I could not believe it myself had I heard it from someone else. Here are the events that transpired on February 13, 2012 at 5:45pm. No, it wasn’t a simple case of being held at knife point. It was rather sophisticated. No, I did not report the incident to the police.
Perhaps I didn’t take the necessary precaution. I might have been the one to be blamed. The more I thought about it; going through the events, I did nothing wrong. I guess I could have been more alert and vigilant. It was after all during the day and I was in Singapore. “These things don’t happen,” Thinking to myself. I was angry and upset but felt unable to do anything. Who will believe me? This post is now born out of my frustration that this sort of thing should not have happened. It is for you a warning.
The scam; I called it this because there is no other way to describe it, what I have uncovered is very elaborate and deep-seated. It involves government at the highest level. Most often it will be initiated by someone very close to you, as in my case. For me it was my sister-in-law. She said, “The nurse said that if I had gone elsewhere I would need to pay so much more.” She was talking about her recent trip to the doctor to have her warts removed. I had two moles that I wanted to be removed, for the longest time. Obviously, this was a great lobang; one which could save me lots of money.
The bait was set and I took the hook. I got a number from the internet and made a call. The lady on the other end was nice and efficient – you know that her efficiency stems from repetition. She told me that I could set an appointment to see a senior person in her organization, I was thrilled. Thinking to myself, “That was easy; I should have done so, long ago.” However, something didn’t sit right. It was too easy. That was Friday the 10th of February and my appointment was for the coming Monday.
February 13th, I got off work early to make sure I arrived at the appointment on time. I was early. My appointment was for 5:45pm; I got there at 5:20pm. It started to rain so I make haste to the location. “Save, I was lucky,” So I thought. I followed the instructions, I walked through an entry, noticed the bright pharmacy store. Things looked normal. I continued down and followed a sign, instructed me to turn right. Strange, it led to the elevator. I pressed level 3, just following the instructions in the elevator. The elevator doors opened and I made my way towards the arranged location.
The place was big with low ceiling. At the entrance there were two automatic machines, the kind you see in places where large number of people frequented, only the place with rather empty. Directly in front there was a counter with a wall behind it, six people sitting behind the counter facing rows and rows of mostly empty seats. I took a look at the machines, apparently for too long.
The lady behind the counter directly facing me got my attention and I approached her. She said, “Take a number here and you can wait there,” pointing at the row of seats in front of her. I got a ticket, was called by one lady, I answered a few questions, was asked to sit back down.
I took a seat among the rows of empty seats. I got one facing directly at the door and to the right of which hung a LCD sign that I was to look out for. If the numbers on the sign matches the number on my paper it would be my turn. I waited and waited; seemed like forever. I noticed a few people also came and sat in my area, one by one after someone came out from behind the door, the numbers on the sign would change, following which another person would enter. This process repeated itself and yet my number wasn’t displayed. How stupid is this? Why would you have an appointment set only so that you can be always late? I thought. It was almost 6:05pm when I noticed my number on the sign board, my turn, I thought.
I opened the door and noticed it was a small room with some kind of curtain dividing up the room. Directly in front of us, slightly to my right there was a table; lots of stuff on it. There sat Doctor Chua. He was facing the table as to quickly figure out whom this next stranger coming through the door. I said, “Hi Doctor Chua.” He said something that I didn’t hear or could not make out. I saw two chairs in front of me, next to Dr. Chua’s table. I chose the chair closer to the doctor as to not come across unfriendly.
He seems to be a very nice person. Dr. Chua must be in his forties, still has his hairs but not for long, it seemed to me. He didn’t exchange pleasantry but chose to get to the point. I told him that I wanted to have my moles removed. “Let’s see,” he said. I quickly showed him. He grabbed some kind of weird flashlight out; it had what looked like 3 to 4 fluorescent tubes attached to a square head, about 12mm. The light was bright and after he shined a light at my moles; yes, “…they are moles.” “You have two choices,” he continues to explain to me that if I wanted to completely remove the mole on my back it will cost me over S$400 plus, I can’t remember the two digits behind the first, out of shock really. The mole on my leg will cost around $360 (can’t remember the exact numbers neither).
The second option would cost me half if I only want to remove half of the mole. I thought, wow, that is expensive. What the f***? Is this the same way they treat cancer? Thinking of what the doctor might say in that scenario, if you only want to remove half of the tumor cells it will only cost you half of the price, as the good doctor smile patiently. As I was thinking, something was telling me: this isn’t right. I didn’t want to react – didn’t want him to think I don’t the money, or worst that I might not pay him afterwards. I said, “I like to remove the mole on my leg but I will need to think about the mole on my back.” Dr Chua quickly turned to his computer and typed something and said, “Let me set a schedule for you to come back.”
I was dumb founded, “You are not going to remove the mole today?” I said. “Oh no, we don’t consult and do the procedure on the same day,” he said. He also said something else and I was trying to be polite and replied. A minute later he turned to me and said, “You can wait outside. I will have my girls set an appointment for you.”
That was it really; the meeting lasted all but about 5 minutes. I waited once again facing the ladies behind the counter. A few minutes later, a different lady from before called me. And again I sat down, she immediately asked when I want to return. She said, “You will need to deposit $40 to schedule an appointment for the procedure and for today the consultation is $86.” I was no longer in the grip of the nice doctor.
A nagging doubt kept surfacing, what is going on here? I recalled asking myself, you came here thinking you can save some money; recalling what my sister-in-law said. You told someone on the phone, likely one of these ladies now sitting behind the counter, that you have two moles to be removed. You took time off and came here. You met one person after the next and finally you saw a Dr. Chua, who said, ‘that’s a mole.’ You are asked to pay S$40 now in order to schedule a time to come back and see him.
I now felt stupid. I told the lady behind the counter, “You mean to tell me: I called to tell you that I wanted two moles to be removed; after much waiting, your senior doctor told me after spending about 5 minutes with me that I have two moles; and that I need to now pay S$86 and S$40 more in order to set another appointment to come back?”
I thought about making a dash for the doors. Realizing that not long ago someone from the States was canned in Singapore, I got my credit card out and handed to the lady, sadly. There wasn’t anything I could do. I was still struggling, saying silly things like, “I’m not happy with this.” Her face was not happy but I knew she was also being forced to do something she felt wasn’t right. How could she, she looked like any other lady, not at all mean or someone you would think be operating in this scam ring. She can’t do anything to help me. Perhaps because she knew that if they rob me there isn’t anything anyone can do about it.
After all, the government issued her boss the certificate to conduct this elaborate operation. I knew it wasn’t’ right to be mad at her but I didn’t think she understood me. I said, “The next time you get sick you go to the hospital only to have the doctor telling you that you are sick; that you can make an appointment to see him again; and that you can make the payment for today and a down payment for the next appointment.” She didn’t react. She simply processed and returned my credit card.
I then remembered a documentary about Singapore; not long ago after Sir Stamford Raffles founded and left his little Singapore, the British government needed money to run the small colony so they issued license to opium dealers in order to collect revenue and finance its upkeep. Thinking to myself, perhaps this is yet again a simple and milder modern version of the past playbook; licensing so called doctors to legalize there should-be-illegal dealings.
As I left the Singapore National Skin Centre I can’t help but think, what just happened? I left with a terrible feeling of being robbed and there isn’t anything I can do about it; with my head down I walked away, with half a day (included traveling time) and S$86 gone.