If one can’t afford to travel, well then, one ought just as well stay put.
Or should one?
No money? No job? No prah-blemmmmmm. At least that’s the attitude of Bonnie and Clyde over here…
Just toss together a few snaps, a humble sign and a wholesome skirt, add a shocking amount of ignorance, and…voilà — instant occupation!
So how did life deteriorate into this bleak indigence? One can’t be certain what woeful chain of events reduced these two to panhandling street-side atop discarded cardboard, but one can certainly speculate.
And that’s a sandbox I’m all too happy to play in.
Are they being groomed? Is this a ring? Some sort of up-and-coming cult of which we should all be aware? Seducing backpackers into the dark arts of grovelling and mooching? Much like kidnap victims suffering through Stockholm Syndrome, are they perhaps under the spell of some nefarious commune/sect/cult leader and are being forced to panhandle for the greater good of their comrades? Because who of their own volition and free-will would be willing to out-beg actual beggars to fund their travels?.
That’s the confounding part.
Or perhaps it’s a natural byproduct of their one-true-forever-and-always-love? Let’s imagine the conversation that mutated into this modern-day, farang-manned lemonade stand:
Clyde: Oh babe, I love you so much, let me reduce my level to the street level so that I look up at your beauty level, but hey…you know what, while I’m down here — well I’ll be damned if this isn’t easy street to solving our cash-flow woes.
Bonnie: Well, it sure beats cutting.
So how did we get here?
Let’s backtrack a little. It all started with brokepackers. You see backpackers have their own little caste system down there for who’s who on the totem pole (or is that the totem trail?)
A brokepacker is the sort of backpacker who is at the end of their financial rope, but instead of heading back home to earn some 9-to-5 grind coin, they fill their days abroad free-camping and extreme budgeting — maybe even taking on some odd jobs at the hostel to squeeze a few extra nights out of the trip. They fall at the bottom of the totem pole.
Err, well, they used to.
The commotion at the moment surrounds a whole other class of backpacker. And no this isn’t the glampers or flashpackers that were so hot last season — the ones at the top of the totem. Nope. In true Trump-pioneering fashion, these are new-wave pilferers found foraging along the bottom: the begpackers.
Bonnie & Clyde here are classified as begpackers. And a begpacker is a traveller who resorts to begging or selling their wares streetside to make it to their next destination.
Can we just talk about that sign for a moment?
“WE travel around the world so YOU don’t have to. We’ll spare you that indignity. We’re doing all the heavy lifting here folks — the touring about, the frolicking on beaches, the belly button shooters — our only humble ask is that you bankroll it.”
And guess what people, for contributing your hard earned baht to their cause, you get to TAKE PHOTO! As if allowing you to do so is to put their very lives in jeopardy, akin to revealing Bonnie is the real Mata Hari, or some such stunning intrigue.
Full disclosure: I’ve worked illegally in the past in a few countries. I was a gardener in Israel for 4 months solely because I was one of those aforementioned brokepackers, and I did not want to go home in the winter. And I worked for a hotel in Greece for one whole day.
Was I taking a job away from someone then? I doubt it. I was doing work that the local population didn’t want to do, or there was a demand that wasn’t being met. Begpacking on the other hand, well there’s hardly any demand for that, and there are plenty of disadvantaged souls already lining the streets of Bangkok trying to eke out a living begging or shilling their modest goods.
While sites like Investopedia classify Thailand as a second-world country, begpackers see it as an emerging market to shill their goods and services.
But wait,” you say, “they’re pouring that money back into the local economy!”
You’re hardly contributing to the local economy when you’re competing with it.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a company called Withlocals in Bangkok, where residents can sign up to offer tours and other services to boost their income. Think of it as an Airbnb for local guides. I haven’t used them yet so this is not an endorsement, but I do like the cut of their About Page jib. Give it a read here — you’ll see what I mean. And isn’t empowering locals instead of undermining them a step in the right direction?
I know many of you will call me out for begpacker-shaming, but if one can’t shame the shameful, then what exactly can one shame?
Thankfully, the Thai government appears to be cracking down on begpackers like our dear Bonnie and Clyde and their ilk.
In the end, we’ll all answer our maker, for that which we’ve done, and that which we’ve ached for. And I’m wagering begpacker-shaming is a smidge less reprehensible than actual begpacking. But in the current political landscape, nothing surprises me any longer. So let’s hear your thoughts. What do you think of begpackers?
Spare me your daggers folks, and I’ll spear you mine.