MELAKA: A lanky Caucasian man with tattoos on both arms strummed his guitar while seated at the heart of Melaka’s famous Jonker Street.
The tune of an Eagles’ classic — Hotel California — emanated from his small speaker, as he sang along in a soft voice, glancing hopefully at passers-by.
A handful of people dropped some money into a plastic container set in front of the performer, while others stopped to look at the items he was displaying. There were around 20 friendship bands cobbled together using twine, pin buttons and beer bottle caps.
When approached, the man stared warily at the camera.
He gestured to a cardboard sign that said: “Please help fund my trip. I accept any amounts of cash.”
Most visitors at Jonker Street are indifferent towards the presence of these begpackers but shop owners are concerned about how they are allowed to do business without paying rent. (Photo: Amir Yusof)
“I hope to collect enough in two weeks because visitors to Jonker (Street) have been pretty generous,” James added.
These are typically foreign visitors who busk, sell knick-knacks or simply hold a sign asking for money to fund their round-the-world trips.
The post brought national attention to the matter. Shortly after that, the New Straits Times reported Melaka city mayor Mansor Sudin announcing that the city council had issued a directive to the enforcement officers to have all the foreign peddlers removed.
“We understand that these people are supposedly here on tourist visas, so how can they do business or sell anything here? That is an offence. We ordered them to leave prudently and they cooperated,” he was quoted as saying.
“However, if they had not adhered to our warning, then we would have proceeded to issuing notice, compounding or even confiscating their things.”
Mr Mansor added then that the council had stationed two council officers to patrol the area and work together with the police and Immigration Department to stop the tourists from peddling.
Just three months following the directive, begpackers have again been spotted at Jonker Street. CNA saw a total of five people, over two days on Jul 29 and Jul 30, asking for money to fund their travel expenses.
A male US citizen of Chinese descent, who was spotted selling bracelets made of string and everyday items, told CNA that he was trying to fund his plane ticket back to Los Angeles.
“We are not even begging. We are selling items that can be used. And we don’t even disturb anyone, neither the visitors nor the businesses here,” said the man, who declined to be named.
“Some of the money we earn is used to pay for rent and food. I still pay the RM10 (US$2.38) tourism tax for each night I stay in Malaysia,” he said.
“THEY SHOULD BE BUYING FROM LOCALS, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND”
Ms Ng Shin Yun, a local who has been operating a licensed drink stand specialising in coconut shakes at Jonker Street for two years, told CNA that she has seen the begpackers every day over the last month.
“They are foreign visitors and they should be buying from locals, not the other way around. Also, they are doing business without a licence or permit or rent while we have to (be subject to these conditions),” she said.
“I don’t see anyone stopping them, and they do it every day from 6pm without fail,” she added.
CNA has reached out to the Melaka Town Council for .
Ms Suzy Goh, owner of Kocik Kitchen, a popular Peranakan restaurant near Jonker Street, said that while she is aware of the concerns of locals, she is indifferent to whether action ne to be taken against them.
“I saw the complaints online. Yes, they have been selling near HM and Hard Rock Hotel. Some of them have tattoos, and are very vulgar, very fierce.
She added: “They want to earn their living to have some pocket money. I think it’s fine. If they don’t steal, they don’t rob, I think it’s fine. As long as they don’t block the main entrances of shops or the walking paths for tourists, I’m alright with it.”