“Could you please spare some change for some food and accommodation…?”
If you live or have even travelled through Melbourne for longer than a few days, chances are you’ve crossed paths with the politest beggar in the entire world (other than me in Taiwan…but that’s a story for another time!) Thanks Anyway guy.
Subliminally being made to feel warm and fuzzy after numerous undeserved praisings, I admit to dropping him a few silver coins on the odd occasion. Refreshingly, his “thankyou” is no more enthusiastic or two-faced than his “thanks anyway”. Surely the guy has built up an endless supply of karma points and the resultant coinage to book some accommodation. On reflection, WHY didn’t I offer to book him a stay at the Oslo in St Kilda’s red light district (the worst hotel in Melbourne according to a Danish friend).
The point I’m attempting to make is that, despite the image I portray in my post about seeking sustenance in Mexico, I’m actually not so stingy if the mood strikes. Which brings me onto the actual story I’m writing about here – navigating the web of beggars and opportunists in Cambodia.
And no, I’m not referring to the squabbling tuk-tuk drivers who claim to have Formula One standard driving skills then driver slower than your grandma on sleeping pills. Nor the cheeky six year olds balancing a stack of books on their heads, armed with a larger useful vocabulary than your typical politician. Not quite. I found out the hard way that modern Cambodia has a different breed of needy resident – the white expat.
Normally I tell this tale by starting with the details and ending with the heinous punchline, but you know what’s coming. So I’ll instead de-construct my meeting with Crazy Jimmy – the day I lost my travel innocence on the banks of the Mekong in Phnom Penh. Crazy Jimmy got me good. I wish I could go back in time and kick him in the nads when I had the chance, but I can’t help but tip my hat to his flawless cunning.
Walking down the riverside promenade in the late afternoon fading sun, my attention was drawn by a friendly yet subdued “hi”. “Hi, how are ya?” I shot back. It’s becoming increasingly rare to have genuine interactions with path-crossing tourists so I always make myself approachable.
“Oh, are you Australian?” he asked in a flawless Aussie accent. I was told later that even though Jimmy is actually Australian, he possesses a believable English accent. His language qualification skills are impeccable….for someone who is an addled drug addict.
Crazy Jimmy looked like your typical long-term traveller. Casual outdoor wear that has seen better days but not tatty, tanned face and small beard with a slightly haggard expression. But nothing out of the ordinary for someone who may have been Indiana Jonesing through Angkor Wat over consecutive days.
Jimmy’s stress alleviation was clear upon learning that I was a friendly countryman, and he voiced this gratitude. Might I know where the Australian embassy was? Out came the tattered map (no overseas Google Maps access in those days, even though this is 2010!) and bingo, it wasn’t too far away. He had come into a spot of trouble and needed some urgent help, so the embassy’s proximity was a relief. But might it say when the embassy closes?
Oh bugger! It closed at 5pm twenty minutes ago! How conveniently inconvenient. Outward signs of stress back to their original levels, I asked what happened. This was key! Suddenly I was invested in the problem and concerned for the well-being of this poor man.
Nodding off in the long distance bus from Siem Reap, he had woken to find his small bag stolen. And the last to disembark, “the bastards nicked my rucksack from under the bus too!” The bastards. Myself already having survived multiple visits at Vietnamese airports and border crossings, my nagging fear of a travel disaster was now a reality for Crazy Jimmy! Wallet, phone and all.
We mulled over where else he could go to no avail. It was then revealed that his brother was actually in Vietnam at the moment, and he could surely help with organising a hotel and cancelling his credit cards. What a relief! All that would be needed is a dollar or two for the phonecall. POW.
In Cambodia, the local currency is so worthless I forgot what it’s even called! American dollars are standard, and in the right places you really get bang for your buck. A $10 hotel room? Outrageous! It had better have air-conditioning for that… You get so accustomed to the low costs as a tourist that stinginess may become embarrassing to folks back home. Crazy Jimmy, quite wisely, reminded me of the real value of money and our shared First World upbringing.
“What will you eat?” I demanded like a Mediterranean kitchenbound grandma. Incredible modesty to the end, Jimmy said it was not a problem and that he’d find something. Five valuable dollars then swapped hands and I felt magnanimous. That was my alcohol money – ten whiskeys could have been imbibed. Andy you Scrooge! Surely a little more could have been donated after all the money you’ve saved being in Asia!
And that my friends is how he gets them! Imagine a 50yo couple with a heart of gold? Scarily effective.
Upon returning home to the mate who was housing me for the trip, I told him all about the little episode. And that’s when the face was given a name, and the background on this devilish scam revealed. Crazy Jimmy is a drug addict and dealer, has a family of hungry kids and sitting much prettier than Thanks Anyway guy.
In a dreadfully poverty-stricken city where people are discouraged from giving out money (and hence ignore youthful pleas for bananas), this is especially low. I would hope guys like Thanks Anyway guy would also kick Crazy Jimmy in the nuts if they crossed paths in a homeless shelter somewhere around world.
I’m not the first nor last person to have the pleasure of meeting this man. Have you been shafted by Crazy Jimmy? I’d love to hear about it!
And when you go to Cambodia, bring school supplies, books and old clothes for the super charming children who live there. Then you’ll be truly generous and worthy of good karma.