They say, when you go to China, there are always stories to tell.
Less than 72 hours after I landed in Shanghai, I received an unexpected phone call.
“Hello, is this Ms. Cheng?”
“Yes, this is.”
“Hi Ms. Cheng, this is S.F. Express (China’s leading delivery service), there’s some issue with the package you sent out on July 25.”
“Wait, what package?” I hadn’t sent any packages in the past three months.
“You sent a package on July 25 from Shanghai to Macau (a Special Administrative Region of China like Hong Kong). The Macau Customs found three fake passports inside and has detained the package.”
“That’s weird, I just got back to China on July 29, there’s no way I could’ve sent the package,” I said, completely baffled.
“But our record shows that the sender presented your valid ID. If it’s not you, then it may be a really serious issue,” the woman responded with a concerned voice.
At this moment, I remembered that three months ago while biking in California, I did lose a USB drive with important personal documents on it. I was secretly hoping that the USB is R.I.P in the landfill or deep down in the ocean. There’s a cause, there’s an effect, maybe someone found it and sold the information to fraud rings! I explained the situation to the person on the phone. And she responded:”Ms. Cheng, it sounds like someone must have stolen your personal information. I suggest that you report to the police as soon as possible. I can call the police for you and connect you there.” Aware of the potentially severe consequences of identity theft, I immediately agreed.
“Hello, Police Department,” a calm male voice came from the other end. I quickly described the situation.
“Ok Ms. Cheng, I looked up your information in our system, we did receive a notice from Macau Police Department regarding your illegal package. The situation is more serious than you think. But before we proceed, I must let you know that everything is going to be recorded as part of the investigation. And it is illegal for you to leak any information mentioned in our conversation, do you understand?” He said with a clear tone.
“Yes, I do,” I answered, trying not to let my voice give away the nervousness.
He continued to tell me about another record, which shows that on July 9 I set up a company in Macau. And it was later reported to be a pyramid scam. The Macau police suspected it was part of a large money laundering scheme that had been under secret investigation. Because the fraud company and fake passports were all under my name, I am now officially a suspect. The officer then sent me the scan of the notice issued by the Macau Police Department. It turned out to be more than a notice, it was an arrest warrant. After seeing my passport number and the exact photo I used in the passport, I was convinced that someone stole my information.
“What shall I do?” I asked, again trying to stay calm. The officer responded that while they had received the notice from Macau, they did have the autonomy to decide whether to cooperate or not. A pre-investigation is usually carried out locally to determine if the suspect should be turned over to the requesting authority of Special Administrative Regions.”Oh, good!” I thought to myself.
The officer continued,”The Macau police found ￥160,071 in the company account registered under your name, do not tell me that’s exactly how much you have.” I said:”No, it’s not.” He then told me that they need to validate the legitimacy of the fund in all my accounts. To do that, I need to transfer the money to a stated-owned and police-operated bank account used for investigations of financial fraud cases. The money would be returned within 48 hours if proved legit.
By now, anyone who is alert enough can tell this is a fraud call. It’s becoming an epidemic in China — something I learned later. However, I had not raised my vigilance to the survival level required here. I was completely carried away by everything I had learned in the past hour. All that I wanted to do was cooperate with the police and prove my innocence. To make things seem even more real, the officer told me that only his senior supervisor has the power to obtain access to this official account, and I must get his permission.
After a long conversation with this senior officer, I found myself on the “transfer fund” page in my bank account. Luckily (unluckily, I thought at that time), my bank didn’t allow any online international transfer. Still unaware of the fraud, I decided to first “take care” of my Chinese accounts as suggested by the police officer.
Long story short, the next day, after a semi-sleepless night, I sneaked out of home (remember, I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on). I arrived at the bank, followed the officer’s instruction and activated online banking for that account.
We kept the phone call going throughout the process. He would always end a series of sentences with a “Do you understand?” Since he was an officer, it seemed natural to me. But when we touched base again after I got out of the bank, all of a sudden I heard another voice in the background saying “Do you understand?” At that very moment, something finally clicked.
Ah-ha! I was fooled!
I quickly hung up the phone and went back to the bank. I transferred all the money to a new account while reporting everything to the real police. Luckily, nothing was taken, but it saddened me to completely lose trust in another human being.
Later that evening, I received a text message from this “officer” asking if I finished the errand. To which I replied, “The evil karma one has done with the body, voice, and mind are caused by greed, anger, and delusion (往昔所造諸惡業，皆由無始貪瞋癡). Whatever you are doing for the sake of money and materials, it all comes back to harming yourself. Young man, take care!”
In the next three hours, I received a few messages from him,”May I talk to you?” “No other intentions, just to talk for a little bit, jie jie (‘older sister’ in Chinese, used to address any female a little older than you)” I ignored the messages until I received the last one,”I’m sorry.” I decided to give him a chance.
The next morning, I found myself on the phone with someone who spared no effort to defraud me. “Why am I doing this again?” I asked myself, but the line connected before I could answer.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good morning, jie jie.”
“Good morning. What’s up?”
“Nothing in particular…I just want to say please don’t be mad at me anymore,” He said with a somewhat sincere voice that I couldn’t tell and still cannot.
“I have never been mad at you. I just feel sorry for you. And I wish we could have crossed paths in a different way,” I said.
“Alright… Jie jie, the message you sent to me, looks like Buddhism, I thought you were a Christian because you lived in the US before. Are you a Buddhist instead?” He asked innocently.
I smiled. For the first time in our two-day-long interaction, I sensed a trace of ignorance in him:”Well, not everyone in the US is a Christian. I am neither a Buddhist nor a Christian. I seek the teachings of all and follow the dogma of none.”
“Hmmm…Jie jie, I think you’re well educated, your message and your words are like art.”
I hesitated for a moment before answering, “Ha, thank you.” The most appropriate response to a compliment in the Chinese culture is denial rather than acceptance, but I decided to be truthful rather than culturally appropriate. And I continued,”How old are you?”
“Wow, so young! How long have you been doing this?” I was surprised.
“Wow!” Again, it surprised me,”Two months? You are really good at this! I guess you have the top performance at work?”
“Haha, yeah…more or less, otherwise why do you think I have free time to talk to you? My success rate is 80%. You’re really smart to not fall for it. When I was in prison, I was always reading. Those thick books on psychology? Read them all. I never graduated from middle school, but I don’t think I’ve read fewer books than you. I know A LOT.” He said proudly.
“Nice job!” I smiled, for his intense thirst for knowledge, as well as his undisguised lack of modesty,”You know, with your skills, you could really serve the society in a better way.”
“Well, jie jie, do you know Taijitu?” He asked.
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you know why there’s a black dot inside the white and a white dot inside the black?”
“Because there’s Yin in Yang and Yang in Yin; there’s darkness in light, and light in the darkness,” I replied.
“Yes, because there’s good in bad people, and bad in good people,” He added.
“Tell me, are you happy doing this?” I asked.
“No, of course not. How much thinking I have to do every day to deceive you guys! And I work 10 hours a day. I only plan to do this for a little longer, until I can relieve the financial burden my family is bearing and until I have saved enough to buy a house,” He continued, “What do you do?”
“I’m on a pilgrimage to India.”
“A pilgrimage to INDIA?! Why India, why not the Middle East? Oh wait, I know, India has…Buddhism?”
“Haha, yes and no, there’s a lot more in India,” I replied, not intending to explain in details.
Out of curiosity, I asked him how they obtained my personal information. He then spent the next five minutes explaining the different methods they employed.
“Wait, wait, you can stop now. I don’t want to know all the details nor do I want to understand them well,” I said.
“No, jie jie, you need to understand them so you won’t be deceived again!” He said half-jokingly, laughing.
“Haha, alright,” I said.
“Jie jie, can I contact you again?”
“No, I prefer not to be contacted. If we’re meant to cross paths again in the future, I would be happy to know you in a different situation. For now, I don’t agree with what you’re doing, but I do wish you happiness. No matter where you’re and how long you’ll live, I wish you all the best.”
“Alright, thank you, jie jie. Same to you, I wish you all the best in your pilgrimage. May you find the inspiration,” He said.
“Thank you, bye!”
I put down the phone, and an unusual feeling arose. Merely 12 hours ago he almost took all my money, the money I saved for the pilgrimage. Yet just now we had a rather friendly and open conversation for 20 minutes! By no means am I trying to paint a rosy picture here. I still need to clean up some mess as a result of the first phone call. And my trust in this person is completely shattered. It may never be restored even if we cross paths again in a truthful way. However, I am happy that we talked. I am happy that for 20 minutes we connected as two human beings without any labels. We weren’t the predator or the prey, the criminal or the victim, even the strayed or the stayed. In our own ways, we all breathe, live, and seek.
Thank you, two unexpected phone calls.