‘Parrot Man’ in tussle with Ngee Ann City management

‘Parrot Man’ in tussle with Ngee Ann City management
A notice put up about a month ago by Ngee Ann City's management to deter "parrot man" Zeng Guoyuan from using its premises to beg or sell tissue paper. Photo: Instagram/@publicnoticesg
Published: 12:25 AM, August 13, 2017
Updated: 5:12 PM, August 14, 2017

SINGAPORE — Serial electoral candidate wannabe Zeng Guoyuan, better known as “Parrot Man” because of his pet bird that accompanied him, has been embroiled in a spat with the management of Ngee Ann City.

The mall along Orchard Road has called the police more than 30 times in the last six months about Mr Zeng masquerading as a cripple to sell tissue-paper packs at the underground pedestrian walkway linking Ngee Ann City to Wisma Atria.

Mr Zeng, 65, would be in his wheelchair, often with his parrot, and whenever he sets up his stall at the centre of the narrow and highly used linkway, the mall’s security would call the police to get him to leave, but he keeps returning.

Last month, in a drastic last-ditch attempt, the mall’s management put up a notice along the walkway that reads: “Please do not donate any money to me. I am capable person that [sic] can walk and ride bike”. The sign also showed four photographs of Mr Zeng, dressed in his familiar white robes, and his activities along Orchard Road.

Ngee Ann City’s general manager Eric Chan said that its main grouse with Mr Zeng is that he persistently situates himself at the underpass during the evening peak period arriving at timings between 5pm and 7pm, blocking the already-congested walkway. He poses a “security concern”, Mr Chan added.

“We put up the notice to inform the public that this person is not a true beggar... He pretends to be handicapped, sitting on a wheelchair, and putting a cloth over his leg, but he can walk. When he leaves, he will just stand up and push his wheelchair.”

Speaking to TODAY on Sunday, Mr Zeng said that the management was “selfish” and “jealous” of him receiving money from the shoppers, adding that they had no right to send him away as the passageway is a “common area” separated by roller shutters of Ngee Ann City and Wisma Atria on two ends.

“Their doors at night would close at 10pm, so I am outside the gates,” he said. “But (the management) told the police a lot of nonsense, saying I am begging for money, selling tissue paper.”

When asked if he was begging, Mr Zeng who pointed out that his nose and colon cancer have spread to his liver and lungs said: “I am not. True, I require the money (in case I become bedridden), but I am not begging. I don’t go so low as that… I don’t con them and ask them for money if they don’t have money. If they have extra, they give, I say thank you. I don’t want to con.”

The Police confirm reports have been lodged and investigations are ongoing.

TODAY understands the police was last called on Tuesday (Aug 8). That day, Mr Zeng left the mall upon seeing the police, although he refused to leave upon the mall security officer’s orders earlier.

It was understood that since January, the police have recorded at least seven of Mr Zeng’s disclosed offences at Ngee Ann City, which include begging, use of abusive language on a police officer, and a case of assault of the mall’s security manager in April. He was arrested in several of these instances.

Mr Zeng has made news headlines in the past. In 2014, The New Paper ran a report of him, also pictured in a wheelchair, selling tissue-paper packs outside Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple on Waterloo Street. He said then that he had lost his nose to nose cancer.

Mr Zeng told TODAY he no longer goes to the temple since he dropped his colostomy bag there and felt embarrassed for the smell he caused at the end of last year. Today, he frequents Geylang Serai market, selling tissue papers there in the day. He still intends to frequent Ngee Ann City in the evenings, he said.

The former acupuncturist, who stood as a Workers’ Party candidate in the 1991 General Election, had tried to run as an independent candidate for the 2011 and 2015 General Elections as well as the 2012 Hougang by-election.

He had also been hauled to court before: In 2009, he was fined S$3,000 for putting up unapproved banners displaying a picture of terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari, and in 1996, he was convicted of molesting a woman at his former clinic.

When TODAY visited Ngee Ann City on Thursday and Friday, the notice was still there but Mr Zeng was nowhere to be seen. The railing along the whole passageway to divide the to-and-fro traffic was a seamless stretch. The break in the railing for people to turn to use the staircase to get to basement level two was blocked, because that was where Mr Zeng would station himself.

Asserting that the notice does not sound “too harsh”, Mr Chan said that it was written in the first person because it was merely “stating facts”, and was meant to deter a “persistent” Mr Zeng from returning while informing the public not to be “conned” by him.

The management has also received feedback from “several” shoppers about Mr Zeng, and it is increasingly concerned that his presence might put off visitors to the mall. Most of them mentioned the bird droppings from Mr Zeng’s parrot, given the concerns over the spread of avian flu. Some commented that he looked “scary”, while others were “sympathetic”, asking whether the management would refer Mr Zeng to the relevant authorities, such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), who might be able to help him.

A spokesperson from MSF told TODAY that Mr Zeng is known to the ministry’s Destitute and Shelter Support branch, which has engaged him on multiple occasions. The last round was on Nov 9, 2016, at the Orchard Road area. Mr Zeng declined the offer of help then, he said. The father of two sons is understood to live with his wife in his jumbo public housing flat comprising two merged units at Geylang Bahru, but he seldom sleeps at home.

Shopkeepers working near the walkway had witnessed Mr Zeng using vulgar language on the policemen.

Sales assistant Malee Wee, 48, who works at a jewellery store a few shops away from the passageway, said: “I often hear him shouting at the police. He would scold a lot of bad words (when asked to leave).”

One woman, who did not wish to be named for fear of her safety, said: “He can be quite hysterical. Once, he even marched to our shopfront knowing that we have called the security.”

Many shoppers who saw the notice put up by Ngee Ann City were puzzled, finding it “weird”. A 23-year-old shopper, a media student who identified himself only as Mr Tan, felt that it was “not necessary” for the management to paint Mr Zeng as “pretending to be disabled”.

A 56-year-old machine operator, who gave his name as just Mr Goh, often uses the passageway and has seen Mr Zeng there twice this year. “I didn’t think he caused too much inconvenience,” he said. “Maybe he really needed money.”

A shopper, who declined to be named, felt that Mr Zeng was using the shock factor of not having a nose to “force” others to donate to him. She has not bought anything from him or donated any money to him even though she has seen him there a few times.