One of my old office mates from our former Ban Hin Lee Bank days, Ng Fook Chin, went to China recently and came back with an interesting tale. No, he wasn't extolling the breath-taking beauty of China. Instead, he was commenting on one of the uglier sides of that country. Here is the tale, which I reproduce from one of his facebook posts:
During a tour in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, we were taken to visit a jade-cum-jewellery shop. The welcoming staff said that her MD, on hearing that we were from Penang, would like to speak to us personally.
We were led into a big conference room and treated like VIPs. I was curious why the MD would want to address a group of stranger tourists. He walked in and greeted us politely Thai-style and showed us his utmost respect. He said he wanted to fulfil his mother's wish to thank us and show his gratitude to all Malaysians especially Penangites who come to his shop.
Speaking in halting Mandarin, he introduced himself as a Thai whose family operates one of the largest precious stones-cum-jewellery business in Thailand. He said his company was involved in the supply of silver medals for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Suddenly, he asked: "Does anyone of you remember the date, 26th Dec 2004?"
I answered "Tsunami" and he nodded solemnly. He continued: "My beloved mother was touring Penang on that fateful day. When the waves came, she was lucky to be rescued by a Penangite. Amithaba…"
Since then, his mother had instructed him to personally thank and show gratitude to every Malaysian who visited this shop. He further said that he was a staunch Buddhist under the tutelage of a famous monk in Thailand. A fact that cannot be denied was that his face bore an uncanny resemblance to the Laughing Buddha that we see in statues, portraits and photos. He said he came to this part of China about eight years ago and his company had contributed much to the development of this area, such as building schools and other social welfare work. He even found love and was married to his beautiful tourist guide and now was a happy man giving back to society.
Now comes the interesting part. He selected a five-centimetre diameter jade medallion with a golden rim and hung it on my neck. He asked me to put my palms together Thai-style and repeat a mantra after him to supposedly bless the medallion, or was it to hypnotise me? Before I could react, he said that this piece could not be found in Malaysia and he was willing to sell it to me for a discounted price of RM22,000.
What! RM22,000? Do I look like a sucker? He got the wrong guy as I only wore a cheap watch and no jewellery unlike some show-off guys who wear thick golden necklaces and big precious stone rings and who are probably illegal money lenders or bookies.
I quickly took off the medallion and put it on the glass panel and said "No." The staff said credit cards could be accepted but I just walked away. My wife was so worried that I would take out my credit card and sign for it. I told her this would not happen as my mantra of "No Compulsive Purchases" when I travel was keyed into my smartphone home screen as a constant reminder.
Finally, our tour members bought collectively more than RM2,000 thinking that they had a good deal. Back in the bus, a member told us of her similar experience in another tour of China. The tsunami part was replaced by a road accident where a kind Malaysian had helped the trickster's parents. Our member said she was scared, uncertain and did not have the opportunity to inform us as everyone was busy looking at the jewellery.
Analysis of the well executed con:
- A touching story faking his mother's tsunami experience to evoke sympathy and then showing gratitude in discounting his products.
- He used religion to convince us of his piousness and even styled his appearance of a bald round face with a perpetual smile to look like the Laughing Buddha. The resemblance was indeed uncanny. He pretended well by struggling to speak Mandarin Thai-style in a slow and halting manner which earned our respect as we could understand Mandarin perfectly. Wow, a Thai speaking to us in our Mother tongue!
- Sweet talked us of his wealth and philanthropic nature.
- Free gifts and discounts of up to 60% exclusively for Penang Lang. Who wouldn't love that? Free gifts and discounts never fail to entice us to buy, buy, buy!!! This has to be our Number One weakness for sure.
To conclude, con artists would tell all kinds of stories to gain your trust and convince you to part with your money. In fact, most of us were taken in by his story which was well executed. If something is too good to be true, most probably it is a scam.
There you have it. He survived the scam. I've also a similar tale to tell but perhaps at another time....