Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Chiang Mai Scammer

Like any other country, Thailand has its fair share of con-artists. While studying Thai language in the northern city of Chiang Mai back in 2008, I had the misfortune of running into this little walking story.

He approached me with a smile on his face and a yellowing white hat that partly covered long black hair. Even though I had only been in Thailand for one week, I already knew to be wary. I had heard of con-men talking up cheap diamonds, “attractions” off the beaten path, “very beautiful girls” and everything in between. Being a young white male, I knew that I was a big target for these wandering salesmen, but this time I happened to be too tired to run away. We started with the usual formalities.

“Hello, are you American?


“I love Americans.” He followed this statement with, “Very nice hair.”

With a closer look at him, I surmised that this man was a little crazy. His clothes were ragged and torn in random places and he walked with just a little too much sway. Still, he had the desperate pleading eyes down better than anyone I have ever met.

He started his practiced spiel, a masterful actor of his craft, “You come from America, big country. I come from Burma, small country. We are very poor and you are very rich. I need some money to get back to Burma. Can you please give me something, 50 baht? 100 baht? I need to return home to my family.”

I’d like to say I didn’t give into his charms, but I did. I gave him about three dollars.

Right after he walked away with my baht, a tuk-tuk driver told me that the man had been collecting money from tourists all afternoon.

Oh the humiliation! I have regretted my small donation ever since. Especially three weeks later when the same con-man found me walking around the Chiang Mai moat and tried the scam all over again. I was obviously indignant. “We have already met,” I told him.

“What?” he said, his eyes spacey and vacant.

“I met you three weeks ago and gave you money for the bus.”

He still didn’t get it, “I am from small coun…”

“I know. You’re from Burma and I’m from big America. You already took my money.”

“Can you give me some money to get home?” Definitely crazy I thought to myself.

“I’m not giving you money.”

His eyes wandered across my face for a moment. I imagined little dusty calculators running in his head. “Ok friend.” His hand went out as if to brush me off, and then he was gone. To this day I still don’t know whether he was truly insane, or whether he was just that good.

-Ted Gault, former hostel intern

No comments: