Friday, 26 June 2009

A Paint Job by a Student of Jackson Pollack School?

Paintball Skirmish, Loan $hark Style. Another Common Case of Mistaken Identity.

semi-overcast 32 °C
I raved how wonderful the location of our unit was in my previous entry. It was pretty great with four neighbourhood shops/hawker centres within 8 mins walking distance.

Last night, midnight, to be exact, while we were watching Roger Federer demolishing his opponent on the tennis court, we heard a loud thud at the door, green paint splashed onto our ceiling through the gap on the top of the door, and showered down onto us. I opened the door ajar, a broken plastic bag, which was the paint bomb, contained the remain of the green paint sitting at the front foot of the door - the crime scene.

This struck me as something that is all too familiar. This is a run-of-the-mill loan shark harassment tactic, I thought to myself. I've seen it all too often on HK crime dramas. But this is Singapore, you say. Actually, I've seen a current affair program few months ago on local TV that showing footage of a victim who are in exact situation as we are now! And I remembered relating the show to Etta afterwards, and commented that Singapore isn't as safe as we might think. Maybe Sydney cab drivers drive around in plastic bubbles, but to think Singapore is crime free is, of course, bury your head in the sand (I'm recalling a community service message at the bus stop that showing an ostrich burying its head in the sand bearing the message, "Low crime doesn't mean no crime"). To be fair, this is a case of mistaken identity just like the old guy on the TV current affair show.

Ostrich buries its head in the sand

The previous tenant left a large body of evidence that he's someone who is running from a debt burden. When we tried to sign up our cable TV, we were told by Starhub (the local ISP and cable TV operator) that the previous tenant hadn't paid his bill. There was also energy and other bills under his name choking our letterbox and even letters with threats of serious legal actions printed in large bold fonts on the envelops.

We called in the cops, of course. After a few phone calls, we've finally got to the right branch. We, Holland Villagers, falls under the jurisdiction of the Clementi Neighbourhood Police Centre. After mopping and cleaning the green mess for nearly an hour, the cops turned up - a young male officer, and a even greener female officer that looked to me like she was a cadet class of 2008, not taller than 1.56m. If I'm a criminal, they sure don't look too menacing. Good for building public relation image though.

I suggested to these green officers (not officers working for Green Peace) that they should paste something with a police stationery to explain to the loan shark that they are targeting the wrong bloke. They refused to do it and explained to me something I couldn't remember (maybe my mind is switched off when he said no. Furthermore, I'm still struggling to understand Singlish).

After taking our statement and took a few CSI photos, the cops mentioned that there are writing on the wall next to the lift which was unknown to us until then. How can I forget about the writings on the wall. That was the missing element from those HK movies. Now, the picture is complete. Yep, arts imitates life to a 'T'. The writings specified the name of the borrower/previous tenant (Kulasekaran), our unit number, and a phone number.

I decided to call this number and to clear up the situation that I'm not the debtor and yes, let him have it for giving me a lousy paint job. I got a phone disconnection message. Maybe the cops got to him first. If that is the case, he would have worked out that I'm not the one they're looking for, and leave us alone. Fingers crossed.

Does this incident change my view about the crime rate in Singapore? Far from it. If anything, it re-affirms my view that Singapore is safer than Chubb. At the very least, the cab drivers aren't driving around town in a plastic bubble like they do in Sydney. Knowing Singaporean cabdriver who wouldn't even speed for any reason, they would probably encase themselves in a steel wall if they sniff a trace of cab robbery in the air from a mile away. The harsh Singaporean law prevents this from happening except the pettiest crime. In Sydney, I was burgled while I was still in my own house, but that's another story.

Even the loan shark's goon is a wuss. In a tougher place (like HK, for example), they would send a goon squad who would rough me up a bit or bust my chops. But instead, he vanished before I can say "What the?". If he decided to stick around to beat me to a pulp, while they were landing their punches on my face (before it turned black and blue), they would have noticed that I'm not the person they were after. I am not remotely resembled the previous tenant who is described by my landlord as "Indian" (the name also a dead giveaway).

As I called the landlord to come around to inspect the damage, he mentioned to me about the writing on the stair well. I explained that it was next to the lift. So we went to the stair well and sure enough, there was writing on the wall, but this one refers to a different unit just a few doors from us and dated a few days earlier, as I pointed out to my landlord. this an amazing coincident or this sort of debt running quite common in Singapore? I suspect the latter. I'm no writing expert, but the writing was identical, and there was the string of combination of letters and numbers "$P$0" in both cases, which I don't really know if this is some standard shorthand among the loan shark titled Writing on the Wall manual or the User Guide to Communicate Threats Effectively to your Debtor and Make Them Pay.

I didn't see Singapore current affairs program often, and the one time I watched, it was about this. What can I say? This indicates that lots of Singaporeans are running from debt. Admittedly, times are tough during this GFC (Global Financial Crisis), and people are tighter financially. If this sort of thing is common, it's best to check out the background of your previous tenant when you try to rent a place to live to avoid a lousy paint job.

And I thought life would be quite dull living in Singapore.

P.S. I've had talked to some Singaporean locals about this crime drama, they confirmed that it's common. Of course, it is. Singapore is an island that surrounded by sharks. They said that sometimes they used animal blood instead of paint for more dramatic effect. If they use pig blood, and if there are much of it left, I use it for my dinner. Pig blood jelly with shallots stir-fry is one of my fave dish.

P.P.S. Some weeks later, a plain clothes cop turned up and said that a Neighbourhood Watch program is being organised for the building. I commented that this Loan Shark Scare Tactics seem to be plaguing Singapore. He explained that the recent increase in this problem corresponds to the financial crisis. I told him that when the first Singapore casino is completed later this year, they're going to be very busy. He smiled. This upcoming casino is going to create employment for the vice trade, as well the police department.

The silver lining to this dark cloud (life always has a silver lining) of financial crisis is that is exposing the likes of Bernard Madoff, Allen Stanford, and a dozen other lesser financial Ponzi schemers. And it isn't just legitimate banks that suffered from loan defaults, loan sharks also cop a fair shares of loan defaults from end-of-the-rope borrowers. Unfortunately innocent bystander like myself get caught in the cross-fires of skirmish.

P.P.P.S. (11 August 2009) This Loan Shark (LS) saga continues. When I came home from lunch today, my neighbour informed me that there's writing on the wall on our floor regarding to us. He said the writing was done half an hour before we came home. Because he's a retiree, he's at home most of the time and I guess would perform some past-time neighbour watching for the public good. The writing consists of only our unit number and the phone number. This LS obviously had no intention of plying their harassment tactics of throwing paint, blood or whatnot as this was done in the afternoon (in fact, a public holiday when everyone is home). Seemed like this is a civil LS (an oxymoron). I called the number, and we had a business-like conversation. I explained to him that Mr. Kulasekaran doesn't live in our address anymore. When I asked if he was the one that threw paint at us awhile back, he gave me a firm no. I believed him, because this whole thing seems to be different style than the previous LS. He suggested I should go to the police and report this incident, and pasted the Police Statement outside my unit. He will send his man in a few days to inspect it. I'm happy to do that. It dawned on me that Mr. Kulasekaran may have borrowed from a number of LS, not just one. This police report is the best way to fend off all these potential LS (assuming they can read).

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Saturday, 20 June 2009

Bye Bye Bahrain

All Well that Ends Well...Oh Well...

overcast 35 °C
Billy S. the British bearded Bard said that parting is such sweet sorrow, and I have to say this goodbye was more sweet than bitter. It wasn't just the place, but it was the bad timing. When we arrived in May before the summer season started, we were greeted by 40 degrees Celsius humid heat. Waiting for the ride to the airport outside the hotel lobby reinforced this sentiment - it was about 38 degrees at 2 o'clock in the morning (it was 43 degree this afternoon). Can't wait to get into the air-cons of the airport. Good night, good night! Airport is such sweet delight!

Despite the small size of this country, one can see this place as a mini Dubai in the making. The operative word being mini ('mi' as in do-re-mi, and 'ni' as in second in Japanese). One can see that many parallel developments between these two cities - man-made island resorts, property boom, liberal attitude in lifestyle and an open economic system etc (ironically, there was a referendum that turned the democracy into a Kingdom a few years ago). Maybe in 5 years time, there would be a indoor ski to be built here that rivals the one in Dubai. Who knows?

Before I came, I knew next to nothing about Bahrain. Who does? The Gulf country I knew more about is Dubai via its head-turning mega property development projects such as the artificial islands that carved out from reclaimed lands. Who doesn't? Stood on Fraser Suite on my hotel window, I could make out a few of such man-made oases that feels like a mirage in the horizon. The one that closest to me and has yet any structures on it shaped like a giant croissant. These constructed sandy isles, along with the tangled web of construction cranes in the skyline spells or smells like Mini Dubai.

Despite its tiny local population (less than 3/4 million), its growth are fuelled mainly by (ever rising price of) oil, of course, but also externally by its 28km Causeway to Saudi Arabia and when the the 40km Qatar Bahrain Friendship Bridge is completed, Bahrain will get not one, but two umbilical cords of economic milk, carried into Bahrain by seekers of merriment, and restrained partying. It will be interesting to re-visit here in 10 years time, OK, not so fast, in 20 years time, in winter, of course!
I did look forward to fly with the Emirates, the seats were roomier than any of the major airlines I had flown with. There was only one gripe I had with the airline was that they were stickler with the luggage weights. But they have increased the allowable weights from 25 to 30 kg, which further improves their standing in my book (or potential future booking).

Back to Singapore in the morning, for the first time in Singapore that I find the weather here surprising bearable. The sky was cloudy for the next few days. There is always a silver lining on every dark clouds. And sometimes the dark cloud is the silver lining. As a Sydneysider, It's more or less a sun lover. Actually Sydneysiders worships the sun at the detriment to their health (the highest incidents of melanoma in the world). Look at the Aussie Aborigines skin tone that evolved in this harsh Aussie sun to get some clues. In Singapore, I prayed for rains and more clouds. I imagined the tropical Singaporean like the sun as much as Eskimo like snow. I have to admit that I like sun too, but not in it because the extended length of cloudy days bring some SAD symptom. Too much sun brings me hay fever. Well, I should live in a plastic bubble with an artificial environment and 24/7 nursing care. That's my ideal holiday - a break away from the capricious vacillation of weather. I guess this is a reason why I'm so keen weather understudy or study under the weather.

Locals told us that during the Singaporean dry season from June to August, there are more sunny days and hotter than the wet season during the new year. From what I can see, this summer is quite wet and cloudy, just the way I like it. I think I need to send my thank you card to La Niña. I think La Niña started last year when the worst draught in a long time in Aussie east coast was broken, the water restriction lifted, and the flooding started.

Allowable luggage weights wasn't the only things that had changed since our two months in Bahrain. The hawker centre opposite where we live have been bought out by new management. The furniture are brand new, and very nice (actually better than some food courts). A couple of our fave stores had disappeared, but we found our new replacements. One store sells those smorgasbord style of food that we like - you choose a combination of meats and veggies from about 12 to 15 variety, and it's different everyday. I would typically order 2 meats and 1 veggie with rice, and Atta would order 1 meat 1 veggie with rice. Together, we get to eat 3 meats and 2 veggies and the total damage comes to about 5 SGD/AUD for both. Not too shabby. A Big Mac would cost more.