Atchafalaya Swamp

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bolehland Blues Weekly Round Up, Tuesday March 28, 2006

Blues? Yeah…I still…got the blues…for you… And this time I sure got a real case of the blues…

Mat Salo dirampok di stesen minyak

Stesen Caltex, Jln Damansara, Senin, 27 Maret 2006.

I WAS ROBBED today, folks. No, I wasn’t accosted, and no violence was perpetrated in any way. It was a crime brilliantly executed with no witnesses. Hopefully some lessons can be learnt, and how to better protect yourself or your friends and family. Heads-up. Listen closely to my tale-of-woe.

What happened was this:

Most of you know I work offshore so I bank over the border south of Bolehland, out of the preying eyes and hands of BNM and LHDN. Specifically I bank at the HSBC Marine Parade branch which is conveniently close to Changi Airport. So over the weekend I drove down with the family for a spot of R & R and also to withdraw some money. It’s easy to transfer money without going through the “official channels”; i.e. TT and bank drafts. Just hit any of the moneychangers there and for a small SGD 10.00 fee, you can collect at whatever currency of your choice at the appointed location. So this Kiasuland Mamak moneychanger had his contact in Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur. Most importantly he gave me a very good rate for RM. Trust me, that third decimal in exchange rates can mean quite a bit if its quite a “big” sum.

This was done over normal banking hours (9.30 -12.00) last Saturday. Sunday evening we drove back and I was to collect “the stash” the following Monday.

I’ve done this cross-border money runs quite a few times and with far larger sums. So I must’ve let my guard down a bit. This is when the spiral to disaster sets in. Ever heard of complacency?

The transaction in Masjid India went smoothly, and right across the moneychanger was a Maybank branch. Since I was carrying a load of cash, I used my laptop bag so I can strap it across my shoulder. By the time I took my number at Maybank it was half-past noon. I was a bit pressed for time as I had to pick my son up by 2.00 pm, who is in Form One at a school in Bandar Utama.

Luckily the ‘Q wasn’t long but the transaction took quite a bit of time. I managed to deposit some 60 percent of the cash over three accounts; mine, my spouse’s and my son. But I still had quite a bit of balance left which was going to be used to reduce my home mortgage with HSBC’s Bukit Damansara. But first I got to pick my son up, go home and grab a quick lunch.

Upon reaching school I was told Miss Lee his English teacher-cum-penolong kanan wanted him to stay back for an inter-class Scrabble competition. He had had lunch at the school canteen and the whole Scrabble thing should last another hour. Great. Now my tummy is rumbling, my son has already had lunch, so should I go home first or backtrack to Damansara Heights? Of course, in hindsight I should’ve gone home. But since it’s not going to take long I might as well take care of the remaining cash first. Then come back and pick him up later.

Then on the way to HSBC the “Minister of Finance” calls from her place of work, said to just put in the rest of the balance but keep around 10 percent for her. I was ready to dump the whole thing at HSBC, but little did I know that 10 percent was never meant to be …

Now at the HSBC Bukit Damansara branch is where the “surveillance, reCONnaissance and sabotage” happened. At least that’s what the CSI in me thinks. For those who have had the pleasure to bank there, it really is quite a pleasant banking experience. There’s free parking bays for customers in front manned by blue-eyed Nepali guards, so no hassles looking for a place to park. This is Kiasu-ism at its best, folks. But there’s a price to be paid for these pleasantries I suppose.

So with the laptop bag strapped across the shoulder, I strode in only to be told by the pleasant officer in the hallway that they had a power failure earlier so their “system is down.” So can I please come back later?

I said no way since I’m not going to lug all this cash around so please accept it, which they obliged but can’t machine-print it. On the deposit slip the comely teller wrote “System Down 2.30 pm” so it was just an acknowledgement. Well, still better than nervously glancing over one’s shoulder don’t you think?

So I got 90 percent deposited spread between Maybank and HSBC and this is where I got “cocky”, letting my guard down since I knew most of the stash was already safe.

Then I headed back on the NKVE/LDP to Bandar Utama, smug and satisfied that my mission was (almost) accomplished. How little did I know what the afternoon still holds?

In Singapore, I had picked-up quite few new CD’s and the one in spinning in my Burr-Brown chip-powered DEH-P8650MP was Donald Fagen’s latest release called Morph The Cat. So it was time to bump the volume up a bit. My hand phone rested on the passenger seat with the balance of the 10 percent cash in my laptop bag safe and sound in the passenger footwell. Life was certainly good. The transients and clarity of Keith Carlock’s superb stickwork–on—ride cymbals rang beautifully around the car’s interior.

Then the car shuddered just a little bit. Just a small vibration at first, like the alignment was slightly-off.

Up ahead was the toll plaza opposite Eastin Hotel and the Star’s headquarters. My smart tag was ready. At first I didn’t think it was a puncture. I thought it was the brakes acting up since I had a few hard-braking moments the day before on the way back from Singapore. I had actually activated the ABS in those moments of “recklessness”.

Past the toll plaza and on the flyover leading towards Jalan Damansara / TTDI, the vibration got worse. Shit, it had to be a puncture and I couldn’t stop in the fast moving two-lane traffic. I knew the Caltex station was up ahead so what to worry? I had in mind to go even slightly further up to Lim’s Tayar TTDI where my tires were I purchased some three-months’ earlier but that would require a U-turn. By that time my rims could’ve been damaged I stupidly reasoned, so I’d better stop soon. So it was the Caltex station then.

So this is a classic case of “stepping over a ringgit to pick up a 5 sen”. What I was about to lose could buy me a brand new set of 17-inchers! Taiwan made for sure, but what the heck?

Remember with my guard already down, I took no extra precautions. I did park way inside of the station a bit though so I have some space to get to the spare tire and lay out the tools. I was already late in picking-up my son. The tire mechanic later told me I should’ve just filled it back with air and nursed the car over. Then this sorry episode wouldn’t have happened.

The kind pump attendant came over to offer a hand; a kid in his early twenties—eager to please. Two pairs of hands are better than one, and I was running late, wasn’t I?

While we were messing around with car jacks, lug bolts, nuts, getting the spare tire out which required loosening another bolt, and sweating, mind you under the hot 3.00 pm sun, a silver Peugoet 206 Hardtop Coupe stopped right next to us. I thought nothing of it since it looked like a young good-looking yuppie-type couple stopping for directions. The pump attendant went to attend to sports car couple, and said they just wanted to know the way to Maybank Damansara Utama. Later I realized it was just a ploy, a Red Herring, designed to distract one of us.

So I thought nothing of it but noticed that the pretty thing who sat next to this Jericho Jeans look-a-like was nervously smoking a cigarette. RIGHT ON TOP OF THE UNDERGROUND FUEL STORAGE TANKS! That’s where we were precisely, parked over the manhole covers where for the tankers to dump the fuel. So the ‘206 went away (later I found out from witnesses in the station the cute 2-door pug-nosed coupe was parked on the other side of the Caltex station, the toilet-side, away from our view).

So we continued our work on the left passenger side of the car, crouching most of the time, oblivious to the events on the driver’s side (it was a left-rear puncture—cunningly designed as such). The driver’s door was open and stuff like cushions, umbrellas and child seat was all over the place in my attempt to dig out the various tools. Stupid car jacks work too damn slowly folks, moving millimeter by millimeter giving plenty of time to our Malaysian “Bonnie and Clyde” couple.

To be fair, the pump attendant and I didn’t even see the robbery take place! Right under our damn noses can you imagine?!

I only realize after profusely thanking the boy and putting the tools back in the car, that I’d better call home in case my son had decided to walk (school is only 20 minute walk from the house). I was running late for sure now, what with the puncture and all.

I looked in the passenger seat--aah--no phone. It could’ve fallen by the seats. Looked more closely this time, having to take all the shit out again. Still, there was no phone.

Looked at the footwell, now where did the bag go? But before I got to this point let me backtrack a little bit. I was actually thinking more of the phone so I called the pump attendant again in case he saw me drop it. I was certain it was on the passenger seat. So I asked him to please use his phone to call my number to hear the ringing in case it was lodged somewhere in the car. The line was continually engaged—straight to voicemail.

Then with no phone and no bag, I came to the very-bitter and very-belated realization that I had just been robbed! Conned by Malaysia-Boleh’s very own Bonnie and Clyde team!

I had to replace for a new tire as the sidewalls were badly damaged. The mechanic showed me a sharp-edged sharpened steel type implement which he pulled from the sidewall, cleverly designed for around a “plus-minus” 30-minute puncture. He has seen this before. All they had to do was follow and bide their time.

Later, the Investigating Officer, a unit E168 Inspector with the intials AJ in IPD Brickfields, later told me that even if I had stopped in an emergency lane or lay-bye, the friendly couple would stop to render help and “Clyde” would distract me under the guise of helping me, and perhaps the gorgeous “Bonnie” would quietly grab the bag? Many scenarios could’ve have occurred, said the police. I knew the money was a lost cause but I needed the police report since I also lost three bank passbooks in the bag together with the money. What is worse is now the thieves also know my address since it’s in the passbook. Let’s pray and hope it just ends there.

The police also said that if you come out a bank and you develop a puncture soon after, assume that someone had DELIBERATELY caused it and with bad, bad motives. If you can’t make it to a tire-shop, just leave the car, lock it up, gather all your valuables and flee the scene. Easier said than done eh? Especially if one is late for an appointment or having to pick someone up or something. Woi! Cakap senang lah

I’m actually grateful that I only suffered a “10 percent” overall lost. It could’ve been far worse, and I could’ve have lost a lot more walking out of that moneychanger in Masjid India. No bodily harm came to me and for that I’m extremely grateful to the Supreme Being. People have been hurt for far, far less.

I consider it one of life’s small lessons and I share this story with you so perhaps you will benefit from it. I’m optimistic though, look on the bright side always (although the Ox in me is by nature a pessimist), and count my blessings.

But folks, tell this story and please be aware always. Criminals these days you can never tell, they even look nice and decent thus guaranteeing that they’ll the last to be suspected. In days gone by, penyangaks were penyangaks, sticking true to stereotypes.

Now they look like Erra and Yusri in a two-door sports coupe.