Bogus monks' nightly pub crawl with begging bowls

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 5:02am

Working in pairs, bogus Buddhist monks do the rounds of Hong Kong's pubs and clubs, night after night.

In Lan Kwai Fong on Friday, a monk dressed in an orange robe was seen begging for alms by tapping men on the shoulder. He avoided women, the man, who gave his name as Tan, told the Sunday Morning Post.

Another monk, dressed in grey, approached two women but they shrugged him off and walked away.

Speaking in Mandarin, Tan said he was 53 years old and came from Jingzhou in the central province of Hubei. He carried a wooden bowl with a 20-dollar bill inside, and wore several wooden beaded bracelets on each wrist.

He claimed to have been the manager of a food company on the mainland that went bust. His wife ran off with a rich man, he said, and to get over this trauma and help him survive, he became a monk.

When asked if that was why he had to beg, he responded: "Life in China is tough. If I wasn't a monk, I would have to get a job."

Tan said it was his first time out of the mainland. He was stopping over in Hong Kong for three days, he said - although he had been observed begging for money and selling bracelets in Lan Kwai Fong for the last three weeks - before continuing on his journey to Malaysia, where he planned to visit his "master".

At the end of the conversation, Tan took out an embroidered file from his satchel and opened it to show a certificate, bearing his name and photograph, that purportedly proved he was a monk. The certificate seemed to be of bad quality and did not look professionally printed.

Martin Cheung, chief executive of the Buddhist Association, said he hoped the public would not be fooled by bogus monks.

Cheung explained that in Buddhism, lay believers gave alms to show respect to a monk or nun.

"However, the opportunity to accumulate merit by [obtaining] money should not be accepted," he said. "In Mahayana Buddhism [popular in China and North Asia], almsgiving is seldom practised."