while because I can't remember where it says it in the Bible.

Something is wrong here. How is it that the people who talk about God and morals are so afraid of doing what is clearly God's work. A good Catholic I know, argues that the likes of Pastor Prince (And let's not Forget Fred in Elim Church) are selling "McGod," or the rosy picture of a religion without understanding the spirit of the religion. Christianity, if you actually read the Bible is actually a brutal religion - followers of Christ go through lots of suffering to prove their faith but it's their faith that becomes strengthened during the bouts of suffering. I'm not starting as a the Pope's appologist but if you look through the Churches in Singapore, its the traditional "Sit Down and Pray" ones that do "God's Work," namely help the poor. The "Sexy, Hip" ones are more interested in selling records of the pastor's wife's records. McGod is an obvious franchise in our modern age.

What puzzles me is the fact that the people who buy into "McGod," are always people who come from well-to-do backgrounds. They are more often  than not graduates and working professionals. Surely, these people should be the last people to see that God does not need an MLM salesteam to get you into heaven. 

What is wrong with the prgramming of my PGFNB and people like her? They claim they're suffering and that life has dealt them a bad hand. They then buy into the McGod franchise and work very hard to donate their time and money to something that anyone with a brain will realise is an utter scam. They claim to love God and appreciate the morals that he's giving. Yet, the moment they have a chance to do God's work, they recoil and worry that they're contributing to the unknown faces of Beggars United Pte Ltd. - I think my friend Ravi got it right when he said, "Every Minister of Education we've had should be SHOT."  


Seelan Palay said...

Good post, I enjoyed reading it. Glad you make references to the so-called "Asian Values" that have been shoved upon us.

You might find this paper to be of interest: "Machiavelli's Tiger: Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's
Authoritarian Regime" -

-ben said...

'Attempted to leave this at your post, "Victory in Walking Out," at your other blog but since I do not possess a Multiply account...

"Murder accused tells of hell at home," The Age May 26 2009.

Stay well.