The Tramp and I

I hurried round his head
As though he’s already dead.
I steered clear of his feet,
The filthiest of the street.

Should I help myself to think
Of reasons for his bilious stink?
Should I care to wonder why
The slob gave not real work a try?

Should I in my pocket delve
And exchange penance for myself?
Should I anticipate his thanks
As the penny dropped and clanked?

In a huff I left the tramp
To the mercy of food stamp,
And swore not to look again
At that eyesore by the drain.


Colin Lee


There are two ways to interpret this poem. At first glance, I hope the speaker’s indifference did make your blood boil – a sign of seemly sensibility, even to one as autistic as me. But then, I hope I don’t get guillotined by saying that such a depressing scene and internal rhetoric might not be unfamiliar amongst us who stream down the streets of China on a daily basis.

Apart from the trafficked scamps who are brutally mutilated to maximise their slavemasters’ profits, another perverse phenomenon on our pavements is the growing sector of professional panhandling. With a little market analysis prepped in advance, these masters of the craft can quite restfully make at least 400 RMB a day, which is more than twice the country’s average wage of about 185 RMB – mind I said, the average wage, not the minimum wage. The social prescription of the glorious poor and guilty rich, though long expired, has reincarnated in the 21st century through the beggars’ success stories, involving luxurious bling, fine dinners and homeownership.

Of course, with the Gini Index still hovering over 0.46, the genuine needy are far from shortage. However, since they share the same streets with their professional confrères, and possibly often outcompeted by the latter, I’m sure you can see how it traps an average charitable soul (earning a finite average wage, mind you) in sheer dilemma.

2017.09.07 The Tramp and I - Prof Beggar.jpg

p.s. Sharing this with dVerse for the week’s Open Link Night.

Photo Courtesy: & Baidu

20 thoughts on “The Tramp and I

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  1. Many thoughts will flood my head when I drive or walk past homeless people on the street. In fact, I encounter all of these questions when facing beggars and- as ashamed as I am to admit this- will simply continue walking past them in hopes of avoiding these questions, in hopes of not having to answer them right away.

    Thanks for sharing. Brilliant as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, the irony, Colin! Awesome! We are inundated with panhandlers with union cards (most of them have fled to safety in limousines). Your poem presents the dilemma of the soft-hearted. I have a problem with faux veterans, wheel chair occupants who miraculously take up their pallets and walk at quitting time, beggars with high-end cell phones, LeBron shoes, and personal managers who collect the ill-gotten booty. Cynical me… I refuse to contribute to someone who makes more than I do, and doesn’t declare their earnings. The last time I offered to buy a lunch for one stationed in front of a McD’s, I was told to Eff off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regardless of the bummer, that’s very kind of you, Charley. Sorry to hear how that turned out. I suppose some of these twisted mentalities are universal and manifest via a variety of forms, from cheating of social benefits to exploitation on NGO fundings. I remember how one Parisian street sleeper, a dog-owner too, indignantly threw my friend’s well-meaning offer away; I’m glad we didn’t understand a word of french with which he barked at us.

      In contrary to the pros who wear intentionally soiled appearances, I find many genuinely homeless maintain a keen sense of self-esteem and a decent level of cleanliness. In Hong Kong, many of them spend their nights in McD, posing as everyday diners. Only when I see one unobtrusively roaming from one table to another in search of leftovers would I be able to tell the difference and duly buy him a breakfast.

      Earlier this year, Carrie Lam, then campaigning for CE (HK’s governor), whose dainty feet have hardly trodden on our streets, offered an elderly beggar a HK$500 tip for press coverage’s sake. While our minimum hourly wage is HK$34.5, the PR flop owed little to Lam’s excessive charity but the fact that its lucky recipient was clearly a Mandarin-speaking expat of professional panhandling from the Mainland. Thanks to Lam, who now runs our government, the complex economic relationship between HK and the motherland couldn’t be explained better by her real-life allegory.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Who could not have passed the homeless and not have these thoughts cross one’s mind? In poor countries, the numbers can be multiplied by orders of magnitude to similar peoples in wealthier ones. A truly sad reminder of our collective inability to reach out and pull up those in need. Yet many of us unconscionably blame the less fortunate. Thanks for writing with such eloquence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A truly excellent write. We have professional beggars here as well. Standing on median strips hold sad little pieces of cardboard with ourposely scribble sentiments…help need food…god bless you give money…that sort of thing. I’ve watched them changing shifts with each other and climbing into nice cars, suv’s…talking on their high end cell phones, some of them with a happy dog tied with a purposely frayed rope. The faux vets, the wheelchair people…bah. i got to several shelters during the month to cook and serve the real poor, thevreal psycho and homeless vets, the children. It is a dilemma but one quicly learns the real poor, tge real homeless from the lazy. Our church has several programs in which we feed vetted poor, children…give school suplies to, feed, find jobs for. Yes, most of the real poor want a job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great, Toni sensei. Your reward will be great in Heaven. And I agree with what you said and did, as one must see the real needy to be able to discern. Thank you for sharing!


  5. I have to distinguish between professional beggars and those who really need help. I don’t approve of giving alms but instead giving them my treat or smiles or something of value in return. What is sad is that some of them have actually a place to stay (shelter homes with bed and homes) but because of drug addiction or some other addiction, they live and beg on the streets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for hosting, Grace. While greed and deceit are the common roots, addiction isn’t a huge problem in China. Many of these pros are helpless-looking elderly people (as shown in the pictures) who probably have a home and some land back in their rural province but decide to exploit the charity of the urban folks. And for a population this big and concentrated, the maths add up and exceed average wages, let alone the doles. A very twisted economic situation which is opened for all to see, yet the innocent Chinese keep spoiling these phoneys and keep the industry thriving. 😦


  6. Having lived in India where the demands of beggars are common, also children, I know it is never easy. Having lived in Vancouver where every street corner held an outstretched hand, I found it even harder because in the developed world we should not see it, but we do.

    Choose not to give without guilt or give freely with joy and no expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well said, Ma’am. That final axiom you wrote sums up everything (and beyond) as to what I tried to express with “exchange penance” and “anticipate his thanks”. Thanks for your sharing and for dropping by!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Every time I pass by beggars. I always give them money or I buy them something to eat. To me, money is nothing to me. I don’t care for it, and even if I’m flat broke…still I made a difference and helped someone out. I believe in karma and in life helping those who need it, you will receive good karma in the end.

    I felt sad as I read the description. It breaks my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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