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. Man...is 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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