Saffron swindle

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


Please don't judge me, brothers and sisters, if you see me acting in an unenlightened manner towards what appears to be a Buddhist monk late at night in Central.

You shouldn't need to use your third eye to see that it's not really a monk. It's just some dude from Guangdong who heard that if he got a buzz-cut, put on a saffron robe and walked around SoHo carrying a brass bowl, drunken foreigners would fall over themselves to fill it with cash.

I've been finding it increasingly difficult to maintain my usual Zen calm when I see these ascetic impostors approach groups of gullible gweilos. 'Real monks don't beg for money,' I yell out sometimes, but the suits milling around Staunton Street don't seem to care: HK$20 is usually enough to see off the grinning charlatan who's been hovering about and banging his bowl for five minutes.

Foreigners have been falling prey to various scams for as long as they've been living on this barren rock. When I arrived in the 1990s, it was well-dressed Indian gentlemen telling tourists they had 'a lucky face'. I never stuck around long enough to find out what that particular racket involved, but it's obvious what's going on with these mainland visitors on two-way permits masquerading as monks.

Hong Kong's Buddhist Association told me that while monks were discouraged from collecting money for personal use - to help them 'lead simple lives' - it was acceptable for them to raise funds if the aim was to 'serve society'. Do these guys look like they're serving society? No. They look like they simply snuck away from a tour group at Golden Bauhinia Square, threw on a robe and headed to SoHo to top up their spending money.

It's obvious they don't know much about Buddhism, either. After he attained nirvana, the Buddha's first teachings were the 'four noble truths', which explain that life itself is suffering, and this suffering is caused by our desire for transient things such as money. I'm praying that karma does its thing and these impostors are reincarnated as suitably low creatures in their next lives.