Anybody who has spent any time in Bangkok over the last few years or so will inevitably have seen them. Although they do not usually get in people’s way, many of us find them irritating and, dare I say it, embarrassing. They are the farangs whom
we see sitting on the street, holding up signs, begging for money. The main point to be made about them is those signs. Has anybody ever noticed that all the signs have been written to exactly the same format? None of them ever say anything as
simple as “Spare change gratefully received”. They are all constructed along the same unusual lines. A fairly large piece of cardboard is propped up by the supplicant, with various fragments of pathetic sentences scribbled on it.
The element that I always look for, and never fail to find, is the specification of various amounts that would gratefully be accepted, in the style of “100? 200? 500? 1000?” For this reason alone, I don’t believe that these
waifs are acting independently. In my view, it is far more likely that there is some type of gang running these farangs in the same way that gangs control the Burmese women we all see sitting at the bottom of the skytrain stations with small babies
and children underfoot. I know it sounds a bit far-fetched, but it isn’t impossible. It wouldn’t be difficult for some Fagin-like gang master to turn up on Khao San Road looking for particularly downtrodden backpackers, drop them
off in the CBD and give them a flat fee for their efforts. This would be in return for the “protection” they receive. I’m sure we would all be surprised at what they might make in a day, given the number of well-heeled tourists
there are around. I suspect that these farangs are simply chancers who are out to make a few extra baht, and therefore not truly “fallen”.
The really fallen ones are the men whom Stick has chronicled over the last few months in his column. I have had my own mild experience with one of these types. In 2007 I was walking on the pavement between Nana and Ploenchit. As I recall it was late afternoon, around 4 or 5 PM (it was definitely still light anyway). In the distance, I saw a young farang stumbling towards me. No more than about 25, he was shirtless and shoeless, and filthy as if he had spent some time living on the streets. He was clearly under the influence of something, probably drugs, as he was shouting and swearing at no-one in particular. Thankfully he didn’t engage with me. It got me thinking about how he had ended up like that. Presumably he had come on holiday. He had enough money to pay for a plane ticket, and no doubt he brought luggage and spending money. What the hell had happened for him to end up in that state? I think there are just some people who totally come off the rails when they see and experience what Bangkok has to offer for the first time. If these guys came from some backwater in their own country, the shock would be especially great. I only saw this young guy the one time for those few seconds, but I occasionally still think about him. I hope that he managed to drag himself out of the hole he was in, or that at least he had friends or family who could help him.
A few months ago Stick linked to an article in the Pattaya newspaper about a British man who had been living rough because he ran out of money. The bargirls had been giving him charity if you can imagine. If I remember correctly this guy was unemployed (big surprise) and had a fairly large number of children. He was heading home after the embassy helped him to get money from somewhere. I remember the killer quote being something along the lines of him looking forward to coming back to Thailand because he loved it so much! Words fail. You would think an unemployed man with multiple children would have other priorities rather than going back to Thailand for a jolly. I think the point to draw from this case is that there are a lot of daft people out there. Cheap travel has given them the opportunity to practice their idiocy in foreign climes, when previously they would have been constrained to their own countries. I am not sure it is fair to put the people whose photos have been in the column recently in this category. I’m sure they’ve made some poor decisions in life (haven’t we all) but probably a larger element of it is that they are suffering from mental illness. These people are to be pitied really. I find it quite strange that although they come from wealthy European countries, their embassies do not seem in any particular rush to provide aid and assistance. The German individual of last year was a particular example. They are probably worried about opening the floodgates if they steam in too quickly with help. For genuine cases such as these however, I feel there should be more of an assistance framework in place. We are all a long way from home, remember, and it is unlikely that the Thai authorities will step in until it is absolutely necessary, given that a large percentage of the Thai population lives in abject poverty itself.
I can only recall one fellow who had a sign requesting money and listed suggested donations (up to several thousand baht!). I personally don't think any of the foreigners I have ever seen begging were organised by others, although that Dutchman with the sign was clearly a scammer as he was begging for a few years, yet lived in a nice condo at Phrakanong!
These people have interesting stories and for sure, most have made some bad decisions along the way. The most recent famous homeless foreigner, the Brit who was sleeping under the steps at the Nana skytrain station, seems to have disappeared. I wonder what happened to him?