The Beggar Question: Give, Avoid or Buy a Cheeseburger?

One of the most talented (and well paid) beggars I have ever seen.
Absolutely amazing.

When Rachel was three years old she loved to give money to beggars.  In fact she once went through a brief phase of wanting to be “one of the people who asks for money” when she grows up.  I loved it.  It was one of those moments that I wish I could pretend would never go away.  She had yet to attach a single stigma to the street beggars.  They weren’t less or pitiful or dirty, they were just people with a really cool job.  She didn’t do that thing that big people do when they see a beggar.  I don’t mean swing wide to the right and try to position it so someone else has to make direct contact as you walk by avoiding awkward eye contact.  The other thing that big people do.  The rational thought process that let’s you off the hook.  “They’ll probably just spend it on crack or crank or ice or some other drug I know exists because I saw it on CSI Miami.”  “They probably make more money than I do and I’ll bet they’ve got a house in the suburbs with a swimming pool and a hot tub and a pony.”  “Pretty sure I read something about that once.”  There was none of that.  It was a pure moment, to see a child who had not yet been tainted by rational thought.  To her it was just a brilliant business plan.  You ask people for money . . . and they give it to you.  Now that’s rational.

China is low on crack addicts but they still have their share of beggars and rational thought.  It’s not uncommon to see a burn victim playing the erhu (Chinese two-stringed instrument that you would recognize if you heard) or a legless child pushing himself around on a makeshift skateboard.  Sometimes a deaf person (and we only know they’re deaf because they give us a piece of paper that says they are and we choose to trust them) will try to sell us a pack of tissues or a mother and her beautiful child will latch on to our sleeves and not let go.  Each time I rationalize.  Sometimes I give.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I feel guilty either way.  However with Rachel, I nearly always give her money to share.  My rationality?  At this point in her life (although she’s now seven and figuring out the way things really work) I want her to be giving way more than I want her to be discerning.  She’ll be tainted with rational thought soon enough but how cool would it be if she always looked up to the beggars just a little bit?

So how do you handle the beggar issue?  Give?  Avoid?  Buy a cheeseburger? 


  1. It’s a tough part/reality of life in China! Thanks for writing this! (btw -The guy on the makeshift skateboard outside of the hong kong Zhong lu KFC prefers “bu la de” chicken sandwiches ;-)!!)

  2. Love it Jen! We’ll get him one and tell him you sent it.

  3. I love it, thanks for sharing the experience. I remembered as I was a kid, I was trying to talk to them and to find out why they came to live on the street and later talked to my other friends (5-7 years old) trying to find a solution to the problem he had. Our problem was, we never saw the people again 🙁 and our solutions were very simple like, buy a new house, go and find a new job, open a shop and sell your pictures…. 🙂 childhood is the only time in our life we are really pure. Apropo your question, I am for giving, but prefer to give solutions, no money .. if is cold a coffee or sth. warm, talk to them if they want to…

  4. Thanks Maria. There’s something sweet in a child’s reasoning. Maybe we should put them in charge.


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