I am re-printing most of this post from Raphael Rashid, on Medium.com, because he has a perspective that I don’t: I’ve been called Seoul’s “begpacker buster” by local and international media, for calling out foreigners who beg on the street and reporting them to the police. I’ve been highly critical of them—especially on Twitter to draw attention to what I believe to be a growing problem in South Korea. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “begpacker”—a portmanteau of the words “beg” and “backpacker”—refers to a traveler who funds their travels around the world by asking for financial help on the streets. Some play instruments, others sell postcards or photos from their travels. Others put out a hat. They often have a scrap of cardboard with a message along the lines of: “I’m travelling around the world and love your country, need money to pursue my dream. Please help me”. Why has Mr. Rashid taken it upon himself to “bust begpackers”? I will let him give his reasons, and will say to him, hurrah! These people are parasites, in my ever humble opinion. Leeches suck blood, but that is their god given job. I can’t extend the same understanding to begpackers. I commented in bold after his reasons.
1. Because travel is a privilege, not a necessity. Travel is a luxury available to only a privileged few. If you cannot afford to travel, don’t do it, let alone ask locals to pay for it. Those of us who can even contemplate going on holiday abroad come from a position of privilege. We don’t live in slums, we don’t eat scraps from bins, we don’t work in sweatshops, unlike the billions who live in poverty or don’t have access to clean drinking water. In most cases, people do not beg for money because they want to. They beg because they need to. Poverty is not “an experience”, nor is it something that’s “cool”. Of course, by “travel” he means voluntary, often overseas visiting other countries. Refugees, migrants and nomads are excepted.
2. Because it’s “white privilege”: Let’s get things straight: “white privilege” in Asia is distinct from “white privilege” in Western countries including the United States. White privilege in Asia is the simple act of a white person, regardless of socio-economic background back home, arriving in Asia and being bestowed unwarranted advantages due to the color of their skin; you will very rarely find a begpacker who isn’t white. Koreans are quick to judge people by their appearances, and skin color is part of that. While I’m not saying this is the case for all, it’s not unheard of to hear older people look at a white person and say “Are you American?” To many, white means Western, which probably also means American–the country which saved them from being North Korea! Begpackers give my country a bad name.
3. Because it’s deception. But continuous observations make me realize this is clearly elaborate organised crime: I’ve seen people who say they are only in the country for a few days months later. I’ve seen people who say they will leave in a week only to find them again half a year or even one year later. I’ve seen groups of 4–5 people arrive, distribute placards among themselves, and then communicate with each other via their smartphones in case one gets caught. Organized crime? It ain’t the Mafia or a drug cartel, but it’s organized and a crime (see #6).
4. Because it’s an insult to people who are actually poor. The issue I have with begpackers in Seoul, especially those in my district of Jongno, is that they are begging in front of Seoul’s poorest. Take “Natasha” for instance: she made some cash by taking advantage of poor people who had no idea what to think or how to deal with the situation. She claimed to be travelling the world and in need of some money. In the space of five minutes, she earned over 15,000 won. That’s roughly double the national minimum wage. When I asked people why they were donating money, the older folks told me it clearly wasn’t a scam, that they felt they needed to help her. That’s the thing: begpackers are targeting the most vulnerable, poorest sections of society. I never thought about that, but at least in Korea it appears to be true. When I use the name Korea, I refer to South Korea, in much the same way I refer to the United States as America. In North Korea, beggars are everyone but the rulers.
5. Because it’s an insult to foreign workers and visitors. To work in Korea as a foreigner requires a heavy load of paperwork. Those that do make secure employment have to pay taxes like everyone else. Many workers put in long hours in factories with low pay and under questionable conditions. Landing in Korea without the necessary paperwork and making quick cash basically amounts to telling every legal worker they are fools. Sounds a lot like our very own undocumented you-know-who’s.
6. Because it’s illegal. It’s against the law in Korea earn money on a travel visa. According to South Korea’s Immigration Act, Article 20. Could begpackers be the reason for the law? Mr. Rashid writes that police act as if they can’t enforce the law. We’re they trained in Portland, Oregon?