I see him initially at the Hong Kong Ladies Market, a garish evening bazaar, bursting with acres of vulgar plastic junk destined for land-fill in a year's time, imitation-designer handbags and t-shirts, faux jade buddhas and beads. He's tall for an Asian, wears a wide and rather sinister-looking smile, crew-cut, a floor length grey tunic and mala. Walking the narrow aisle, meeting the eyes of the tourists who dare meet his, he extends his alms bowl cupped in both hands. Something inside warns suss, but I suppress it. Way too irreverent Catherine. We look each other in the eye, he proffers his bowl, and I move on. I’m not giving! I feel petty and pathetic for harbouring such unholy thoughts about a holy man, but it’s my temperament. I like my monks earnest!
Three days later, 9 pm, the heat intense, I’m on my second and last excursion back to the bazaar. Getting there and back in a hurry is my main objective. I’m just about to cross the street at the traffic lights when I notice the monk from the bazaar on the other side of the road. My reaction is not altogether pleasant, but I make a decision to practise the art of generosity this time and as the lights change, I move across the road, fishing for my wallet. As I reach him I place my hands together in prayer and place $5 (80c) in his bowl. Simultaneously, from the folds of his tunic he extracts a small red plastic sheath, embossed with Chinese inscriptions, something firm and flat inside, and hands it to me. I’m taken aback. Instinctively I look down at my wallet, and remove another $20. Looking up at him he looks into my wallet, points to the $100 bill, shakes his head at my offering, and says ‘one hundred’. You've got to be bloody joking, I think! I look down at my wallet again, back at him, try and process my horror, place the $20 in his alms bowl, and turn and flee.
For days afterwards I suffer a terrible disquiet. Should I have given more? Was his gift valuable? Should I have returned it? Why did I run, not challenge him? Who was he? Why me? Should I track him down? Was he a fake? Stashing some extra cash away for smokes? The reflections and neurotic questions were endless, and disconcerting.
“Why do you have to make things so complicated!” my sister replied when I returned home and told her the story.
Then I did a google search, 'Monks, Hong Kong'
Time I learnt to trust my intuition methinks.