It seems to always happen to us – and it’s always the same reason – that Singaporeans are a generous lot. However, isn’t it strange that Singaporeans can be termed as ungracious and yet kind and generous? Well, they may not be mutually exclusive but still, it almost seemed oxymoronic.

Having a fever. Will write more tomorrow.

HE SITS hunched on the floor just outside the Tampines bus interchange during the evening rush hour, one good leg tucked under his body and the other amputated limb sticking out for passers-by to see.

He never looks up but bows continuously as people drop dollar bills and coins into his shoe, which he has removed to use as a begging bowl.

Every now and then, he empties the notes and coins into his backpack. When the evening crowd starts to thin, the beggar drags himself to a nearby pillar. Hidden by the pillar, he fishes out a prosthetic leg from his bag and puts it on.

With a barely discernible limp, he walks to the Tampines MRT station.

Over the past few weeks, The Sunday Times has found at least eight amputee beggars from China at MRT stations and bus interchanges.

These ‘professional’ beggars ‘work” only during the morning and evening peak hours. Some are missing arms; others legs. Two use wheelchairs.

They all stay at budget hotels in the Geylang and Aljunied areas. At one hotel in Geylang Lorong 15, there were at least four amputee beggars staying there.

Some of the beggars are accompanied by able-bodied men who act as their ‘minders’ – they keep watch from a distance while the amputees beg. Two beggars were seen handing over their money to their ‘minders”.

According to an employee at the hotel in Aljunied, there have been China handicapped beggars staying there since December last year.

The current batch of four amputees has been there for two weeks. Two share their rooms with their able-bodied ‘minders’. The room rate is $50 a night, payable every day. The beggars pay in cash.

The beggars seldom leave the hotels, even for meals. Two ‘minders’ were seen on occasion entering the hotels with food packets.

The hotel employee also said the beggars’ only visitors have been men who drove a car with a Malaysian licence plate.

The Sunday Times staked out two hotels in Geylang and trailed six beggars over three days to suss out their routine.

The beggars leave as early as 5.30am to catch the morning office crowd. They walk to the Aljunied MRT station and from there, take the train to various MRT stations in the east such as Bedok, Eunos, Paya Lebar and Tampines. Most use ez-link cards.

Although the beggars know one another, they always travel and work alone. Outside the hotel, they do not talk to one another.

At about 9am, they return to the hotel to rest. They set out again at about 3.30pm to catch the evening office crowd, returning around 8pm.

All of them carry mobile phones and would make a call or send SMSes before calling it a day and heading back to their hotels.

Most of those observed would beg for between two and four hours at one place. They usually stay put at one location, although some would go to as many as three places.

The beggars have the same modus operandi – they keep their heads bowed and whisper ‘xie xie” (thank you in Chinese) to people who give them money.

Some wave their upper stumps at passers-by and all take care to empty their begging bowls periodically so that the bowls are never filled with money.

They beg non-stop, never stopping for meals or toilet breaks.

Their method seems to work. People donate generously. In particularly crowded locations such as Tampines, the beggars get as many as 15 donors in five minutes. Most people give at least $2 each. Schoolchildren empty their purses to donate. In an hour, one beggar can easily collect more than $50.

Under the law, habitual beggars – those who have at least two previous begging records – can be fined up to $3,000 and jailed for up to two years.

Last year, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) picked up 68 beggars, about 40 of whom were foreigners.

Foreign beggars will be deported. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said it keeps a record of the beggars’ particulars and fingerprints.

ICA spokesman Lim Jing Jing said: ‘So even if they were to try to re-enter Singapore using a different passport, they may not be successful.’

One beggar staying at the Geylang Lorong 15 hotel said he does not dare to beg for too long at a stretch because he was worried about being picked up by the police.

Another beggar at the same hotel insisted that he was a tourist. When told that The Sunday Times has pictures of him begging, he said in Mandarin: ‘There’s nothing much to do in the city anyway. So I beg.”

The beggars are extremely cautious and are constantly looking around to check if they are being watched or followed.

They will take different routes when walking back to the hotel from the Aljunied MRT station, even if this means having to walk a longer distance.

One beggar who suspected that he was being tailed by The Sunday Times got off the train and boarded a taxi. Another beggar, in a wheelchair, stayed inside the Aljunied MRT station when he spotted a reporter outside. A third one did not board two trains just to ascertain whether he was being followed.

The organised begging drew loud cries of indignation from Singaporeans.

Housewife Sandy Soh, 42, would give $2 to the ‘helpless’ one-legged beggar at the Tampines bus interchange whenever she sees him.

But when she learnt that he hides his prosthetic leg from passers-by and is part of a larger group who comes to Singapore to beg, she said: ‘I didn’t know he had a prosthetic leg. Those things are expensive! I could have bought myself a nice blouse with all the money I gave him.’

Mr Mohamad Nizam, 28 and unemployed, gave $5 to a one-legged beggar last Friday. He said of these ‘professional” beggars from China: ‘They are cheating the feelings of Singaporeans!’

Mr Leo Chen Ian, president of the Disabled People’s Association (DPA), said the amputee beggars tarnish the image of disabled people. ‘What they are doing – capitalising on people’s sympathy – is quite lowly.’

One beauty salon assistant in Eunos has stopped giving money to beggars after an encounter with an amputee beggar stationed outside her salon.

She had given him $10. ‘A few minutes later, he walked into the sushi restaurant next door and had dinner there,’ she said.

But other Singaporeans are not too troubled by the thought that the amputees are professional beggars. Executive Steven Lee, 30, who gave $5 to a one-legged beggar in Tampines last Friday, said: ‘Life has been cruel to them. Even if they have syndicate links, I’ll still give.’

Additional reporting by Mavis Toh, Chen Meiyue, Alex Liam and Samantha Eng

Article obtained from on 3rd February 2008

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