Read this on Straits Times today, about fake monks:

A FOUR-STOREY motel smack in the red light district of Geylang has been the hideaway for groups of bogus monks and nuns who make their way from northern Thailand in and out of Singapore for quick pickings.
Numbering as many as 100, they take refuge in Lorong 28 in Geylang, venturing out in the mornings for their ‘alms’ rounds.

At any one time, there could be 20 or 30 of them. Last week, there were about 50 of them.

They are Thais on social visit passes who use the guise of religious robes to prey on the sensibilities of HDB heartlanders. The scam has been going on for at least two years.

The whole group made a quick exit on Friday afternoon, after police came sniffing around their lodgings the night before.

In twos and threes, they lugged their backpacks and trolley bags onto taxis and made their way to Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road.

After exchanging Singapore currency for Thai baht, they boarded coaches headed for Johor Baru, herded by a Thai man who appeared to be in charge of the logistics.

‘I am scared I’ll get arrested,’ said a 21-year-old who readily admitted that he was no monk. ‘If I am thrown in jail, I will have no future,’ he said, adding that he was harbouring hopes of returning as a construction worker.

Under the Miscellaneous Offences Act, anyone who collects alms or solicits charitable contributions under false pretences can be fined up to $2,000 or jailed up to three months, or both.

A police spokesman said they had conducted checks at the lodging house in Geylang but ‘did not note any offence’. ‘The occupants were advised that begging for money without a licence is an offence in Singapore.’

Speaking through an interpreter, the fake monk said he was on his third masquerade in Singapore.

The objective: To collect as much money as he could on his alms-begging rounds before his social visit pass expired.

The farmer from Khon Kaen was here for only five days before the police came. His collection: about $30 to $40 a day, far less than what an aggressive monk could get, he said.

‘Last time, we used to earn more. Now, there are too many of us,’ he lamented.

The Sunday Times team discovered the presence of the group after tailing a monk who was at a popular hawker centre in Bedok North last Sunday.

Barefoot and clad in earthy yellow robes, the bald man was moving around the tables silently with a wooden bowl in hand.

Some patrons parted with coins and small notes, and were rewarded with a reverent bow.

The tall and gaunt monk ended up at the nameless four-storey building in Lorong 28, Geylang, which is shielded from the road by a cardboard wall mounted at the gate.

Sunday Times checks showed the group had taken 12 rooms in all, occupying the third and fourth floors. The first two floors are rooms for rent by the hour.

Neighbouring shopkeepers know of their presence, but declined to say more beyond that ‘they are always around’.

The bogus monks were reticent when approached but from what those who spoke let slip, whoever pulled the strings ran a well-oiled operation.

The men and women head straight for the motel when they arrive in Singapore.

Armed with their own novice religious robes, they pay the motel $10 a night for accommodation.

On the first few days, a Thai man takes them in hand, showing them how to take a bus to various hawker centres. At the end of three days, they are to pay the ‘guide’ 10,000 baht or $483.

They are then left on their own to collect what money they can.

The Venerable Phramaha Rian Manone-Yang, honorary-secretary of the Thai Buddhist Temple in Singapore, said these fake monks operate in syndicates which are based in Johor and Hatyai in southern Thailand.

The gang leaders work closely with their partners in Singapore, who pocket 30 per cent of their collections, he added.

The monk, who is based in a temple in Jalan Bukit Merah, said he knows of a fake monk who admitted that he made about $800 in a day.

‘They do not just ask for money, they also sell fake Buddhist amulets for as much as $50.’

The Venerable Manone-Yang said real monks asked for only food, not money. And they can do this only between 6am and 8am.

The Geylang ‘monks’ and ‘nuns’ have a ritual, as a Sunday Times stake-out outside the motel showed.

The lights on their floors come on at about 5am.

Half an hour later, the men, with shaven heads, barefoot and in saffron robes of varying shades of red, orange or brown, and white-robed women with their hair bunned up at the back of the head, start streaming out singly or in pairs.

They catch a bus along Guillemard Road, Sims Avenue and Geylang Road, fanning out to the HDB heartland of Marine Parade, Bedok and Tampines. They pay for their bus fares with coins.

On their begging rounds, they do not utter a word, merely holding out a wooden alms bowl in front of them.

Retiree Choo Kian Watt, 66, who has breakfast regularly at a coffee shop in Bedok North Road, sees them often.

‘I used to give a dollar or two, but since I stopped working, I give less frequently now,’ said the former odd-job labourer.

‘I never doubted if they were real or not. I give when I’m in a good mood.’

By noon, most of the men are back at the motel. They usually head straight for a woman in the lobby, overturn their alms bowls and exchange their coins for notes.

Some of the ‘monks’ said the woman takes $1 for every $50 worth of coins.

Then it is back up to their rooms and into casual wear – T-shirts and bermudas.

Their robes are tossed casually over the staircase railings.

Clearly worried about being spotted as ‘monks’, they leave the motel singly when they go out for lunch – caps on heads and even wigs for some. They end up at a coffee shop several lanes away.

The more hardworking ‘monks’ do a second round in the afternoon. As for the ‘nuns’, they return only in the evening, with packets of food – never venturing out again until the next morning.

One ‘monk’ said: ‘We are told not to go anywhere but back to the room. We’re scared that people who have donated money to us will see us,’ he said.

Some, though, are more adventurous. The Sunday Times tailed a pair to a Thai pub in Geylang and even spotted one ‘monk’ with a woman friend.

Their masquerade came to an abrupt end when police, tipped off by The Sunday Times, decided to check on them to see if their passports were in order.

By lunchtime the next day, they were packed up and ready to leave. Scuttling out of the building, one ‘monk’ told The Sunday Times that they had been ‘forced to quit’.

When confronted, the woman who appears to be running the motel denied that there were monks staying there. Her male friend said the Thais in the motel were merely looking for their friends.

Then the duo refused to take further questions and scurried back into the building. Soon after, taxis with ‘on call’ signs showed up, to take the remaining Thais away.

Before his coach departed Beach Road, one of the ‘monks’ said: ‘We know people will give to monks. We know it’s wrong but we need the money.’

With that, he went up the bus, sat down and waved goodbye with a smile.

Like many others, I am wondering why the authorities are not doing anything about it – selling fake amulets, feeding on the kindness of Singaporeans, acting dumb and all – and it’s not just the fake monks that I am talking about. Remember the people who pretend to be dumb and deaf at McDonalds, Starbucks or Coffee Bean selling keychains and fluffy toys? I really hope they will stop doing it. I am running out of sympathy for people and I am starting to think that everyone else who is dumb and deaf are fakies.

Moreover, I am starting to suspect that these ang mos are really backpackers who are low on funds and got ear of Singaporean’s kindness and start treating us like idiots. Has anyone tried tailing them to find out who they really are? I hope they get exposed soon.

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