It’s time to talk about a subject that’s a bit ugly, but an important one if you’re into the kind of things we do. That subject is crime, and specifically its sub-category: scams. If you grow up in a nice western city and come from an honest hardworking family, chances are you’re surrounded by decent honest people who normally avoid ripping off their neighbors, stealing, and the like, and you don’t think too much about being scammed on a day to day basis. It’s also natural to develop a world view that most people generally are this way, which is to say you assume people are good until proven otherwise.
The sad reality we’ve learned is something quite different, a fact that’s punctuated on a voyage like ours where we’re frequently in vulnerable situations, operating with an information disadvantage due to our inexperience in a place, and an easy target for unscrupulous types, where we find ourselves frequently defending ourselves against scammers and petty criminals. The most common ones are police and border officials who are professionals at putting us in very difficult positions thanks to their uniforms, and then offering us an easy way out… we find corruption in all shapes and forms, the examples too numerous to list. Money changing scams are another common one – if the advertised rates look too good to be true, we assure you they are. Petty theft from the boat also is not uncommon, but quite easy to prevent with some caution. Pick pockets are prevalent in some places but not others, and children are better at it than adults. Needless to say, our old assumption that “people are good until proven otherwise” was not one that served us well over time, so we abandoned it some time ago.
So here we are talking about this in Singapore, one of the most developed and modern cities in the world, and a place where one might let their guard down for a few days knowing you’re back in the first world where “most people are good”. That was our attitude as we went shopping for a new Samsung phone in Singapore’s Sim Lim Square, essentially a full sized shopping mall exclusively for electronics stores. So we picked a Samsung merchant, negotiated a $515 price on a Galaxy Note, then paid by debit card. The merchant then offered to register our warranty with Samsung, which requires us to sign the warranty documentation (we’re told) and return in 20 minutes once he’s completed the registration… our critical mistake at this point (besides not reading the warranty docs) was failing to be suspicious when he asked to keep the phone with him for the registration procedure. We returned 20 minutes later to find a surprise new $860 invoice for “warranty and registration services”, which we apparently signed up for in tiny incomprehensible text on page 3 of the 5-page “warranty registration doc”. We immediately insist on canceling, at which point they refuse to cancel and insist on the additional $860, and then also refuse to return our new Samsung on the grounds we’re indebted to them. With five employees now present, and the “contract” in our hands, we refuse to return the “contract” until they hand us our phone. And when we try to leave the store, we’re predictably tackled, the “contract” is ripped in half, and we escape the scuffle with half of the “contract”, no new phone, and $515 deducted from our checking account. We call the Singapore police for their help, and besides from their advice to “never shop in this mall”, and providing a case number along with a few words of sympathy, their ability to do anything useful is entirely blocked. Live and learn.
The rest of Singapore has been pretty much as advertised. Nice hotels, ultra modern transit systems, an amazing skyline, some ridiculously priced restaurants, and high-end shopping malls that are the nicest we’ve ever seen (and where you get to leave with actual products once the transaction is complete). So we leave another country with a bittersweet taste in our mouths and will be heading into Malaysia just a tiny bit more skeptical of human nature than we were a few days ago… we’re alert to a trend forming and are lowering our general expectations of humanity accordingly.