Yesterday, we learned that some panhandlers around South Brooklyn neighborhoods have taken to dressing like Orthodox Jews (and talking a little Hebrew) in order to gain sympathy from locals. But it turns out they aren't the only Schnorrers using trickery to get more money: the Times reports today about a group of Chinese men who have allegedly started dressing up as Buddhist monks to beg around midtown.
They describe their appearance and mannerisms:
They are mostly men of Chinese descent, with shaved heads, beatific smiles and flowing robes of orange, but sometimes brown or gray. They follow a similar script: Offering wishes of peace and a shiny amulet, they solicit donations from passers-by, often reinforcing their pitch by showing a picture of a temple for which the money seems to be intended. Then they open a notebook filled with the names of previous donors and the amounts given.
The men appear to be Buddhist monks; a smaller number of similarly dressed women say they are Taoist nuns.
No one seems to know who they really are or where they come from. The police have taken no official stance, stepping in only when the monks become aggressive. Various Buddhists have confronted the men, asking about their affiliation or quizzing them about the religion’s precepts. The men remain silent or simply walk away.
Members of the Buddhist community of NYC believe these men are the same "bogus buddhists" who have gotten in trouble with local authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong. "They are damaging the reputation of real monks and damaging the reputation of Buddhists in America," Shi Ruifa, a Brooklyn monk who is president of a confederation of nearly 50 temples, told the Times. Shi found out about the scam after he confronted one of the men in Sunset Park, and quizzed him on the Five Precepts of Buddhism. He didn't know any of them.
There is now a Facebook page for people to track their interactions with them, "Fake Monks in New York City." So far, at least nine of these fake monks have been arrested, mostly on charges of aggressive begging or unlicensed vending.
The Times offers a few more descriptions of various interviews and run-ins with the fake monks, including this:
One woman dressed as a nun said her temple was in Taiwan, but declined to give specifics.
“I cannot tell you where my temple is,” answered another woman dressed as a nun, who said her family name was Lin and that people called her Little Lin. “I won’t tell you. But it’s not that I don’t have a temple.” At another point, she grabbed at the sleeves of her robe and said, “If I didn’t have a temple, why would I be dressed like this?”