Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Con Game

The recent huge hoohah about a Lebanese billionaire with lots of cash to throw around in town and conning his way into the Police Cooler, started me thinking about con-men and their bag of tricks.


Case #1

When I was in my teens, I used to hang out with my elder brother and his group of friends around our local kopitiam.  Most of us carry the names our parents gave us typical of our generation; like Ah Huat, Ah Seng, Ah Soon, Ah Chye, Ah Keat and what have you.   So, it was without suspicion on my part when one evening, (when I was in my twenties) as I was about to cross a street in town, a guy came paddling by on his bicycle and asked if I still remember him.  And he proceeded to roll the above names off his tongue while I searched my 'hard-disk' for the file that stored the long forgotten information. 


While I was still trying to place his face, he went on to tell me about his miserable life after his "release from jail, and his recent operation" and there was even a scar on his belly to convince me.  Of course I don't remember hearing of any of our friends ever getting parceled off to jail for anything.  Then he said he hadn't had any food yet and hoped I could spare him a few bucks.  I fished a couple of loose notes from my pocket and gave them to him.   After that he just rode off into the night.  It took me a while before I realized I'd been had.  Those names he came up with were the typical names that would fill up any Chinese telephone book, especially when you use only the last name with the 'Ah' prefix.


A few weeks later, while I was heading for the motorcycle park after leaving the ferry from the mainland, the same guy on the same bicycle rolled alongside of me again.  Looking at me cheerfully, he asked the very same question he did the previous night.  This time I answered: Yes, I remember him.  You'd laughed if you could see the surprised look on his face!  Without another word he paddled his bicycle as quickly as he could and got out of my sight.


Case #2

Years later, after I had settled down in SP town, a guy conned his way into our house.  I was away at work while my wife was busy getting one of the kids ready for school.  He said he was a friend of mine and his car just broke down somewhere nearby.  Wife thought his face looked familiar but giving him the benefit of the doubt, let him into the house to use our telephone.  After making his call, he asked for some plastic bags saying he's got some fresh vegetables in the car and would like to give some to us.  He then said he'd run out of cash and asked to borrow RM30 to get his car repaired.  With that, he disappeared.  He didn't come back with vegetables of course.  I wondered which of my 'friends' would pull such a lowly trick to con us of a few bucks.  But I am sure grateful nothing more serious than that happened to my family, so far. 


Case #3

Some years ago, while on a tour in China, a brother-in-law (and our wives and friends) and I were chatting in a hotel lobby waiting to check out.  A guy came in and spoke to us in our local dialect, and told us he came from Singapore.  He said he was in a tour bus coming into Kunming and there was an accident.  He was now hunting all over the city trying to locate his son and his wife who were seriously injured and were taken to hospital, but he didn't know which ones they were taken to.  So like normal human beings we showed some sympathy and noted that he was lucky to have escaped injury and chatted with him for a while.  Then he excused himself and walked away.  But on second thoughts he turned around, came back and said that all his money has been spent and that he was hungry and asked much politely if we could spare him some cash.  I gave him 20 Renminbi and bro-in-law did the same.  He thanked us gratefully and went off again. 


Bro-in-law and I looked at each other.  He smiled knowingly and shook his head.  We knew immediately we'd been had.  I shrugged and he said, "It's OK.  Consider that a charity done".  I realized we had no choice but to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.  If he was a conman he was considered 'thick-faced'.  But could we be 'two-faced' after showing him sympathy and yet refusing to help him?  I guess we couldn't bring ourselves to his level.


Case #4

Just a few weeks back, a conning case happened just next door.  I came home that Saturday at lunchtime feeling starved after running some errands at the bank and post office, and noticed a guy talking to Mrs Lim.  I was immediately alerted to the tone of conversation going on.  It sounded too much like the high pressure tactics I'd often heard about.  The guy was going non-stop about how lucky they were to have been picked to win this something (which I didn't get to hear......)   As I was wondering if Mr Lim was at home, wifey motioned me into the house and shut the door.  She said not to worry; the hubby’s in, so let's not interfere.  There's nothing we can do for them.  It's their business anyway.  That was only a door-to-door salesman and we don’t have time for them.  I felt bad, because as a neighbor we should try to see if any trickery was going on.  But I was hungry so I headed for the kitchen. 


A few days later the story came.  It seems, the salesman was from one of those fly-by-night organizations that sell cheap electrical goods at high prices, and to pull the wool over the buyers’ eyes, waved newspaper stories to show pictures of lucky winners of (non-existent) prizes of luxury cars, or something like that.  Well, so far I haven’t yet heard of anyone getting anything for nothing, except by stealing or robbing.  Even for these two activities you have to plan and work at them.


Somehow, the couple next door got interested and showed up at the shop.  There they bought and paid for a few thousand bucks worth of electrical goods.  When they reached home, they discovered that the items they bought were low cost stuff and not worth the money they paid for.  Some of the items were even non-functional.  Feeling that they'd been conned, they went back to the shop and demanded their money back.  The guy-in-charge refused to oblige.  He asked them to take other products instead.  They weren't interested.  Finally, they threatened to go to the police.  The guy-in-charge thought they were bluffing and told them to go ahead.  They did. 


The inspector turned out to be a nice chap.  He called the shop and told the guy-in-charge that a report has been lodged against the shop alleging that they had cheated my neighbors.  To hear what they have to say, the inspector arranged to meet them.  The guy-in-charge sent a couple of his sales guys to the appointed place.  As soon as they showed up, the police hand-cuffed them and threw them into the lockup.  Then the inspector called the shop again and informed them where their guys were.  They'd have to refund the money to my neighbors first and then explain how they run their business before their guys could be released. 


My neighbors went back to the shop.  Upon entering the shop, the wife noticed there was another lady at the counter producing a credit card ready to pay for her purchase.   The wife proceeded to tell the guy-in-charge that since they had promised the inspector that they'd refund the money they'd better pay up.  She spoke loud enough so that the lady with the credit card could hear her.  The lady quickly put her credit card back into her purse, made an excuse about thinking it over, and left the shop immediately.  My neighbors got back their cash. 


I wondered what would have happened if I'd tried to distract them that day when the door-to-door guy was doing his sales pitch.  Would they have refrained from buying?  Or would I have been conned along with them?  I don't really know for sure.  But since I already have all necessary electrical items I needed in the house, why would I buy anymore even if it is for the sake of claiming a lucky draw prize?   Like the Hongkees say, "There's no free lunch...."


Friday, January 6, 2006

Stories from the Workplace IV



I have the misfortune to work with a "she-bear".  Some colleagues want to shake hands with her hubby for being such a saint.  He used to wait for her patiently outside the factory gates at quitting time everyday.  If he came late, she'd go ballistic.  We know that because she told us.  She'd proudly proclaim she's the fiercest person around.  She can't be bullied.  Her technical know-how was zero, but she acts like she knows everything.  Handling such people gives you mental exhaustion.  But if there's anything I'd give her credit for, it's her thick skin.  If you prove her to be an idiot, she'd turn it into a joke and laugh at herself.  I dislike managing people, but that's one part of life that can't be avoided.  With some people, you either 'manage' (manipulate) them or they'll 'manage' you. 


One day I was told she was marked for transfer to handle another product line.  I told my colleague who was handling that line, "I got good news and bad news.  Good news for me, bad news for you".  He groaned.  A few weeks later, he came back to me with a grin on his face and the news that the transfer was cancelled.  That was good while it lasted.  We're already used to it, so the best thing was to have a good laugh about it.  Somehow her boss found a way to keep her in line.  He simply gives her more responsibilities.  That suits her pretty well, it seems.  She loves to be in charge.  Getting more responsibilities gives her the illusion of being in charge of more people.


I once worked with a very hard-working electrical technician.  He was also very playful.  One day, he got up a high ladder to hang up some balloons and a 'happy-new-year' poster next to some light fixtures.  That was not supposed to be done during production time, but since he didn't report to me I had no say to that.  I was standing next to a few other technicians watching the event and one of them made some negative comments.  I joined in with some remarks to amuse them.  A few minutes later the electrician came into my office and confronted me about my remarks.  I listened quietly while he told me I had no right to control whatever he did.  When he'd finished, I stood up and said, "No doubt what you did was none of my concern.  Even if you fell down, it's not my concern.  I was just joking with those guys, but if you feel offended, I apologize".  Then I offered my hand and we shook hands.  But I added I'd be more careful with the guy who told him what I said since we all knew that we were only joking. 


Later, we went through an organization re-shuffle and he ended up reporting to me.  He was somewhat resentful as he understood that I had very limited knowledge about electricity.  One morning, a supervisor came in and reported a sonic welder broke down and required to be fixed as the production line had stopped.  I asked him if he had alerted the technician.  He said, "Yes, but he said since you're his manager you should tell him what to do!"  Something didn't sound right here.  I sent for the technician.  When he came in, I asked, "What's wrong with the machine?"

He said, "I don't know.  You're my boss what, you tell me lah..."

I didn't get angry.  I just asked him, "Have you looked at the machine?"

He said, "No." 

I said, "Then let's take a look at it."


We both went to the line.  The conveyor was empty.  There was no work in progress.  I was suspicious that he and the supervisor had something in common.  But I said nothing.  He opened the machine cover and we both peered into it.  I asked, "Well?  What do you think?"

He said maybe I should call the machine supplier for help from their technicians.  That was when I took a deep breath and said, "Look, we are both responsible for our equipments here.  If we were to call in the experts for every little problem in this factory, you and I will soon be out of our jobs."  I looked at him and smiled.  I could have said that if he's not interested in solving the problem, I'd find someone who could, but I didn't.  He grinned and I knew he understood my meaning very well.  I went back to my office.  A few minutes later he came in and said he'd solved the problem.


We went on to solve more problems after that.  Years later, when we had both left the company, he went on to run his own injection molding factory.  The last time I heard from him, he invited me to visit his factory sometimes.  He said he was driving a Volvo 7-Series.   Seems like he's doing great.