Sorry for intriguing heading, I just believe that everyone could learn from mistakes we made.
Following is a real-life story happened to us a month ago in Kuala Lumpur. If there ever was a life’s guidebook, then this story would make a great case study for it.
The story can’t be understood without a prelude.
Wherever we go there in South-East Asia, we more or less feel like we are looked as walking wallets full of money. Locals don’t know either we are enjoying our fancy 2-week holiday trip or are living here our budget life.
It was especially evident in more touristy places, like in Bali, where people yelled at us from meters away: “Taxi! Taxi! Come in! Cheap Cheap!” Of course, these selling tactics didn’t work for us. If we needed a taxi, we used the Grab app. If needed to buy something, we analyzed our need as long as we didn’t want it anymore.
Moments we really feel pressure here, are when we walk past people asking for money. Empathy kicks in, and war between willingness to help and personal well-being starts inside us. Of course, we want to help, but we are on the budget. And if we donate to someone, then we should donate to the next one too. It’s easier to ignore them all and just walk past.
One time when we really were in between, was when a white woman with a child approached us on the street and started talking how ATM took her bank card and how they would now need cash for short period. For some reason, the way she told the story was unbelievable, and we refused to help. Afterwards, we thought about the decision for hours. Did we do the right thing? What would we do in her situation?
We, two innocent souls, were rushing on the street from our home to train station, when a decent looking guy with a map walk to us and sadly started talking his story. He told that he is from Singapore, got just robbed in the train station, and would now need cash to get his luggage and buy a bus ticket back to Singapore. He would transfer back our money as soon as he is there.
The way he told the story was somewhat believable, he looked clean, had good sandals, spoke good English, told he works for a technology company and is totally alone here in Kuala Lumpur for only 3 days.
The sum he wanted was 150 ringgit = little over 30 euros.
I had a
As soon as we lost sight of him, reality kicked us. Suddenly we understood that we just got scammed. I tried to find confirmations for my decisions by finding things to support it: his story looked believable, we were in a hurry, it was not so big amount, he really must have needed the money.
We wrote a letter back to his random email account about how we really wanted to help him and he better be honest. We tried to find him from social media but we were not successful. It was clear, he scammed us. Fuck.
During the next days, we were really down. Why did we handle our money so carelessly? Every other day we count every penny, but now give away relatively large sum so easily.
More than our financial situation, our pride got hurt. Why didn’t we ask more questions? Why did we trust him? He destroyed our naive view of goodness in humanity. He made me question my intuition and made me look stupid. And he just lied to our face!
We thought about it over and over again. Every time we walked passed the same place he scammed us, we couldn’t resist but talk about our feelings. I thought a lot about what I would do when I would see him again. At some point, I was ready to really kick his ass.
Finding our peace
It was 3 days since the incident, and we were walking to the train station again when we passed a guy sitting in a bus station. I didn’t bring attention to him but happened to see his sandals. Wait a moment, I remember these!
“What a fuck are you doing here!? Give back our money!” We saw the same guy sitting there who scammed us just days earlier. We were astonished and looked to each other thinking what we going to do with him now.
He said sadly that he doesn’t have our money anymore. Showed us his bag, where he only had nuts and cat food. He offered us his watch until he gets our money back, and tried to come up with a new fake story.
At this point, it was clear that our money is lost. Even if he had it hidden somewhere, I am not going to hurt him. Calling local (corrupted) police didn’t look like a good option either.
But how can we restore our peace of mind? I wanted to know his real story. Why is he in a position that he has to cheat people like this? I wanted to replace my anger with compassion.
Unfortunately, he didn’t open up. But we got our possibility to speak. Both, me and Grete, told him in turns what we feel about him, how we are budget travellers counting every penny and how he hurt us.
I told him that if he would have come to us (and to others) on the street honestly asking for some smaller donation, we would have been happy to help him. He would have got the money, and we would have felt good about helping him. But he chose to lie into our face, make us feel
After we finished our ranting, his eyes were wet and he said he was sorry and that lying is his personal problem. We felt that we moved him.
There was nothing else to do anymore. I told him that my contacts will stay the same, and if one day he could break out of the situation, he could always pay me back. That’s how we left.
We don’t expect to see the money again, and we don’t know if his tears were real, and what his real story is. But what’s most important, we got our peace of mind back.
And as Grete’s mother said, we all have to pay our tuition in life. I would say that 30€ for a lesson like this is a bargain.
What would we do differently next time:
- Don’t trust the intuition. I was clearly biased. All these refusals before him made me believe that it’s finally time to help someone, and made me decide instantly without noticing further flaws.
- Ask as many questions you could come up to. It’s okay not to trust a
- Ask for social proof. Call to some of his/her friends, colleagues or relatives. See social media profiles.
- Accept that although we would want, we can’t help everyone. It’s okay to say no.
I am pretty sure that we will encounter dilemmas like this in the future. Next time I hope to keep my head cool and try to think rationally.