Friday, July 3, 2009

The KL fakes - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A tall and blond woman walks along Ramlee street. She spots the two towers, stares at them, slows down her pace and...there he comes!

Hands outstretched, a TV smile, he offers the woman some kind of charm. Maybe it's the orange robe, maybe the smile, or just the fact that she's here to explore: the lady stops, looking slightly surprised, throws a glance at the charm and picks it up. He bows his head and withdraws his hands, the lady loosens up and finally smiles. She joins her hands as in a namaste, returns the bow and resumes her walk.

She hasn't still taken the second step when the guy moves his hand, gently but firmly, as if to say hold, we aren't done yet. With his palm still facing the woman chest, he seems to freeze her with a mystical force. He stealthily puts the other hand in his bag, and produces a card that he asks her to read. The left hand of the lady is still holding the charm, while her right forefinger swiftly skids through the text. The look that she gives him might mean what the hell..., but the guy keeps cool and nods his head. The lady surrenders, searches her purse and hands that smart-ass a ten ringgit note.

He's not the only one who operates around here. If one comes from Bukit Bintang before 9 A.M., and walks his way towards KLCC, no matter what route he decides to pick, he'll spot for sure quite a few of them. With the saffron outfit and the almost bald head, at a first glance they can be taken as real Buddhist monks. The rest of their strategy is a one-item list: they just go for every foreigner who comes across. As the area thrives with multinational firms there's plenty of western businessmen moving about. But the targets that the fakes seem to like the best are the numerous visitors of the towers sky-bridge. In order to be eligible for the high-rise tour, people come to book it as soon as they can. And it's just in the first hours of the business day that the fakes set out to weave their web.

It's in the morning that they fish the big share of their catch, but they have also other ways to round-up their wage. If you're eating alfresco at Jalan Alor, you're eager to tip the Malay music bands. And even though you're given napkins along with your food, you often don't mind to spare a few coins, to buy a pack of tissues from three cute Chinese kids. There is also an old man who shuffles around, trying to impress everybody with his magic-trick. More than the sleight of hand can the peaceful smile that he aims at you when he mutters: “I sell them”. If there is not a stone where your heart should be, you're likely to spend the rest of your night struggling to untangle two knotted nails. But when you're almost done with your hearty meal, and you're sipping your Tiger from a moist and chilled glass, you look in front and you spot the fake, moving about the tables with that charm in his hand. Most of the people are aware of the scam, but there is always someone who will fall for it.

Of course there can be a sad truth behind all this, and the fakes might just be the final link of a chain. Only a bunch of poor immigrants just trying to get by, manipulated by a modern breed of merchants of slaves.

(The monks in the photo are real ones, in Bangkok, by Fabio Pulito)

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