Lettere dall'Asia - The same old trick - In English (June 23rd, 2009)

Lettere dall'Asia

The same old trick - In English (June 23rd, 2009)

Silom road, central Bangkok. I'm shouldering my way - so to speak - through a typically busy Asian sidewalk, on my way towards the escalator of the Sala Daeng Sky-train station. I swerve around a nicely dressed Thai lady on the left, a flower street vendor on the right, a tourist chased by a hooker again on the left, past the last obstacle - a noodle soup stall - and I finally make it to the stairs. Just when I'm about to set my foot on the metallic step, a Thai teenager blocks my way.

I understand he wants to sell me something or ask for a donation. He's carrying a white plastic bag, the content of which I cannot see. When I try to rush past him and up the stairs he does something that could well be normal in India or in Morocco, but definitely not here. He doesn't give up and keeps blocking my way, walking backwards. As I don't surrender and keep trying to overtake him, he uses his bag to shove me against the escalator rail. I'm totally taken by surprise and for one or two seconds I don't do anything. Out of the corner of my eye I notice that his partner is approaching me from behind, so I tell him to back off and push both his bag and him away from me.

I'm still looking at that pair of cunning urchins when the escalator is finally carrying me up, away from troubles. I watch them playing the same trick with an Asian tourist, who pretends he doesn't care, until he finally explode in a liberating: I'm not interested!
Interested in what? I say to myself. In being pick-pocketed? I'm pretty sure that the second thief didn't have a chance to search my bag, but I still check my belongings once I am upstairs. Everything seems to be all right.

I approach the banister of the elevated station and try to spot them on the street below. They seem to be gone, but I'm not sure, therefore I walk down the stairs to the other side of the street. I meet them there, hunting for another suitable prey. I stare at them, and the same one who pushed his bag against my chest smiles for a moment but then, maybe because he remembers my face or because of the hostile look in my eyes, he turns away to join his friend.

Fortunately these things don't happen very often, that's the main reason why I was so surprised. It's true that in Thailand scams, pick-pocketing and other troubles can occur, but it's either not very serious stuff or things that can be avoided just by paying a little attention.

Accepting a 10 baht tuk-tuk ride, for example, can lead you, as a worst case scenario, to a boring hop-on-hop-off visit to silk-shops, tailors and jeweleries. Some other drivers might try to trick you into believing that the Royal Palace is close for the day, in order to take you somewhere else and earn a few extra baht.

Apparently reliable and well educated touts might invite you to follow them to a gambling house or to buy and send home some unbelievably cheap sapphires (using sea-mail, of course...the most inexpensive way!). If you think that you are strong enough to resist such temptations, well, you should be on the safe side.

There have also been instances of people who bought drugs from unknown dealers and then, as an extra gift, received a cordial visit to their room from a patrol of zealous cops. In this case avoiding illegal business transactions or at least conducting your deals with care should do the trick.

Some people (including who writes) have had some belongings stolen in their rooms, but we are actually talking about rather cheap hotels, with low or no security at all.

Of course there have also been cases of armed robbery and even murders. Such serious crimes though, do not fortunately happen very often, less than in other, more developed, countries anyway. Moreover the culprits are usually quickly identified and brought to justice.

Obviously today's incident cannot simply be dismissed as a trifle, for one could have had his passport, wallet or credit cards snatched from his bag. At the same time it's not very easy to avoid falling for it, as it happens to take place in a business and touristy area of the capital city, and the trick, though old, proves to be an effective one.

Anyway I can still say that, all in all, I have had very few problems since I came to Asia many years ago. For the time being I don't have reasons to believe that what happened today, even if in one of the busiest, most popular and watched-over areas of the city, is the sign of the beginning of a new - more worrisome - era in terms of Thai security standards.


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© 2009 Fabio Pulito