Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What would you do when a stranger on the street asks you for money?

I used to be unable to somehow say 'no' to them, feeling guilty if I do so. Most especially in Malaysia where you'll get (usually) chinese secondary (or maybe primary) schoolgirls coming up to you in a shopping complex and starting a spiel, (in mandarin usually) which I do not understand but get the gist of, about why I should buy (almost always) something from them to donate to their charity cause. I never did understand the why, as I never understood mandarin, but it was difficult for me to jump in and say "sorry, I don't understand", most especially when they had started going on their (I'm quite certain) pre-practiced speech. There was this one time when they wanted to sell a pack of pencils for RM 20 (or was it RM10). I told them, "I'll gladly donate RM5 to your cause, but I don't want your pencils" to which they replied "Cannot, must buy". Don't think I bought from them, but I think I donated during the very first time I encountered them, and then said no to all the others after that.

Anyhow, that's in Malaysia. In Melbourne though, you have people asking you for change on the streets. The story is always very similar, "Can you spare some change for me, I've a daughter at home to feed and we have no food to eat". And I, being a sucker for sob stories, remember once donating to a guy saying that, only to find that 2 hours later, at the same spot, the same guy came up to me again and asked the same thing, and I asked him "But you already asked me just now". And the moment he heard that, he ran off. But that's only some small change (not so small after you convert it to ringgit though).

The other time, in the train station, this guy came up to me and asked "Sorry, but I lost my wallet yesterday, and I need to buy a daily ticket to go home". I said I had nothing, but he said "Open your wallet and check please". And I actually did. Gave him 4 dollars in coins, had nothing left, he then proceeded to ask me for notes, saying that if I give him 10 dollars in notes, he'll give me 5 dollars back. And because he needed about 8 bucks to get a daily, he continously asked for more money, everytime saying the same thing, whereupon if I give him a larger note he'll return the change. What happened in the end was he took 16 dollars, bought his damn ticket, I asked him for my 8 dollars change, and he only gave me 3 dollars, saying "sorry that's all I have left, no more", and then he walked away. So I lost 13 dollars there.

Most will say that I was stupid, actually taking out my wallet. But my conscience dictates that you should help people in need. Even so, from that incident, I have now decided not to give anyone on the street money anymore, and have rejected a few attempts already, but always feeling guilty doing so. What if they really need the money?

Even yesterday, on the bus, this guy already sitting there, upon seeing me embark, told me to come over, and started his story: "I'm in a little bit of a situation here, you see, I've spent all my money, and I need to get home and blablabla (I zoned out at that point), and there's this shampoo I bought..." I told him that if he was asking for money, I don't have any to spare right now, sorry. The problem is this. I lied.

Of course its easy to say that being an international student I'm on a tight budget. But the thing is, if I can spend money on games, I can definitely spare some money to help someone in need, right? You could say that he was just looking to get some easy money anyway. But I say this. If he was desperate enough to resort to these kind of methods to get money, he definitely was in need of some money. You won't get a business executive who has more than enough money resorting to these tactics. Thus, was it right for me to lie to him?

My conscience is telling me, No.

What would you do?


changyang1230 said...

Ka Lip blogged about the same issue last time: Link

I have always said I have no change when I met people asking for it in Melbourne.

Lying isn't a virtue; but if you don't feel like giving money to them but is unable to bring yourself to saying "I have change but I'm not willing / can't afford to give it to you / I think you are lying" - then telling a white lie might be a good alternative. In any case, the end is the same (you keep your money, they don't get anything) without hurting anyone, and that person is going to forget about you and do the same trick on another pedestrian anyway.

The next time they ask you to show your wallet, I reckon you should ask them to show his/her wallet/purse/bag FIRST. Since when is it an obligation for a donor to display what he has got in his wallet?

If they really don't have any money (or is good at hiding what they have), then at least you feel better about helping them. If they run away or refuse to let you see, then just walk away and move on. They are not being open, then why should we bother?

I guess if you feel reluctant but your "conscience" gets the better of you, as long as you feel good about it in the end then it should be okay. But as far as Melbourne's change asking is concerned, I usually just say no and move on - just how many of them do you think really have no money or have lost their wallets? The right thing to do in such case is to lodge a report in police station, or to call up family or friends (it's 40c for God's sake) for help; instead of asking random strangers for coins or even notes.

In my humble opinion, an alternative perspective to look at this is, the more we "help" these people, the more we are helping to breed unhealthy culture - I suspect the money they got from us goes mostly to partying etc eventually. Even if it's not for parties, it's still not the right way to earn money. It's from such perspective that I convince myself it's not worth "helping" them.

changyang1230 said...

By the way, what I said is specifically regarding young, healthy looking teenagers or kids. I do donate to others if they seem to be really in need.

EdmondLee said...

In malaysia, just ignore them and give no eyes contact. If you want to be polite, say no thanks and still most importantly, no eye contact. In the uk, i'll just ask them to f*ck off. Everyone does so.
Better to donate to organisations like Blind artists, CHIZHI, spastic through newspapers. Those money goes directly to the benefactors, without some of the moeny ending up as commissions for the "sales" person

JIAN said...

If them people are Aboriginals then screw 'em. They use it to go sniff glue.

crushedguava said...

The issue I have here is how do I reply without feeling bad about myself. Lol.

Ka Lip said...

"ME NO SPEAK ENGRISH!" and run!!


1) Nobody needs a 'daily' ticket to get home. 2hour will do, so $5 at most

2) Offer to buy the bottle of shampoo

3) Look at the clothes they're wearing. If they're in rags...well..you know...

The problem is, there are people that lie, and people that don't..so it's hard to differentiate sometimes. I remember there was once, when I was getting on the train, this guy had gotten off at the same door. Then I saw a wallet on his seat, opened it quickly to look at the ID, went back to the door and flung it at him as he was turning back lol

PS: I've accustomed myself to saying "Sorry no" as soon as I hear "Excuse me..do you have.." *guiltless* If I wanted to do charity work, I'd donate to an actual organization

crushedguava said...

yes and you know what time he bought that damn daily ticket?

chYn said...

omg u're being way too nice!!!

hahahaah..usually i have this "i have no money" or "u come near me U DIE" kind of face so they dun usually come to me so I seldom get such disturbances. I guess after staying in the city for a bit you start to recognise zee people asking for money . Hmm..a way to not make you feel guilty is that iF u supply them with money, they'll probably end up buying cheap alcohol? Drugs? More drugs? So u shld do them good by not fueling such behaviours.

There was once this guy was boasting about his earnings by merely asking for $2 coins on a tram/train de whole day he could earn around $200.

and if they have hands and legs, i dun see why they cant get a job.

changyang1230 said...

Someone mentioned this issue again: