One of the first things you notice is the lions. They stand guard, one facing north, the other south. North Lion is where our story begins.
“Move closer together,” I shout to Jason and his friend as they pose in front of North Lion. As I depress the shutter and hear the familiar satisfying click, I notice a Buddhist monk in gray robes and a Gucci baseball hat. He hands each of us a thick gold paper medallion, colorfully printed and intricately shaped. On one side, it names Guanine Bathisativa, Kai guang Amulet. On the flip side, WORK SMOOTHLY, LIFETIME PEACE with a lotus flower.
Next, he pulls a rosewood bead bracelet from up his sleeve and hands it to me then taps the cover of a small book in his hand. “Donation,” he says. I look. I see names and amounts. I take the pen from him. Name Jessica. Country USA. Donation $5. He looks at what I have written, frowns and says, “Minimum $10 donation.” “Ok” I say and open up my wallet. Three five dollar bills sit comfortably in their compartment. Suddenly the three fives are in his hand and he points to me, my son and his friend and says emphatically, “Five, five, five.” (So now my donation has somehow increased 150%). I think of asking if he takes American Express. It’s everywhere you want to be, right? But I refrain. He moves on to try to hustle the older much wiser man behind us who is on to his game before he even hands him the medallion.
A few moments later, another man dressed as a Buddhist monk approaches me. He is not wearing a Gucci hat. But he is handing out the same medallions. I push the medallion he tries to give me back at him and say “I already talked to your friend.” He takes out his donation book and taps on it. I shake my head no and repeat while pointing to the man in the Gucci hat, “I already talked to your friend.” He walks away, looking disappointed and angry.
As we enter the museum, I kick myself for not getting a picture of the Gucci Hat Man as we have now started calling him. I tell the kids “if he is out there after we are done here, I am getting his picture.”
Five hours later, we exit the museum and stand on the steps near South Lion. I scan the sidewalk looking for the Gucci baseball gap and gray robes.
I see a Benedictine nun waiting by South Lion. I spot Gucci Hat Man by the bus stop. I think wow, what a perfect shot to illustrate the city: The nun in her white robes is the innocence/naivety of the tourist. South Lion is the seasoned city dweller turning a calloused cheek. And Gucci Hat Man, he is a hustler, a teacher. His lesson? Buddhist monks probably don’t wear Gucci hats.