THE BEG-PACKER PROBLEM
Some sell postcards, some busk and other sit cross-legged begging, often in countries where income is extremely low, and people live under the poverty line, and now they’ve found their way to Hong Kong. Dubbed as ‘Beg-packers’, the word is used to describe western tourists who beg on the streets of Asia to get money to fund their holidays.
In an age dominated by social media, travel to foreign countries is high on the list of shared Instagram posts, now it seems a few travellers have decided to jet-set despite not having the means to do so. And it’s not just the youth that are pulling the ‘help fund my travel’ card, recent sightings in Hong Kong place two women in their 50’s along a roadside asking for handouts. An account on Hong Kong Moms details a couple who shamefully hid their signs when photographed, seemingly aware of critics online.
You can spot them along Wanchai elevated footbridge, outside central station and in Mong Kok nowadays, some of the same spots where you would find the elderly and crippled begging for their next meal. These travellers often sell stories of misfortune with their cardboard signs – lost wallets, missing or misplaced plane ticket and while some say you shouldn’t be quick to judge them it’s hard to imagine that their embassies would turn them away if they were truly stranded. One Twitter user recently tweeting “Seen several, usually saying ‘run out of funds, need money to continue my travels’. One was sighted later in Wan Chai at a bar”
Whilst some netizens are quick to defend the beg-packers, citing that as long as their busking or selling something, they are at least adding some value. Others argue that locals shouldn’t be footing a tourist’s bill. The ethical implications are clear: Why intentionally travel to another country without the financial means to support yourself? Not only does it guarantee a drain on the local economy but comes off as distasteful and extremely entitled.
The Thai government, having seen a massive spike in tourists begging in recent years have implemented strict policies to prevent beg-packers from entering the country. Tourists are now being asked to show that they have at least 20,000 baht (5300 HKD) in cash before they’re allowed entry into Thailand.
Louisa, who spoke to Observers France 24, is a Malaysian woman who studied political economics and gender studies. She says behaviour like this shows the imbalance that still exists between the Western world and former colonies in Asia.
“I think that this kind of behaviour shows how many people still look at the world with an orientalist view. They see Asia as an exotic place of spiritual discovery. This turns our continent into a caricature, a mystical land full of adventures or, in other words, a playground for white people. People come here on a journey of self-discovery, eager for exotic experiences. Sometimes, I want to ask them: what makes you think that this kind of behaviour is normal in Asia? Why don’t you do the same thing at home?
Unfortunately, there is still discrimination and racism directed at people who aren’t white, while white people are worshipped. It’s a colonial legacy. These begging tourists would have been treated completely differently if they weren’t white — proof lies in the way we treat non-white migrants here.
If we think about it in terms of fairness, and particularly now when everyone is talking about immigration policies, I think it’s crazy that governments in the global north are so strict towards foreigners and demand that migrants contribute to the local economy, while all the while, their own citizens can travel anywhere they want to without having any economic requirement.
This phenomenon just highlights the fact that the tourist industry in the global south is highly problematic and contributes to the myth of the “good savage”, this person of colour who is gentle and well-meaning, but poor and ignorant, and whose only goal is to serve the white man and welcome him to his country.”
What do you think? We’re curious to know. For us at Home Kong, we say travel is not only a luxury but a lifestyle choice, so do it at your own damn expense.