Thursday, November 13, 2008

This Ain't No Magic Carpet Ride... Pt.2

The next day, I woke up with this deep feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach.  I had been tossing and turning for most of the night and had to wake up at 6 for the 7:00AM floating market tour.  We paid no heed to the dark skies, thinking it had just been awhile since either of us had waken up at 6 and this must be how the skies normally look like at 6 in the morning. Only did we get downstairs did I notice that the clock actually said 6:00.  BAHHH... Valerie went right back to sleep in the hostel lobby but I was hardly able to blink, let alone sleep.  My heart was scrunched up so tight it was about to burst.  So I decided to write.  This is...word for word...what I wrote down in my handy notebook.  

I've become a statistic. I've become one of those "friends who went to Thailand and got conned" ones.  I'm so disappointed in myself. This is one of those life experiences I just needed to learn. I feel like Someone Out There is trying to send me a message with this experience. Stop being so naive. Be more skeptical. Grow some common sense. Learn that some things are just too good to be true.  Not a good business woman. The world is full of corrupt people. At least it was this and not my life that was put in jeopardy. We'll have to see about today.  I really hope I get all my money back.  GREED LEADS MEN DOWN DARK ALLEYS.

We waited and waited for our tour guides to come. Was it any wonder that they never showed up? By around 9, our hostel-keeper called them and no one picked up the phone.  This time we were both mad.  It was time to get revenge. Or at least our money back.  

We set up a plan.  We knew that we couldn't trust anyone.  The taxi or tuk tuk drivers would get suspicious once we tell them where we wanted to go.  So we were going to find drivers that didn't speak as much English. Guidebooks say that they're most likely straight because if they don't speak that much English, they can't entice tourists as much.  We found such a man but he ended up not even knowing where the traveling agency was at! So he dropped us off near the zoo where we found a tuk tuk driver with nothing to do.  We approached him and this time, I very aggressively (goodbye, naive Janice!) asked him if he could take us to a particular address. He glanced at the address and then asked us if we had bought tickets from there already. We said, "DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT" but he wouldn't let up. I just demanded to know whether he could take us to the place or not and for $70Baht or not.  At first he wouldn't go for that price but after a bit of, "there's no one else here! you can take us and come back for others!" He gave in.  As we got in the tuk tuk, Val and I silently congratulated each other for at least one small aggressive feat accomplished.

When we arrived at the travel agency, everyone looked like they were already expecting us. There were men outside the shop, telling us to "come in, come in!"  We enter and the place is completely empty expect for a few smattering of workers.  Suspiciously, there were other caucasian tourist-looking people there. A particular girl was just standing on a corner, arms folded, not doing anything.  She looked suspicious so I glared at her. I just KNOW she's paid by the Thais to sit there and pretend to be a customer.  Sure enough, another caucasian girl comes in a few minutes later and they both head into this room labeled the "VIP Room."

Val and I were very firm yet polite.  We just told them the guide never showed so we wanted our money back. Johnny, the guy who sold the tickets to us, said that there must have been some miscommunication. He made a couple of bogus phone calls then explained to us that the tour was supposed to be cut in half. We were going in the afternoon today and the morning tomorrow.  We said no one informed us of that and thanks for wasting our morning but we want our money back.  As we sat there, I wanted to find out for sure if the "tourists" were in on the scam so I went to the bathroom.  Sure enough, on my way there, I glance into the "VIP Room" and found the two girls sitting there, just waiting for their next prey. Disgusting.

Before we got our money back, Johnny did a very shady thing. He snapped a picture of us with his cell phone.  Both Val and I didn't really know what to do because he still hadn't given us our money back and we were still in their store.  When we got our money back, we both bolted for the door.

Though we had made in out to the public streets, we still weren't better off. The next problem was trying to find someone who would take us to the PAN-SIAMESE GEM CO.  We didn't know who to trust. We tried a few times to get into a taxi but once we asked the driver if they would take us to the store, they said no and hurriedly drove off.  Weird and freaky.  Finally, we found one who didn't speak as much English and he said that he knew the place.  He sounded uncertain though and that made us uneasy.  

A much longer time later, we still had not arrived at the jewelry store. In fact, we weren't even in the same district anymore! Plus, the taxi driver started rolling down his window, asking for directions, calling operator and using the walky-talky.  We were both freaking out.  I asked him politely to stop the car but he kept refusing. Finally, I started shrieking at him to let us go and he still wouldn't pull to the left. So when there was a lull in traffic, Val and I both jumped off the car into the middle of the streets of Bangkok.

Now we were both distraught and having full-blown anxiety attacks.  Here we were, two college girls, lost and alone in a foreign country where everyone is constantly trying to scam you. We had no idea what to do.  Val started questioning me whether $400 was worth risking my life for.  It isn't. It really isn't. But when you're there in the moment and you've been duped, you just want...revenge. You want to soothe your bruised ego. You want to prove that you can make things right again.  She suggested we head back to the hostel and so we did.  

Once we got back, I talked to Jat on the phone about what I should do.  He told me to call the tourist police and ask them to send someone over to help me.  I did and they were so unhelpful!  They didn't want to speak to me over the phone and kept insisting that I go over to their office which was located about 1 and a half hours away.  I was stranded. I had no idea what to do. I was going to give up.

But, fortune smiled upon me a little bit because the tourist police that had helped out a previous guest of Jat's called me back.  He said his name was Peter and he was going to come over to the inn as soon as he got off work in an hour and a half. 

So Val and I waited for him to come. At 4 in the afternoon, I had my first meal of the day.  Peter showed up, a big burly-yet-teddy-bear-looking type of man.  By now, I am already skeptical and suspicious of everything and everyone (except for Val and Jat).  Also, Thai tourist police are also known to be paid by the Mafia. That's why scams like the PAN-SIAMESE GEM CO. still exist.  To me, it seemed that Peter kept trying to act like he was a tourist police instead of just being one.  When we walked in, he kept flashing his badge everywhere, repeating "I'm the tourist police" over and over again.  He would say things like, "you call 1155 anytime you need to talk to a tourist police" and "you know how you can tell someone is a police? This ID card" and proceeded to show me an ID card that looked like something I can make in my garage.  Plus, he wrote notes about my case on the back of an old business card.  

With no other choice, I told him my story. Everything from the previous post.  I told him I didn't want any trouble, just my money back.  He asked me if I knew where the place was and I showed him the address. He said he had never been there.  Then, it was time for us to go.  I suggested for the three of us to grab a cab but Peter said it would be a better idea for him to just take me on the back of his motorcycle.

Yes. I know it's a stupid idea to ride on the back of a stranger's motorcycle. Especially one that might be tied to the mafia. But I had already made enough stupid decisions that one more won't matter. Plus, I didn't want to trouble Val anymore.  I had already dragged her in deep enough. This time, I'll have to do things alone.  Before I left, I made Val take a picture of Peter and keep his phone number.  Then, I clasped her shoulders and said, "If I don't come back in two hours, call the cops."  And off I went, my life clinging by a thread.

We get onto Peter's grubby little motorcycle but not before he pulls out a normal black jacket with the words, "Tourist Police" emblazoned on it.  It looked like a jacket anyone could have made. I think my high school drum-line jacket looked more genuine.  I sighed, thinking this was going to be the end of me.  As we vroomed down Khao San road, there were these little stands lined up with people selling fake IDs to tourists.  Whenever Peter passed by one of these stands, he would would use his feet and kick it down.  It was as if we were in a bad cops movie.  He then would grab the posters advertising the fake IDs and wrinkle it and then toss it away a few streets later.  I thought to myself, "what is the point of that? Why didn't he knock those stands down before he picked me up?  Is he trying to put on a show?"  Nonetheless, I still clung on, my life seeming to go down the gutter more and more.  Oh! And I should point out that I didn't even have a helmet on!

At one point in our journey, Peter pulls over to a tuk tuk driver taking an European couple around.  He demands to know where they were going and keeps telling the couple that the tuk tuk driver is scamming them. The couple looked so confused, like, who is this man and what the hell is he doing?  They looked to me for guidance and I mournfully tell them, "You're being scammed. Don't buy anything at any of the places he takes you to."  Peter then yells at the sheepish tuk tuk driver for a little bit and drives off.

Throughout the ride, Peter talked, telling me about how he feels like he's the only one in his office that actually gives a damn about tourists and how he works so hard for us, blah blah blah.  I listened with a wary ear.  I mean, on the one hand, it is really nice that he's doing this for me, but on the other hand, I've become so skeptical of nice people that I couldn't believe anything he said 100%.  He warned me to never buy from these jewelry stores and tux shops, just follow some guide books and do everything by myself.  

We get to the place and it is completely empty of customers. Unlike the day before, where couples, families and tourists filled the store, no one was there.  It was almost as if they were expecting us.  I gulp down whatever remainder of fear I had of me and follow Peter into the store.  Once inside, an old lady leads me to a back-room of the jewelry store.  I keep asking, "why we can't just stand outside?" only to have them ignore me. Peter tells me it's okay, that he's there but I'm thinking, "that does not make me feel any better buddy."

I stand nervously near the door of the back room and waited for the manager to come in what seemed like forever.  Finally, the manager, a very fey man named Izzy, comes.  He acts surprised and says, "you brought the tourist police?"  I told him I did and that I had come for a refund. Instead of telling him what I was really thinking, which was, "YOU FUCKING SCAMMED ME, YOU FREAKING SCAMMER!!  I KNOW WHAT YOU GUYS ARE UP TO AND I HATE YOU AND WANT TO TEAR YOUR EYES OUT, THROW ALL THE GEMS IN YOUR STORE INTO THE RIVER AND MAKE YOU GROVEL AT MY FEET AND BEG FOR FORGIVENESS! AND ALSO, EVERY TIME YOU AGREE TO SOMETHING I SAY, YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO SAY, 'IT'S A POSSIBILITY' NOT MERELY 'POSSIBILITY,' CAN'T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH??!!! AND ALSO YOU HAVE BAD BREATHE" I tell him, "I bought this for my mom and when I told her about it last night, she got really mad at me and won't let me buy it. She wants me to have a refund and that's that. I love the gem. I mean, if it were up to me, I'd keep it.  In fact, when I come back to Bangkok in a couple of years with more money, I'd definitely come back here and buy more jewelry."

I suppose the lie worked because Izzy gives me all my money back.  When we walked out of the store, I felt like the sky had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt my heartbeat return to a regular pace. I felt the wind pass through my skin. I felt hungry again.  Peter then proceeds to tell me, "this store is okay.  Next time you want to come back, you should. You should buy more stuff from them."  


This here be the man Peter that potentially may or may not have saved my life and potentially may or may not have been part of the Thai Mafia.  I think I'll write him a thank you letter nonetheless. If anything, he gave me a free ride on the back of his motorcycle.


Anonymous said...

that was so exciting jan!! yay at least you're ok now! but thailand doesnt sound so fun...

Anonymous said...

Jeez! I'm glad you're still alive after being scammed and possibly riding on a motorcycle owned by the mafia! Just have some good food and things will be better. =)