The monks are experienced canvassers.
Orange robes, a team of two. "Hello, hello." Indefinite Asian accent, smile. White teeth, shaved heads. Strong-looking. Simple.
I'm curious, so I bite. "Hello." Return the smile.
Nods, more smiles, but now the rap unfolds swiftly with practiced precision. A notebook holds a photocopied sheet in Chinese and English. We are Buddhists. We are raising money to build a new temple. I nod. Yes, I understand.
Then the closer. Another notebook page shows a list of names, one per line, along with country of origin and quantity contributed. Someone from the UK: five thousand HKD. An Australian: two thousand HKD. The notebook is thrust into my hands, along with an inexpensive black ballpoint. Sign here, they say by pointing. Yes, I understand.
Then the upsale. I write my name, U.S.A., and one hundred dollars HKD. Equals about twelve, U.S. The monks smile, take the pen, and change my written 100 to 200.
I laugh. I once did the same thing for a living. I know the structure and had been interested to see how they would do it without a common language. For instance, I had not believed that previous canvassees had contributed five thousand HKD. The list was a shill, that is, a sales tool. I shake my finger. Nuh-uh. One hundred HKD.
The monks feel that that's fine. In return they give me two gifts. A bracelet of black plastic beads on a stretchable rubber string, which one monk places on my wrist. I like that. To me, it's a gesture of friendship. Then, a small golden card printed with various symbols and characters. The Bodhisattva Guanyin, beautiful, meditating. Chinese script, and, in English characters, Kai guang Amu let - Kai guang amulet - and Safe allone life. On the flipside, a yin-yang symbol, Chinese script, and a shiny red convertible sportscar. I have no idea, but somehow I believe this card is like a Saint Christopher's medal: an amulet for travelers. I like that, too.
It comes in handy. All weekend as I walk the city new monks approach, sometimes in pairs, sometimes singly, sometimes in orange robes, sometimes in gray. "Hello." Sometimes accompanied by a soft touch on the arm. Always I smile, and take the amulet from my shirt pocket. See? Already gave. They smile and nod, and move on.