WITH a cigarette in one hand and a smartphone in the other, a ‘beggar’ waited patiently for people to put money in his plastic cup as he sat on the road leading to the famous Thnee Kong Tnuah (Jade Emperor Pavilion) in Ayer Itam, Penang.
The 77-year-old man, who wished to be known only as Ming, said he had been joining the group of ‘festive beggars’ to ask for money and food from devotees over the past five years.
“I am here to join in the fun as I am single and do not have any family members.
“I came this afternoon and will be staying overnight here until Wednesday morning,” he said.
A devotee giving alms to beggars lining the staircase leading up to the Jade Emperor Pavilion during the celebration to mark the birthday of the Jade Emperor God.
He added that he could easily collect up to RM200 in the short time he was there.
“People usually give us money, food and drinks,” he said while receiving an ang pow from a devotee before she went up to the temple to pray.
Yeoh Phiak Hoon, who gave the ang pow to Ming, said she had been going to the temple every year and had been faithfully giving money to the beggars.
“I usually pack 100 ang pows with RM1 each to the beggars,” said the 59-year-old business owner.
A check with the residents nearby found that most of them have come to accept the fact that beggars would flock to the area during festive seasons.
A resident who wanted to be known only as Khoo said he respected the beggars as it was a yearly affair for them.
Beggars lining both sides of the road leading to the Thnee Kong Tnuah Temple also known as the Jade Emperor Pavilion in Ayer Itam, Penang.— Photos: LIM BENG TATT/The Star
“Although my compound may stink of urine and get littered with rubbish later, the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) workers will do a good job of cleaning up the area the next day,” he said while helping his friends from the Soo Kong Beow Temple who were at his house to pack food for the beggars.
A 50-year-old housewife said she once gave out noodles and bread to the beggars but was surprised to see them untouched the next day.
“I realised that the beggars only wanted money and some of them did not appreciate the food given to them.
“I once saw a beggar entering a taxi while wearing beautiful clothes after the celebration ended on the ninth day of the lunar calendar.
“I also see families here with young kids and I have been told that some of them purposely take off from work just to beg here,” she said.
At 3.30pm on Tuesday, Penang Social Welfare Department (JKM) officers visited the temple after getting reports that there were many beggars in the area.
Residents preparing packets of food to be distributed to beggars at Jalan Pokok Ceri near the Jade Emperor Pavilion in Ayer Itam, Penang.
According to Ayer Itam assemblyman Joseph Ng, beggars had been swarming this area since a long time during festive seasons.
“When the officers arrived, there were around 300 beggars including old people and young children.
“They later found out that many of the beggars were from other states and there were also some Rohingya beggars,” he said.
State Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said it had become a “culture” for beggars to flock to places of worship during festive seasons.
“They would surround the devotees who have just finished their prayers.
“A check by my committee shows that they are only about 70 ‘genuine’ beggars in Penang,” he said when contacted.