Expats outraged as American man begs on Saigon streets

By Nguyen Quy, Van Khuong   October 30, 2018 | 12:52 am PT
A foreigner who’s survived a year begging on Saigon streets has angered expats and locals. Is beg-packing a growing trend?

Tim Bennett is an angry man, and he is not alone.

Bennett, a retail store owner, recently shared on his Facebook page a video clip of a young white man standing in a Saigon street corner, holding a sign in Vietnamese that says he needs money.

The beggar, who unconfirmed reports say is Tim Stile from New York, has apparently begged on Saigon streets for over a year.

Bennett wrote in his Facebook post that he and his wife has seen the beggar wander around Saigon streets for a year now.

The man has apparently gained sympathy from locals and foreign tourists by saying that he has lost his personal identification papers and money while traveling in the country and cannot afford a trip back home.

Some Vietnamese people have said that they’ve given him some money and/or food, only to see him beg again. While one remarked without anger that someone who can manage to get a sign done in Vietnamese should also be able to approach his country’s embassy or consulate for help, another has slammed it as a disgrace.

It has been reported that when some passers-by suggested that they take him to the U.S. Consulate General’s office in Ho Chi Minh City to seek support, he’s refused the offer and turned away.

"I told everyone that next time I saw this, I was going to pull over and stop it. Scumbag tourist begging for money in a poor country like Vietnam. Not gonna happen,” Bennet fumed in his post on October 24.

The video has attracted thousands of views and elicited a storm of negative responses, mainly among the expat community who find it “shameful and unacceptable.”

They felt this man was undermining the image of international tourists in the eyes of Vietnamese people.

“These people are such an embarrassment to the Westerners in this country. If you really needed the money, you can do anyone of the occupations that the millions of poor here do. He can go around and pick up plastic or whatever. I hate young rich beggars,” commented Facebook user James Wolf.

Another one, Verity Popovic, remarked ironically: “Got money to use internet to google translate a sign, but not enough money to google ‘embassy’ or search for a job.”

Several expats say the man has begged on Dien Bien Phu and Le Lai streets over the past year but refused support from the consulate. They have warned people that he is a dupe.

Debate, speculation

Beg-packing, mainly by Western visitors, has been a much-discussed topic in other Southeast Asian countries with strong tourism sectors, like Thailand and Singapore.

While some have sympathized with or remained neutral about people wanting to “travel the world for free”  as an unconventional approach, others have argued that it takes unfair advantage of people in poorer countries where overseas travel is a luxury.

Last year, the photo of a Russian woman in a meditation posture next to a pot and a sign asking for money in Vietnam’s southern Phu Quoc Island went viral on social media.

A Facebook photo shows a Russian woman sitting on a sidewalk in Phu Quoc with a pot to receive money.

A Facebook photo shows a Russian woman sitting on a sidewalk in Phu Quoc with a pot to receive money.

Reports said the woman had toured through Cambodia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, spending nights in parks or jungles and begging for money during the day to pay for food and other goods before reaching in Vietnam.

In March last year, infamous German beggar Benjamin Holst was back in Saigon, with locals sharing photos of him begging for money on the street even as he published posts from beer shops and fancy restaurants, spending the money others gave him.

While the city was lenient, other countries got tough. In September 2014, he was deported and banned from returning to Thailand. Other countries in the region have thrown him out, too.

A Finnish man also faced online backlash in November last year after scores of locals and expats called him a fraud for carrying a sign asking for money on many streets in Saigon, but declined help from his consulate.

Between January and May this year, 33 foreigners have been caught begging in HCMC, according to the city's labor department. So far, the authorities have not taken tough measures against these people, only contacting respective consulates and requesting that they are sent back home.

The Thai government has issued a regulation requiring foreign tourists to prove their financial capacity before visiting the country in a bid to curb the beg-packing phenomenon.

Whether this assumes greater proportions or remains a fringe problem as countries look to attract more and more tourists remains to be seen.

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