Posts tagged ‘scam’

leaving for eastern europe

once again, i’m getting my backpack ready. the destination this time is eastern europe. on friday, i’m flying to prague in the czech republic.

this would be my first time in prague and eastern europe for that matter. i’m excited, albeit with some trepidation.

whenever i travel, there’s always that nagging feeling within. i guess you can call it fear of the unknown for lack of a better word. somehow it gets neutralized by the desire to go to places i’ve never been and to experience cultures other than my own.

i’ve heard a lot of good things about prague. tourists have come to marvel at the beauty of the place as well as the warmth and hospitality of the people.

to balance things up, i’ve also heard about folks getting ripped off by unscrupulous characters like taxi drivers that overcharge; vendors that shortchange; kids that pick pockets; and plainclothes “cops” that issue questionable fines.

but if there’s any consolation, violent crimes against tourists in eastern europe are rare.

i’ve already traveled in other parts of europe and so far i haven’t been mugged or victimized. i can thank my guardian angel for that.

it’s an irony that the closest to my becoming a victim was in the philippines.

before i left for the u.s., my best friend invited me to go with him to cebu city. he wanted to visit his elder brother’s fraternity brother who married the niece of a prominent politician there. it was an opportunity of a lifetime to hobnob with the rich and the powerful, so i agreed without hesitation.

one day, as my friend and i were walking along colon street, we passed by this guy in dark glasses standing in the corner. he waved his hand and greeted us.

tagalog?” he asked.

“yes,” we answered.

“i’m from makati,” he said smiling.

while we were engaged in small talk, two men approached. the man with the curly hair whispered to the guy in dark glasses.

the guy in dark glasses explained that one of the men came from the neighboring island of iloilo to buy a motor for his fishing boat. he brought the cash with him and was worried that he might get robbed.

“by coincidence, i know somebody who can sell the motor,” the guy in dark glasses said. “for his safety, would you mind if we accompany him?”

the five of us then took a jeepney to the prospective seller’s house. when we arrived, the seller wasn’t there.

“let’s get in and wait for him,” the guy in dark glasses suggested.

after waiting for 15 minutes, my friend and i decided to split.

“why in such a hurry?” the guy in dark glasses said. “to pass the time, we can play cards.”

the companion of the motor buyer whispered something to him. the motor buyer smiled looking at us.

“see,” the guy in dark glasses remarked pointing to the direction of the motor buyer. “he wants to play cards, too.”

at this point, the motor buyer raised his shirt revealing his money belt.

“no, no, we don’t want to gamble,” we said.

“listen,” the guy in dark glasses whispered. “he looks like a sucker. we can sure clean him up.”

again, we refused.

“as we said before, we didn’t come here to gamble. we just tagged along for his safety. we thought he needed help.”

when the guy in dark glasses insisted, we mentioned that we were in cebu as guests of a local politician. after saying that, he quiescenced and let us go.

when the son of the politician knew what had happened, he got upset and grabbed his gun. he summoned his bodyguards to go right then and there and get at them. but we dissuaded him. we said it was ok as we weren’t harmed anyway.

we never saw the guy in dark glasses again. he must have been scared of the bodyguards that accompanied us the next time we went downtown.

when traveling overseas, i don’t have the luxury of having bodyguards. after all, i don’t have the right pedigree. as a result, for my own safety, i’ve learned to keep a low profile.
how can somebody like me do that in europe? you may ask. with asian features, i will surely stand out like a sore thumb. in a way, it’s true. but, at least, i can minimize the obvious by acting like a local.

what this means is doing what an average local does and doesn’t do. he stays away from sex shops and places of questionable integrity. he doesn’t deal in illegal drugs and antiquities. he walks with a purpose. he ignores beggars. he doesn’t help somebody who picks up coins that he “accidentally” drops on the pavement. he acknowledges but doesn’t entertain over-friendly strangers. he remains alert and not easily distracted by commotions on the street. he only puts in his wallet the amount of money he’d spend for the day and keeps the rest, his passport, and other important papers in a money belt.

it’s possible that, in spite of all these precautions, you may still end up being taken for a ride, scammed, or mugged. that, my friend, is the risk you take when you travel. just charge the damage to experience.

this eastern europe trip will be a long one. it’ll cover the czech republic, poland, hungary, croatia, and slovenia. wish me luck.

(there are things i need to take care of before the trip, so this may well be my last post for now. you won’t be hearing from me until i come back around the middle of july. ciao!)

June 16, 2009 at 8:29 am 9 comments

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