Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Hong Kong Mafia

Just a warning - this isn't a funny or light-hearted post.

I come from New York, where homeless people begging on the street usually fall into one of two (and sometimes both!) categories - mentally ill or addicted to drugs.  This isn't always the case, mind you, but 9 times out of 10 it's what you're dealing with.  Very rarely do you see one in a wheelchair or missing an appendage.

Now I live in Hong Kong where the only people who beg on the streets are severely disfigured - I'm talking multiple limbs missing, limbs growing out of places where they shouldn't be or a head so burned that the facial features have melted away.  It's pretty brutal and I've always stopped to give money because there's no way on earth these people can have normal jobs that sustain their living expenses.  Here's a picture I found online, which is taken at a place I have to walk by every time I go into Central (at least once a week):

For all you New Yorkers, this makes the lady who wore the trash bag on the corner of 57th & 6th look like June Cleaver, doesn't it? Along this walkway, I'll usually pass 2-3 of these folks.   It just breaks your heart.

A few months back, my American friend told me that these people are "lepers" and that they all live on a leper colony and begging is how they support themselves.  So I happily continued to give money when I walked by.

Just this week another friend tells me that these people "work" for the Triad, Hong Kong's mafia.  Like most mafia organizations the Triad is into counterfeiting, gambling, extortion and prostitution.  Now I come to find out that they also pimp out these poor disabled people and take virtually all the money given to them by people like me!

My friend also said that not only do they use already-disabled people, but they've also been known to hack off a limb or throw acid on someone to turn them into one of these beggars.  My friend advised me not giving them money anymore, but then I have to wonder what happens when they don't make their quota?!

My friend (who it's worth mentioning grew up in Hong Kong) also said "you should never fall asleep in a taxi in China" because you could become a Triad victim in some way.

Before everyone starts to panic, the Triad don't mess with tourists and expats - and they especially don't mess with white women.  Like most places around the globe, you can do a lot of things to a lot of people, but when you mess with a white woman, the wrath of God (and police and community and media) comes down on you.  I don't make the rules, I just observe them.

Anyway, I know I tend to cover more light-hearted topics, but this is part of my everyday life as I pass by these people every week.  It's disgusting what people can do to each other just to earn a buck - who raised these disgusting monsters?  The question now is do I continue to give them money?  I'm really torn...

PS - Oh and contrary to the "Only in HK" tag I've given this post, the Triad are well established in major cities around the world including NYC, Toronto and LA.

I Can See Clearly Now...

V and I spent Chinese New Year lounging by a pool in the Philippines for a long weekend.  (It was fabulous, thanks for asking.)  While poolside, spotted one of the funniest things ever - a Korean man wearing his reading glasses/spectacles...while swimming laps...underwater!

At first I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me (excuse the pun).  This man is doing the breast stroke and each time he comes up for air I think, "Is he wearing glasses?  No, it must be some new cool kind of goggles."  As he gets nearer, V goes, "That guy's swimming in his glasses!"  I had and still have lots of questions - how did they stay on? did they work underwater?  what's his aversion to goggles? - but more than anything I just cracked up!  I can understand wearing many things in the pool: Goggles - yes.  Sunglasses - maybe.  Reading glasses?!  Ummm...

And he wasn't alone!  We later saw three other people (all Korean) wearing glasses in the pool, all swimming underwater with their reading glasses perched on their noses. Given my recent America Bashing post, I will not lump all Koreans into the "wear glasses while swimming laps" category.  But, I will point out that no other nationalities - Chinese, British, Aussie, etc. wore their glasses in the pool.

(Sorry I have no photographic evidence to back up the story.  My trusty i-phone was in the hotel room.)  

Tai Tai Brownie Points

I've always had a black thumb.  Which is odd because my dad's side of the family can grow pumpkins and roses out of concrete.  I'm not sure why, but the green gene definitely skipped a generation.

Since being here I've managed to kill a mandarin orange plant (our first Chinese New Year), a large palm (until my helper Lyn nursed it back to life by watering it every day and shoving used tea bags in the soil?!), and many an orchid.  It's always a sad affair because I really like how plants and flowers look and smell.

With some friendly tips from Lyn (like misting orchid blossoms with a spray bottle daily) I've found myself the proud owner of two orchid plants that have sprouted new blossoms in the last few months!  These puppies were bald - and I wasn't convinced they'd ever sprout again, but now one plant alone has 18 - EIGHTEEN! - buds that are blooming or about to blossom!

I feel like I just should receive some tai tai merit badge or something.

Speaking of flowers, the coolest looking tree is blooming outside our building.  It has two-toned flowers - pink underneath and white on top.  I promise I'm not turning into some horticulturist, but you have to admit this is a cool tree.