*Days 65-66: The Blackjack Scam
Trip Start May 20, 2008
77Trip End Aug 19, 2008
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An early wakeup lead me to a food court in the local mall, where I ate two Chinese dim sum dumplings for breakfast. The seemingly inherent rude-for-dumb-reasons-ness of Kuala Lumpurians (jk no offense) surfaced here as well. In the food court was a dumpling kiosk, other restaurants, and an inviting coffee shop that served food as well
Sightseeing for the day included random exploration of KL's Chinatown, Little India, and Colonial districts, all of which actually did have a hustle and bustle feel unlike those in Singapore. If Singapore was a real city, KL is the city it would be, and for this I was happy and in the midst of fun. There wasn't much specific worthy of note here though, just an array of fascinating sights, people, and smells. Along the way I had my memory card emptied and burned to CD, incase that's worthy of note. I ate late lunch/early dinner at a Little India hawker center, again forgot that seating wasn't free for all, was again yelled at and kicked out of my seat (despite there being no seating by the vendor I'd purchased from), found a quite little corner and chowed down
While walking around Bukit Bintang afterwards, I was approached by a smiling middle-aged Chinese woman who asked where I was from. Finally, someone who was friendly! I told her I was from California, and she said she just happened to have a daughter who would be going to school there soon. Would I be willing to meet the daughter and give some info about CA? Sure. I accompanied her into a taxi an off we went to her home. A doubt ran through my head, thinking this wasn't the best of ideas, but I slapped my inane paranoia down and dismissed it as ridiculous. I would have never met magical folks like Ary or the Bukit Lawang gang if I was paranoid and turned down offers of hospitality all the time. Thus, we entered her house and chatted for a bit. I talked about my volunteer work, we both talked about politics, etc etc. It was a long, solid and deep conversation. Unfortunately the daughter was visiting a sick relative in the hospital at the time and the visit was rendered a bit moot. I was about to say goodbye and leave, but the husband inquired:
"Do you know how to play blackjack?"
"Not really." ("Oh no, where is this going...")
"Come, I show you."
The goofy looking hunched Chinese man showed me into the dining room and set up a card table, and several red flags immediately went up. I switched to Yellow Alert mode and locked a hand over my moneybag. Under no circumstances was I to open it, I swore to myself. He laid out the deck, explained how he'd been a casino worker for years, and proceeded to teach me a laughably obvious hand signaling system where if he was the dealer, he'd be able to inform me of the next card and what the opponent's hidden card was. WTF...
"You see, last night there was this rich business woman from Brunei here, and we played Mah Jong. She won $50,000 and was greedy and gave only $200 back. She is coming soon to play again. I will tell her I found her a worthy opponent, but that your game is not Mah Jong, it is Blackjack. I will deal and give you the signals, you will win easily and we will split the winnings 50/50, deal? Here are $200 for you to bet (he shoves $200 into my pocket.)"
Before I could even say "Hell no," the businesswoman conveniently appeared and I'd found myself whirl winded into the middle of a shady card game and a pawn in a scheme to (supposedly) swindle thousands of dollars off of a rich lady
"You're trapped in these peoples' home and thus can't get this guy in trouble with the business woman, which rules out an immediate and alarming escape. So you're stuck. Okay, so what are the possibilities:
A: You play an honest game, make sure she knows your playing an honest game & not looking at any signals, either win or lose, and decide what to do afterwards when that bridge comes."
B: She's in on the scam, in which case stick around for shits & giggles and under no circumstances part with your own cash. (not that I would in option A either)"
I elected option B. I didn't look at the old Chinese man, and ignored his wife's constant and slightly creepy patting of my hands as if to reassure me. Instead I kept my eyes locked on the business woman's, probably creeping her out but at least she'd know (perhaps too well) that I wasn't looking anywhere else, and proceeded to play. The deck was surely stacked, I can't remember the last time I was dealt such good hands. Having "won" a crapload of money from her without cheating, I tried to end the game
During the car ride, the husband called the wife and relayed the message that he'd have to take out a bank loan to muster the cash, and that he needed me to muster the $2,000 interest payment, which for some reason was needed immediately in order to take out the loan
I at no moment parted with my own cash (counted it afterwards to make sure) and emerged without a scratch. This incident removed my last shred of trust with the locals in this part of the world, I'm going to have to turn down any further invites into local homes after this even if they're just trying to be friendly and need English practice. Sucks, but further entrapments & shady card games are not on the itinerary.
I retreated to an internet cafe for a bit afterwards to chat on Facebook and check my messages, ate dinner, and spent the rest of the night at a free open air concert on the main Bukit Bintang street. It was an Arabic-oriented concert, filled with dancing North African and Middle Eastern men, some with colored hankerchiefs wrapped across their faces
The next day and night were train travel days, nothing really to talk about there so in the interests of saving internet money I'm going to skip writing about it. I'm safely in Bangkok now in the nicest hostel I've ever stayed at, and will meet Jeff at the airport by 4pm. Following this rendezvous, I will be traveling with a friend for the remainder of the trip. Bangkok itself is a surprisingly nice, cosmopolitan city, indistinguishable from those in 1st world countries. Haven't seen much of it yet, gonna go correct that problem now. Adios!