Yesterday afternoon, Chinese recycling tycoon and part-time Michael Jackson impersonator Chen Guangbiao made good on his promise to provide lunch and $300 each for "1,000 poor and destitute Americans" at the Loeb Boathouse restaurant in Central Park. Except for, ya know, the part about the money and the part about the 1,000 people—
because it turns out the homeless lunch was even more of a self-serving shitshow spectacle than we initially thought.
As was reported yesterday, only about 200 homeless people from the New York City Rescue Mission were actually invited/picked to attend the lunch; however, another 100 or so homeless people showed up as well expecting to be given lunch and free cash, as Chen promised in his print ads last week.
It turns out that despite his big talk, Chen had agreed last weekend to give a $90,000 check to the homeless shelter, under the condition that he wouldn't hand out cash directly (because of concerns over drug use). He even signed a contract: "[Rescue Mission] said they would participate in the event as long as he did not hand out any cash, said Craig Mayes, the group’s executive director. Mr. Mayes said he was concerned that some of the clients might use the cash to buy alcohol and drugs." But Chen, who has an obsession with handing out crisp $100 bills directly to people, kept trying to do so every step of the way on Wednesday—and in the end, he disappointed and angered more people by doing so.
The NY Times, the newspaper Chen wants to buy, has some choice, depressing scenes from the shitshow, that show how miscommunication and Chen's desire for a spectacle (there was a video listing all of Chen's accomplishments playing on four screens in the room; he also introduced two deformed women as former members of Falun Gong) got in the way of what could have been a worthwhile charity event:
Mr. Chen addressed the audience and then uncorked the news the crowd had been waiting for: “I will give $300 for every participant today.”
The homeless men and women shot to their feet, whooping and applauding.
“No he won’t,” Michelle Tolson, the mission’s director of public relations, said. “The police will shut him down.”
Officials from the Rescue Mission quickly brokered a deal with Mr. Chen’s assistants, allowing him to hand $300 to several chosen homeless clients in a symbolic gesture. The clients, however, would have to return the money.
A trolley loaded with $100 bills appeared on the dais, and the homeless delegates were led to the stage, where they posed for the television cameras. Mr. Chen moved into the last portion of the program, launching into an awkward karaoke version of “We Are the World.” But as he sang, word began to spread around the room that there was, in fact, going to be no broader cash disbursement.
“Very deceptive,” grumbled Dennis Durant, 58.
As the event ended, several of the guests rushed the dais. “Stop lying!” one yelled at Mr. Chen. “We’re human beings!” another shouted.
So some homeless people (the ones in the first photo above) got money...only to have it immediately taken away. Chen reportedly blamed what he called a "misunderstanding" over the cash on his translator, although it seems pretty clear that this was all Chen's fault for agreeing to one thing and then trying to still hand out cash.
Even after that awkward scene, he still tried to go back on the deal:
Grabbing a microphone, Mr. Chen said he would still fulfill his promise and would head to the mission later in the day and personally distribute the cash to all the participants. “I look forward to seeing you at the mission shortly!” he exclaimed.
Mr. Mayes suddenly appeared at his shoulder. “That’s a violation of the contract,” he said.
Andrea Peyser was, unsurprisingly, unimpressed with Chen's self-congratulatory nature: "In a few short hours, Chen exploited his down-and-out guests to an embarrassing level. He posed for pictures, grinning like a buffoon. He talked endlessly about how he was a great philanthropist, environmentalist, and all-around good guy."
Even if the whole event was fueled by shameless egotism, we're happy Chen donated as much as he did to the shelter. But when we find ourselves silently nodding in agreement with the NY Post's Cat Lady At Large, we know it is truly a dark day.