A crowd had formed.
The monk had hold of my dear pal’s wrist.
I use the term “monk” loosely, as proper monks don’t typically force donation via public humiliation and scam work. If the literature in Thailand taught me anything, it’s that all of us — and especially us women — ought to leave real monks be. Yet this man had no qualms about slapping a cheap beaded bracelet around my female wrist before turning his sights on my friend.
My poor BFF. Too sloshed to think quickly, he was now the center of attention in a scam artist’s game. And his gal pal, equally intoxicated, was absolutely no help. In fact, it was my own dulled senses that led to an absurdly generous “donation.”
See, the monk clearly wanted money. It was also clear that the 10 Hong Kong dollars we initially offered wouldn’t cut it. I had a single 100 HKD bill in my pocket, as I found later. But it was my friend who inadvisedly opened his wallet instead.
The monk’s eyes lit up.
All said and done, the scene didn’t end until at least a few bills changed hands.
So goes the story of how my friend and I got our one and only set of matching jewelry.
And how I learned an important (if drunken) lesson.
Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t one my next travel partner had received yet.
A few months later, on our way to Vietnam, she and I stopped in southern China for a layover. Kunming was grand, if confusing. It took us ages to find the lake area we were most keen on exploring. Once there, though, another group of faux faith-seekers waylaid us. While we weren’t sure what they were saying, the intent was obvious: Would you, kind traveler, like to give us some money?
Or at least it was obvious to me.
My travel companion seemed to believe this low-quality swag was merely a freebie.
Oh, naive wanderer. Tricks aren’t just for kids here in Asia.
I came too late again to the party and ended up with another cheap trinket wrapped around my wrist. We forked over a small sum, though far smaller than the aforementioned hundreds.
It was the second time in just a few months I’d been ineffective in avoiding the ever-present scammers.
Back on that muggy Hong Kong evening, my best bud was still griping. How could he, after all his time spent in China, fallen into such a trap? My incessant laughter wasn’t helping. At that point, back in 2015, I’d been in Asia all of four months — to me, this was but an expensive anecdote. To him, it was a blemish on his street-savvy expat persona.
In an attempt to console him, I dubbed those bracelets our friendship beads — indeed, they were the only gift we had ever exchanged in our decade of knowing each other. There was a grin, though he swept it away quickly.
Alas, another lesson learned: Find the humor. It’s all that will save you in this beautifully chaotic land.