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The Rapunzel of Hue Phuoc Pagoda

Update: March, 27/2012 - 10:42

 

Some people are born famous, others try hard to become famous and either succeed or fail, while a few, it seems, are famous just for just being famous.

A 76-year-old woman, who has tried to live a secluded life at Hue Phuoc Pagoda in southern Ben Tre Province for the past 60 years, probably falls loosely into the latter category.

"Co Tu toc dai" (aunt Tu with the long hair as she is now affectionately known) at the age of 19, decided to stop washing and cutting her hair, which is now estimated to be over five-metres long.

And this Rapunzel-like character (of Brothers Grimm fame) has grown famous for her long, but now grey, locks, which are far from unkempt and remain miraculously clean and shiny (as locals claim).

Such is her celebrity that business has boomed at the temple since word of Aunt Tu's miraculous hair spread far and wide – much to the venerable lady's ire – the temple's monks say she is fed up with all the attention.

The pagoda now attracts about 200 visitors on a typical day, and 400-500 during the holiday season in the first two months of the year.

Some canny individuals have even started offering visitors viewing rights – at a price.

The authorities have since barred the practice, while the overstretched local police have been actively refuting the miraculous claims surrounding Aunt Tu's hair.

But despite claims to the contrary, it seems believers won't be denied and the temple remains as popular as ever, for the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, life goes on for Aunt Tu, and her hair grows longer...

When beggars can be choosers

Begging may be a lowly business, but not, it seems, for some. It is has been estimated by Vietnamnet online newspaper that "beggars" at popular Bai Dinh Pagoda in northern Ninh Binh Province can rake in up to VND1-VND5 million (nearly $48-240) a day during festivals and VND2-VND300,000 ($9.5-14) on other occasions – equivalent to the average daily wage of an office worker.

It seems begging has become a job to some – well-paid at that. And genuine beggars are up-in-arms (and down in alms) about it. The truly down-at-heal are being forced to compete with these Johnny-come-latelies for handouts, and many are losing out, according to a vendor working outside Bai Dinh pagoda.

But it seems the feel-good factor of giving to the needy far outweighs our powers of discrimination, and until genuine beggars are licensed, or the pretend panhandlers are outed, well-wisher will remain prey to confidence tricksters and the truly destitute will go without.

When's a worker not a worker?

Under the Labour Law, expectant mothers are entitled to four months maternity leave, during which they receive 100 per cent of their monthly salary paid for out of the Government's social security fund – provided that they have paid into the scheme for at least six months during their employment.

Few would argue against the programme – in fact social security is a measure of a society's development. But welfare systems are open to abuse.

Online Communications Ltd, in Can Tho City, made a point of recruiting only pregnant women to rip off the State, according to Phap luat Viet Nam (Viet Nam's Law) newspaper.

The company has offices in a number of Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces, including Vinh Long, Tra Vinh and An Giang.

It seems the company's boss hit on the idea of "recruiting" expectant mothers, who simply had to pass on their personal details without doing a day's work, or even walking into the company's offices. Their "employer" would then register their personal details with the local authorities and make their social insurance payments for six months in order to later claim Government benefits when they went on maternity leave. The bogus employee would be paid an allowance greater than the payments they would have made to the social insurance fund.

Lured by the chance of making millions of dong for doing nothing, dozens of expectant mothers took part in the fraud.

It is thought the scam cost the Government VND110 million (US$5,200).

On investigation, it turned out the company's director, Doan Van Cuong, who is currently in hiding, used to work for Can Tho Social Insurance Company. — VNS

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