When I wrote about befriending foreigners some entry back, several friends remarked their apprehension regarding the foreigners in Malaysia, and how a growing number of cases have been reported about the scams these foreigner pulled or attempt to in Malaysia. I hear their advice but would still embrace a foreigner as I would a local. Perhaps it may be because I am naive, or perhaps its just that I do not want to think bad of a person - any person - whom I have just met, though personal encounters have shown that I may be a bad judge of character.
Below, I recount 3 tales of encounter with some shady people. 2 of the encounters happened while I was employed with an organisation in Kelana Jaya, and often had to travel the 4 corners of Malaysia in its Education and Awareness campaigns. The other though, happened much earlier during my days in Subang Jaya.
It was sometime in 2004 and I was on my way back from Kuantan to KL, traveling alone as I normally would when ever my office participate in events related to its function. Just before entering the then new KL-Kuantan Highway, I stopped by a petrol station to refill. As I was queuing to pay at the counter, I felt a strange presence behind me. Having long not had strange encounters, I let my guard down and took my wallet out to pay for the petrol. Having done so, I walked out and was only a few steps away from my car when suddenly from behind, I heard a loud voice. I turned around and this burly foreigner rushed towards my direction and which had me in a state of half shocked.
In his hands were some foreign notes and a single RM50, and he kept repeating "Change! Change! I want that!", pointing to the wallet I was still holding in my hand. He then grabbed my wallet and took out several RM50 notes which were the newer Bank Negara issue than the one he was holding. "I want this! I want this!" he then kept repeating. I was like dazzled perhaps by his physique and slow to react. By the time I grabbed my wallet back, he had already made a quick change of the notes giving me his old notes while taking the newer B.N. issues. He then mumbled something with a smile and walked off towards a car and got into the driver side and drove off, leaving me in a state of daze.
I came around a few seconds later, filled the car, and drove off towards the highway and later KL. The time difference between each car leaving the petrol station could not have been more than 2 minutes. And since I do drive fast on the highway, and the guy being a foreigner and driving an old 1.3 liter Proton Saga, he could not have gone far ahead. Still, all along the way, I could not make him out. It was like he vanished into thin air. Then halfway through the highway, realisation got into me and I checked my cash. True enough, I was literally shortchanged by RM150! Nothing I could do but shrug it off and say istighfar all the way back.
Of the many cities in Malaysia, I rank Kota Kinabalu as the most romantic, with Kuching a distant 2nd. Though I now have a dislike for air travel, I have always looked forward to my former office visits to these 2 towns. Unfortunately, personal encounters with locals there were limited as the days are normally packed, leaving the nights as the only time to rest. And a chance encounter during a break, had me messaging the local office staff for some assistance.
It was my turn to break off for lunch. As the pavilion where we were did not have any meal counters, I headed out towards the nearest fast food available. It was either that, or an expensive meal at one of the restaurants within that area of Kuching. Unknown to me then, that same area is also known as a haunt for some, let us say, dishonest people (DP). And as I was walking down the hill from the pavilion, I bumped into one.
DP hailed me from afar. Thinking he was one of those people I had met in the pavilion, I greeted him back. He asked whether I'm looking to buy some souvenirs, something which I normally do, he asked me to follow him, saying that a dayak had just arrived from the inner region with some very nice handicraft. Heck, I thought, why not, and was soon following him between the back lanes. When we reached a half empty building, he called me in and brought me into a room of the small hotel there. By that time my senses were already tingling, and I was figuring a way out without having some people chasing after me.
When I walked into the room, I was mildly surprised that there was a man who could pass off as a dayak rummaging through a large trunk. DP introduced me to the dayak and then began talking in a dialect I could not make out. But when he looked at me and then asked whether I would like a girl for company, my mind went "Oh, oh! You stupid bugger! This is a con game you had yourself led into!". So I said no while my finger slowly began messaging the local office staff to call me immediately. And soon as the call came in - I made sure volume was at its maximum - I pretended the reception was bad and made my way out of the room. DP tried to follow and I waived him back saying my friend too wanted to purchase some stuff and I made my way downstairs and out of the building. Without looking back, I just kept on walking all the way back to the pavilion.
When told of the experience I just had, the office staff at the pavilion apologised profusely as though they were responsible for what could have transpired. Perhaps, they were, for it was only then I was told that similar cases that led to robbery have been reported. Alhamdulillah, I managed to get myself out of it. But I guess it served me right too for not thinking. I did, however, managed to get some nice table mats later.
The Nigerian Black Money.
This happened way back around the year 2000, and cases of such scam appeared almost by routine in the papers then. Thus, when I was approached, I was sort of prepared for it. Unfortunately, it seems the Police were not.
When I was approached by 3 youths - 2 guys and 1 girl - I initially thought nothing about it. But when they mentioned that they want to give a business proposal, one involving 2 huge bags of money purportedly held by a United Nations officer in Damansara, my mind immediately went "Oh, oh! Black Money!". But I decided to play along and listened to them.
One guy then took out a blackened rectangular piece of paper and asked me to hold it while he took out a small plastic bottle filled with some form of liquid which he unscrewed the cover. He then took the paper and began pouring the liquid slowly onto the paper. Slowly, the dark colour began to wear off and soon revealed a US100 Dollar note. The guy did the same on the back of the note to show it was genuine. He then asked me to keep the note for verification purposes, but then request to exchange contact number. I complied and as soon as they were off, I headed off to my foreign exchange friend and asked him to check the authenticity of the note. All he could say was "It does look genuine. But if its a forgery, it must be a good one!". Akhbar, my friend, has been in the business for umpteen years. If he has reasons to even suspect the note, that's good enough for me to call my cousin Jeff, who was in the Special Branch.
Now, Jeff does not deal with this stuff, but instead put me to an ASP Someone who does. And soon ASP Someone and I met at he agreed to handle the matter and asked me to set up the next meet. "Hullo!", this is not what I expected, I said, in my mind off course. But then I agreed to assist.
The next meet with the Africans who claimed to be political refugees from Nigeria, was held several days later in Suband Parade under the watchful eyes of several plainclothes detectives. Nothing grand happened as the Nigerians explained their terms which include: the rental of a house for their use so they can wash their money discreetly, and a sum of US2,000 to pay the U.N. officer for the release for their luggage which contains such Black Money. So I said OK, and asked for 3 days to get back to them. Later, I passed the info to ASP Someone who mulled over the matter for a week before getting back to me to set up a new meet. Hmm...I was getting somewhat uneasy already. First, the ASP took longer than should to get back to me, and now, he wants me to set a new meet soonest. How about the money and house, I asked. He said not to worry, everything is being arranged, and asked the meet to be at De Palma Hotel, Ampang.
On the day of the meet, the ASP picked me up in Subang Jaya and drove to the Ampang Police Station. There, I was introduced to the team of about 10 male officers and 2 ladies and the team was then briefed about the plan. Just before I got into the car to go to the hotel, 2 of the police officers came up to me and shook my hand and said "Terima kasih Encik, tak ramai orang luar mau bantu kami". My mind then went "Hullo! I did not volunteer to be a hero! In fact, how the heck did I get into this!".
So there we were at the hotel entrance. As we walked in, I recognise the officers of the team either sitting or standing ideally in teams of 2. The ASP took me into a room which has an inner door to the next room, where 2 officers stand ready. The time was 11.30 am and the meet was to be at the lobby at 1. With nothing to read and nothing to watch, I decided to doze off and so did the ASP.
At 12.45, my phone rang and the Nigerians told me they were in the lobby. I spruced up and the ASP handed me a was of US notes neatly folded in 2. I opened the fold and gasped in wonder. "That," said the ASP,"was the only thing they had"...a wad of US notes with each note stamped with 'spesimen', or something like that! And instead of the house as promised, it was the room where we dozed off! The ASP must have noticed my eyes rolling up because he patted my shoulder and gave me an apologetic smile. Hmm...
When we met the Nigerians downstairs, the girl was not around. Either they were being cautious or must have smelt something fishy especially with the ASP beside me. So I introduced him as my driver and asked where's the girl. Instead of replying, they asked where's the money. I showed the wad of folded US notes but did not allow them a closer look. They nodded and said the girl was with the UN officer, and asked to bring them there. The ASP agreed, and we got into the car with me sitting in the rear passenger seat (looking back, that's just about the part I relish in the whole episode). But halfway through to our mysterious destination, we had an argument when the Nigerians insisted on a house instead of the hotel room. When the ASP stopped the car at some place obscure to calm the Nigerians, they bolted out before anyone could do anything, putting the whole matter to an end.
Some weeks later, the ASP called to inform that the girl and one of the boys were apprehended in Klang. What happens to them after that I do not know, and neither do I care. For a spell after that, the ASP and I did get in touch. But about 2 years back I changed my number and decided not to inform him. Personally, he's a nice soft spoken chap. But when I'm reminded of the whole thing, my blood just boils at the...Perhaps, he was not at fault for there are matters beyond his authority. Hmm...
Well, not exactly an addendum but something I forgot to add:
People being people, there are bound to be con-men everywhere and from all races too. Just because I've met several, that does not mean others I will be meeting, insyAllah, are of the same breed. Perhaps, the worst of the whole lot are the ones who plunder (especially from their own people) while at the same time portray themselves as the saviour.
Looking back at the 2 earlier mentioned incidents, I guess I was cursed (na'uzubillah) by the Nigerians. Oh well...