Bullitt's Bros

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Scam, scam, scam, scammity scam!

When we last left off, I told you I had been scammed by a wily stranger. Here's what happened.

A man stood in front of a sign saying, "Do not trust wily strangers." Next to him stood an armed soldier. This created the appearance of trustworthiness in the wily stranger, at least to me and wife.

The wily stranger was dressed in a suit and tie, which added to his authority. Wife and I stood in front of the gate to the Golden Palace, a major site in Thailand. It was about 12:30 pm.

He asked us, "what are you looking for?" We said, "the entrance to the Golden Palace."

"Oh, it's closed today until 3:30 pm--there's a Buddhist holiday, and it's full of Buddhist monks. Did you not know about he Buddhist holiday?", he asked, incredulously. His incredulity added to the effectiveness of his facade. I mean, it's obvious that we should have known about the Buddhist holiday, right? "Where you from?" "USA--Los Angeles." "Ah, Obama!"

What?

"Do you speak Thai?", he asked. We of course admitted that we didn't. He asked, again incredulously, "do you know about today's discount?" We admitted that we didn't know what he was talking about. "Today, because it's Christmas and there are so many tourists, eveyone gets a good discount. You just have go to the Thai Tourist Authority (TTA)! Here--I'll have my friend take you!"

From out of nowhere, his friend, a Tuk Tuk driver--Tuk Tuks are motorized rick-shaws, for lack of a better description--materialized. This fellow promised to charge us only 20 Baht per person to take us to the TTA. (It's about 35 Baht to the dollar, so all told this trip would cost us slightly more than $1.) We sort of said, well... and the wily stranger added, "come on, he take you to standing Buddha, and then to TTA, and then back to the Golden Palace!"

Now, let's stop for a moment. Of course we didn't know about the Buddhist holiday. Why would we have--we can't understand Thai, and we don't watch Thai TV. Second, what is the TTA? Something he made up, I'd wager. Third, I should be wary of materializing strangers--sudden materialization bespeaks conjury, or Star Trek transporter devices, both of which are bad news for the people involved with them.

Anway, we got in the Tuk Tuk.

As the Tuk Tuk tuk tuk'd away (they're called Tuk Tuks because that's the sound they make as they motor along, supposedly. However, the relationship between "tuk tuk" and the sound Tuk Tuks make is about the same as the relationship between the sound of the word "smash!" and you smashing a glass), I noticed something interesting. The Tuk Tuk's driver was lower to the ground than we were. In addition, there was a canvas top that prevented us from seeing anything clearly. So we didn't know where we were going, we couldn't speak or read Thai, and we couldn't see. It was like being blindfolded and kidnapped by a minotaur. You're in a maze, you can't see, the minotaur can kill you if he wants to, and you're in a maze to boot. The whole thing is really overkill.

Anyway, wife and I figured at this point that we were being scammed. I just hoped that he didn't entrust us to the loving embrace of brigands. Wife worried about being taken to a jewelry store. Neither of those things happened. Instead, we were taken to the Standing Buddha, a 45 meter tall golden Buddha statue. We took a look around, and were informed by some nearby Thais that if we gave them 90 Baht they would free a bird (presumably, one they had captured). What's the benefit of freeing a captured bird? Apparently, good luck for the rest of your life.

I declined.

Anyway, we went into a temple near the standing Buddha and saw some monks listening to iPods and making Buddhist art.

Whatever.

Then we went back to our Tuk Tuk driver. He hadn't asked for any money yet, and he actually took us to a standing Buddha. Maybe this would turn out not to be a scam after all! When we got back to the Tuk Tuk driver, he told us he had to go to the bathroom. It would only take 3 minutes. We waited in the Tuk Tuk, and a completely random stranger came up to us and started talking to us. "Where you from?" "USA--Los Angeles", we said. "Ah, Obama!" he replied.

I'm beginning to think this is going to become the international greeting from foreigners to USAers. Could be worse, I guess. They could say, "Ah! Bernie Madoff!" Or "Ah! USA Bailout!"

Anyway, he started telling us that we should get a suit--that Thai suits are very well made, and that there's a special discount only for today. Tomorrow, we won't be able to get suits at all. Moreover, we should go to the TTA, because there we can make bookings for hotels, because this is the busiest travel time of the year, and all the hotels are full. So we better book now. Really, we have to do this all today, because tomorrow, they won't sell us the suits or the hotel rooms. It's "more better" if we do this today.

Finally, a bit fed up, I asked him, "how come the suit stores and hotels won't take tourists' money after Christmas? Why don't they want to sell things to people after Christmas?"

This actually perplexed him. He stilled for a moment. Then he thought about it. And then he said...well, I can't reproduce what he said. Because, frankly, what he said was a string of almost incomprehensible gibberish. Not only was the accent thick, but the contents were mysterious. What I gleaned, though, was something like: "they have to stop selling tomorrow, because if they sold even tomorrow then they wouldn't have any stuff for Thai people."

I should have punched him then and there. Instead, his cell phone rang, and he stopped talking to us, and once again the Tuk Tuk driver materialized out of nowhere. "OK, we go to TTA now, OK?"

OK!

He drove us for a while, and took us to what looked for all the world like a storefront. "This is the TTA?" "Yes, this is TTA. They give you information."

Well, I like information.

We went inside, where we discovered a room full of suits! And several Indian proprieters asking us to sit down and have a look around.

I asked a question of the Indian proprieter who was servicing us. "Uh, I was told that we'd be given information, but I wasn't told the nature or contents of this information. Do you know what information we're supposed to learn?"

"Yes, information about buying suits."

Ah. I was always wondering how to give a stranger money to get a good or service in return. Finally, this question would be answered.

I thanked him for this valuable information and we went right back out to the Tuk Tuk driver. "We go now?" He asked. "Yes we want to go to the Golden Palace. No where else but the Golden Palace!" Wife said. He assented and started driving us away.

We drove, disorientedly, for some time. Then all of a sudden we found ourselves turning in to a jewelry store! "No! No, we don't want to go here!" wife said. "Are you sure?" said the driver. "Yes, we're sure! We don't want to go here!" "Maybe you go?" "No!" "But maybe?" "No!" "But maybe you go?" Finally, I said "yes, please take us there."

I should say, what motivated me to go there was that we were having this conversation right in the middle of a busy street. I mean, literally, right in the middle. Like, we were blocking traffic in both directions, and cars swerved around us. I figured I'd put that nonsense to an end and start with a whole new amount of nonsense.

So we went to the jewelry store.

"You have to stay for ten minutes!", he gently commanded us. "I no get gas coupon unless you stay for ten minutes!" So we went into the jewelry store. We were assigned a certified Thai hussler to show us around the store and tell us what to buy. We quickly abandoned her and went to another segment of this maze-like store, where we were assigned another Thai hustler. Finally, we shook her off and went to the third chamber of this discount dungeon and waited around looking at food until ten minutes were up. Then we went back to the Tuk Tuk driver.

"Please take us to the Golden Palace!" we implored him. "One more stop!" he responded. "No, no more stops! Golden Palace!" "But it's fashion for you!" he pointed to wife. "I don't want fashion!" "Why not?" "Because we're not here for that!" I said. "Are you sure?" "Yes! Please take us to Golden Palace!" "But I get gas coupon if you look for five minutes!" We told him we didn't want to go.

So he took us in his Tuk Tuk and off we went. We drove for quite a while, and I was sure he would just take us to the fashion panopticon anyway, but lo and behold he didn't! He just took us to the Golden Palace. I paid him his 40 baht and we got out of the Tuk Tuk.

"Now, you smarter." He said.

And so we were.

One last thing: the Golden Palace is open to everyone every day, and it closes at 3:30.

We still managed to see it, though.

2 Comments:

  • My goodness. You are extremely interesting and I guess you will have fun reading your own blog for the next years. I bet you are glad that I am not there when the jewels are in play!! Joseph and I saw Ben buttons. It is a very interesting movie. Kate Blanchett is wonderful Brad Pitt is OK but he doesn't do much acting actually. You will understand when you see it. I hope you and "wife" are having a great time if not an exciting time clashing wills with hucksters. I suppose you are keeping up with drudge or some other news site. anyway all for now. I love your blogs and am so glad that you are keeping us up on your news. how is the food in general? Love Mom

    By Anonymous mom, at 4:10 AM  

  • Weird that Goldenpalace.com is actually less of a scam than its namesake.

    So we need an antry about the food.

    By Anonymous Joe, at 4:38 AM  

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