the charitable skeptic

last night while walking home, a short, middle-aged caucasian man approached my friend CY and i and asked if we could help him get to subic in zambales, and i immediately adjusted my accent to give him instructions to the bus station, but he cut me short and explained, rather quickly, that he had been robbed near the university of the east and lost all his money including over 170 dollars and a few thousand pesos. he reached into his pocket and showed us that he had a fistful of coins, and that was all he had he said, and he had until 11:30PM to raise enough funds for the bus ticket home. i was skeptical of his situation and said that i didn't have money on me, which was true, although if i had i probably would have said the same thing. but my friend CY believed him, his disheveled, forlorn, stressed look and forked over a rather substantial amount, enough to get him very near subic, and he waltzed away saying god bless us.

one of my greatest fears is losing money in a foreign country. it is particularly true for me because i like to travel solo. if i'm robbed of my wallet or even my passport, i would probably freak out, break down, and cry myself into a wet mess. so that is why i'm extremely careful when i travel. which is not the same as when i think i'm safe in a place where i am familiar with everything: i've lost a wallet to a pickpocket, lost some cards due to carelessness, and generally forget about things on my person. a swedish friend once visited the philippines many years ago and lost it all: wallet, passport, credit cards. a filipino working abroad who found his stuff in the airport actually offered to return it but said that he was already in pampanga and humbly asked if he could be at least reimbursed the cost of transportation: he wasn't interested in a payoff really, but my friend decided to just go through the trouble of having everything replaced, including the passport. he was also skeptical, i guess. at least he has an efficient and very helpful embassy.

i am also reminded of this usual scene i see on the sidewalk near the corner of paseo de roxas and gil puyat. there's a homeless white guy there. it's pretty odd to see a foreigner in such dire straits in a country of dire circumstances. white has often been the color of privilege, the shade of money. they don't get dirty. they have a roof over their heads. they have airconditioning. and yet there's this poor white guy sleeping on a piece of cardboard looking up at the makati sky.

so i can imagine the white guy's situation. assuming it were true. the thing is, this is a scam: an elaborate, deceitful way of begging. i say elaborate because it requires a believable script that needs to be told and retold. deceitful because their situation cannot compare to other beggars who probably and genuinely need the money. when i first worked in makati as a summer intern at sycip salazar, a mother and child approached me and said that they'd been left without money in makati and had to quickly return to bulacan. i was so affected by the tone of her voice that i gave her and her daughter enough money to get home. until i was approached some months later by another mother and child with the same sad story: left behind, no money, a need to get home. in the years i've worked and lived in makati, i've been approached about 10 times. got fooled once, but not again. this novel way of getting money apparently knows no color or language: pity is a universal emotion, and when said with enough emotional conviction, you could actually convince people.

CY in fact said that when he went to shanghai, a very well-dressed couple asked him to assist them to get home to their province. they'd been robbed as well, handed him a business card, asked where he stayed, promising that they'd pay him the following day. being the good man that he is, he gave money enough for a bus ride. the couple said that no buses were available at the time so they needed to take a taxi so CY said: ok, give me back the money and i'll give you more. when they returned it, he walked away.

this is why i have lost faith in acts of charity. i admit that sometimes, walking the streets of manila and finding the poor and downtrodden languishing in its dirty streets, soot covering their bodies, flies hovering over their open sores, hunger thinning their arms, i feel a lump in my throat, and i truly want to help. but i prefer not to give money. some of us give money to charity because we believe that it's something we, who are more privileged, must do. i'm generous in my own way, selfless in some odd fashion, but i prefer my acts of charity to be less traditional.