Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pho Tay, street beggars of Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital and the second-largest city in Vietnam so it is the home to beggars from all corners of the country. However, many of them are disguised beggars, who are an annoyance for tourists.

A beggar at a pagoda in Hanoi.

The number of beggars is rising quickly and they mainly gather at tourist sites such as the streets which offer services for foreign tourists, pagodas and temples.

More beggars “work” on streets which are called “Pho Tay” (streets of foreigners) in Hanoi, namely Trang Tien, Dinh Tien Hoang, Hai Ba Trung and Ly Thuong Kiet.

Apart from real beggars, who suffer from difficult circumstances, such as the elderly, orphans and the disabled, many healthy and ordinary people disguise themselves to ask for money from others.

Nguyen Thi Lan, who runs a pho restaurant on Hai Ba Trung street, complained: “Dozens of beggars visit my restaurant each day to ask for money from my customers. My customers have complained to me about this situation but I cannot cast beggars out. They look pitiable!”

Lan said once a disguised beggar who couldn’t get money from a customer cut his finger with a knife and threatened to drip his blood into the customer’s pho bowl. Loan had to give him some money. Since then, this beggar has come to her restaurant everyday.

On Trang Tien street, which attracts many foreign visitors, dozens of beggars “practice their job” with various “skills” and tricks. It is very common to see tens of kids surrounding foreign visitors there.

On the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake, foreign tourists are always pestered by beggars of all kinds.

A French tourist named Pitt, commented: “Hoan Kiem Lake is very beautiful. Hanoi is also wonderful but I’m dissatisfied because there are so many beggars. We are bothered everywhere. They are so impolite!”

Reporters of VnMedia online newspaper witnessed a blind old man and a little girl wandering on the pavement of Ly Thuong Kiet street, playing guitar and asking for money from walkers and customers at sidewalk cafes. Most people felt sorry for the man and his niece and gave him some money.

The reporters followed the blind man and they saw the “grandfather” and “niece” enjoying pho at a restaurant, also on Ly Thuong Kiet street. The man was no longer blind and tired.

Pagodas, temples and historical relics are also favourite places for beggars. On the 1st or the 15th day of lunar months or during festivals, pagodas and temples are full of beggars of all ages, all kinds. They follow and entreat visitors for money.

Mai Huong Lan, a visitor at Tram Gian pagoda in Hanoi, said: “I’m sad to see the pagoda’s retrogression and I’m annoyed by beggars. There are so many beggars. I feel sorry for them but I cannot give money to all of them!”

The local authorities have implemented many campaigns to deal with beggars but the situation has not improved.

In 2000, the city carried out a project at a cost of hundreds of million dong to gather beggars to send them home. However, after a few months at home, they returned to the city to work as beggars.

To welcome the 1000th Thang Long – Hanoi anniversary, the Hanoi authorities are focusing on a plan to gather beggars to send them home under a Hanoi People’s Committee decision dated July 26.
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