May 1, 2011

THAILAND: Beggar's act of generosity to temple beggars belief

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BANGKOK / Bangkok Post / News / May 1, 2011

Saraburi invalid collects 400,000 baht in one year to make charitable donation

A beggar who spends his days at a temple asking passers-by for money has become an overnight celebrity after donating 400,000 baht to charity.

DESERVING CASE: Temple says Aiam Cambhiranon
is welcome to beg there any time.

Aiam Cambhiranon, 61, can be seen almost every day, from dusk to dawn, on a sidewalk at Wat Rai Khing, a popular temple in Nakhon Pathom's Sam Phran district, about 56km from Bangkok.

Mr Aiam said he has begged at the temple for 35 years. He has a stammer and speaks in short sentences.

The native of Saraburi suffers from weakness in his limbs which makes walking difficult. It's not known if he has any relatives.

On the ground next to him lies a small stainless steel box which he collects money in, photographs showing him making donations, certificates from the temple showing receipt of his contributions, and big plastic bags in which he keeps his money.

On April 9, the anonymous beggar caused a stir when news emerged that he gave 400,042 baht to the temple so it could buy lotus flowers for worshippers.

"I donate all to luang phor [the monks]," Mr Aiam said.

"Handsome," he said with a satisfied smile when shown a photograph of himself wearing a jacket while donating money to the temple.

When asked whether he wanted to go back home to Saraburi some day, he only smiled again.

Porntep Patthawee, 40, who has worked at Wat Rai Khing for three years, said Mr Aiam's disability and the humble way he carries himself draws sympathy from people who meet him.

When they started to give him money, he realised what his destiny was.

Mr Porntep is not sure when Mr Aiam first started to donate to the temple. He remembers, however, that Mr Aiam began to give some thousands of baht at first, then tens of thousands, and eventually hundreds of thousands a year.

This year's 400,042 baht is the most he has ever given.

''The temple is grateful for his kindness and charity,'' Mr Porntep said.

''He is different from other beggars who usually spend money they make from begging on their own needs. Mr Aiam returns money to society,'' said Mr Porntep.

He said the temple normally prohibits beggars from operating on its grounds but Mr Aiam is allowed to beg as he causes no harm or annoyance to anyone.

''Uncle Aiam does not ask for money. He just sits there quietly,'' Mr Porntep said.

He added that it's difficult to tell what is on the beggar's mind when he chooses to give away the money he begged for.

''He might hope that if there is a next life, he will be born healthy. What we do know is that he understands the meaning of 'sufficiency' and it would be good if other people thought like him,'' Mr Porntep said.

Mr Porntep, an administrative worker at the temple, is worried, though, that people will not see this side of the story and will focus only on how much Mr Aiam makes as a beggar.

He does not want the case of Mr Aiam to make people feel that they should turn to begging if it could make them a decent income.

Wat Rai Khing is one of the most popular temples in Nakhon Pathom.

On weekdays, about 3,000 people visit the temple. The figure shoots up to 5,000 to 10,000 on weekends.

If a temple fair or special event is held, as many as 50,000 people visit the temple.

Mr Aiam became well known among residents of Sam Phran after news of his big donation emerged.

Boonrod Podang, 71, a native of Sam Phran, said Mr Aiam commands his respect. ''Even if I have lots of money, I would still hesitate to donate such a large amount to a temple,'' he said.

''I have seen him sitting at the temple for more than 10 years. I do respect him and give him a wai every time we meet.''

Another native, who asked not to be named, said Mr Aiam was usually sitting by the temple church every time she visited.

She noted that despite his charitable mind, the could not escape being _dhdeceived, even mugged, due to his old age and disability.

About 4.30pm each day, Mr Aiam is picked up by a sa-leng tricycle to have a meal and bath.

The tricycle driver, who refused to be named, said he picked up Uncle Aiam three times a day _ in the morning, evening and at 1am when he needs a place to sleep.

''That's 100 baht a round [for sa-leng service],'' Mr Aiam said, before digging a 100 baht note out of his pocket.

''Grilled chicken,'' he said. ''... For the dogs.''

Within seconds, he was surrounded by the temple's stray dogs. He fed them, waved goodbye, and left.

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