Saturday, 16 April 2005

London Underground cruisers - beware!

Waiting for the doors of the tube to open and spill us out on to the platform, I caught sight of this elderly gentleman who has become an almost common feature of the London underground. He could be anyone’s father or grandfather. He was wearing the same tired looking suit which had seen better days. And the same imploring look in his eyes, begging sympathy from anyone who cared to give him the time of day.

He found it in a young man of similar ethnic background and religion. The young man was about to part with his £20 note.

As the younger Asian boarded the tube, I knew he had become the latest victim of what I shall now call the London Underground Cruiser (LUC).

As LUC pocketted his bounty, quite a bit for that time of the morning, he looked around for more victims, usually Asians, and mostly Muslims. And although I was pressed for time, I waited for him to look at me. And true enough, to him, I looked an easy and almost vulnerable target. He’d play the same religious card again. With the same begging look in his eyes.

“Assalamualaikum, I am a Muslim. I lost my ticket and need to go to Gatwick,” said LUC. I must admit, he is getting a bit better. Usually, he needed money for Heathrow but I supposed Gatwick will mean a lot more money to pocket than the normal fare for Heathrow.

LUC, if you must know, has used this line on me and many other fellow Muslims using the London underground, many times before. I supposed his memory is failing and he tends to forget who he had ‘done’ before. You can lose a ticket once, twice may be, but ten or twenty times?? That’s a tad careless, innit uncle LUC?

“Wa’alaikumsalam,” I seethed. “Didn’t you get £20.00 from that young boy? And didn’t you ask me several times before for money to Heathrow? And now Gatwick?” It was difficult trying to keep my voice down and even the usually expressionless robotlike morning commuters, were now giving me looks.

The crumpled look on his face registered recognition. After all, just two weeks ago, he got on the tube and sat beside me. Realising it was the phanthom of the London Underground, I buried my head in the Evening Standard, ignoring his rantings. He tapped the handrest several times. I made donno. He gave salam and I answered silently. But no. He was not going to get anything from me anymore.

LUC is one of a number of conmen making a lucrative living cruising the London underground this way. My husband has even approached him to ask him about his welfare. Any family? No one who knows what he is up to? He pleaded unemployment. Many people are unemployed. He looks strong enough and healthy enough to work in a grocery or a newsagent. The likelihood is that he is also receiving unemployment benefit AND at the same time earn a bit more this way.

Just last week, at another underground station – Charing Cross. The platform was packed with evening commuters rushing home. I was busy reading a text message when I heard a salam.

Looking up, I saw a smartly dressed man from what I gather must be the African continent. He was smiling. I returned his salam and was expecting him to ask me questions most tourists and visitors ask.

His name is Dr Ibrahim he said. A fellow Muslim. Also, he had lost his ticket to Gatwick.
Now, what is it about Gatwick???? Is it supposed to be a code for something? Is there something happening there that I don’t know?

As if my mailbox is not enough for the likes of Dr Ibrahim! I already have enough emails from those sons and daughters of ex-presidents or former kings who have millions and gold bars locked away and are willing to share them with me. And now they are hounding me on the London Underground platforms!

I mumbled my apologies and his smiling face turned dark with rage. I thank God that the train pulled in and I escaped. As the Bakerloo line train left the platform, I saw him approach yet another one…another fellow Muslim.

Others plying the route are mothers with sleeping toddlers in their slings. Again, they approach you with salams and sob stories about husbands and families captured in Bosnia. Usually, these are in bad handwriting on cards and papers that they carry around with them. I have stopped feeling sad for them after reading about how our contribution is funding their bungalows and expensive cars in their home country which is NOT Bosnia.

With people like these around, it is sometimes difficult to summon sympathy and recognise the genuine ones. Yesterday, on the mainline train back from Staplehurst, a smartly dressed woman said she lost her wallet and her ticket. I thought to myself, here we go again. Another woman passenger who was writing her journal all the way from Marden, continued with her task. The man in front of me opened his eyes and then continued with his sleep. Apparently, this is a genuine case but no one took any notice anymore.

On the way home, a young tired looking man shook his bucket full of coins while he made his way along the tube. On his white overcoat was sticker that says, ST BARTS RAGGING WEEK. He even had a permit to ask for donation. He announced that he was collecting donations for breast cancer, children with cancer….

He needn’t say anymore. Everyone dug deep into their pockets. I have no qualms about this one.

I shouldn't really underestimate the resourcefulness of uncle LUC. He might just turn up in a pair of blue scrubs, an old Pride oil bucket and work his way down the length of the tube.


atenah said...

ooo KT, i had this experience in Victoria Stn many moons ago, oh modus operandi still on huh? Not only London, I was in LAX when an actor who used to act alongside P Ramlee used the same trick...stranded in LAX, konon. He hit the wrong person lah, this poor student only had USD6 in her old old wallet. Anyway I gave him USD3, he was disappointed. eh nak banyak duit pegi keje lah

Kak Teh said...

tenah, this must be the second oldest profession! memang ramai - what i described tu di underground saja..outside lagi ramai!! and i have not even started on people from our part of the world yet! hehe!

d'arkampo said...

nak pi underground..nak pi underground!!

AuntyN said...

Kak Teh, rasanya bukan kat London je lah, sini pun ramai jugak ni. So far I just ignore them je like what you do, I think this is the best,

Sunflora said...

The story is all too familiar Kakteh. Too bad some people target other Muslims thinking they can get our sympathy. Kalau amik any amount takpe gaks, nak mintka banyak satu kali! And those so called Bosnian women with children, they work in Paris too. I read an Evening standard article before that those women carrying babies from Eastern Europe earns about £120 a day! Which is £3600 pa tax free! Orang lain kene bayo tax!

Sunflora said...

Errk sorry its PM not pa. Which comes to £43,000 pa. About the salary of a teacher I think.

Kak Teh said...

po, nak datang cruise the underground? :)
auntyN: macam universal problem. mana-mana pun ada tapi same tactic. yang bawa anak tu boleh pinjam2 dari kawan.
sunflora: yes, certainly, yang kak teh tengok di paris, cologne, amsterdam.
now, if you go to edgeware road, they'd tug at yr sleeves and follow you everywhere. and their young children are allowed to press their noses on the window panes of resturants.

Nadia said...

aih begging..resort to begging...i even encountered one in the masjid that I have learned to ignore since she's always there. first time I met her was the first time I came to columbus and i gave her like maybe 10 bucks, then she asked me again and I said I don't have any money with me which is usually the case...but kalau org islam begging ni...serba salah jdnye..we're not suppose to beg anyway but when our 'fellow' muslims do it , tangkap kesian pulak, unless of course kalau dah kenal the 'con types'. thanks for sharing kak teh..if i ever get to london at least i'll keep this in friends kat london takde share citer cani pun :(, nice that you do :)

atiza said...

i'd rather give my quid to the buskers then LUC..

Kak Teh said...

nadia, memang serba salah. In fact, I felt really bad after telling him off. But he was using religion and his age to get sympathy. And its not once. Most members of my family dah kena dengan Pak Cik ni. And according to my son, one of his colleagues parted with £70 to give to the so called DR who needed fare to go to Gatwick. The most heartbreaking decision not to give, is to those carrying babies. I myself have cried when i didn't have anything to give.
atiza: that is exactly my feelings as well. At least they entertain us and get something in return...tak kisahlag apa bangsa dana gama.

Arena said...

Yes it's a universal problem. Kat mana2 ada jek mender macam nni. MO jek lain-lain. And Most MO's pun lebih kurang je. Susah nak bezakan mana2 yang genuine ada masalah, dan mana yang amek kesempatan atas simpati dan budi baik orang lain.

Stupe said...

does that mean i could start doing that and call myself LRTUC?

Kak Teh said...

arena, terima kasih datang melawat...ya. betul susah nak bezakan dan yang rugi orang yang betul2 memerlukan bantaun kita.
stpe..aha..boleh juga jadi LRTUC :)

Stupe said...

will start after labour day...pasal LRTUC pun kena cuti gak.

Stupe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ordinary Superhero said...

Because of some unscrupulous people, yang genuine jadi mangsa. Happened to me many times, tapi yang paling best I ingat ada satu pakcik I jumpa kat Kota Bharu mintak duit nak balik Tanah Merah sebab wallet hilang. So bagi lah sikit. Tup tup jumpa lagi kat KL mintak duit nak beli tiket balik Kelantan! What the h**l he's doing in KL in the first place?

Now, kalau ada orang mintak sedekah, I just give if I have some loose change - afterall mungkin tuhan yang gerakkan hati nak bagi. Mungkin my money, tapi dia punya rezeki. I dah halalkan. Kalau dia nak tipu - it's between him and God. So good luck to him.

cik kieli said...

Kak Teh,

this thing happened sebijik to me also when I was studying in London 2 yrs back. It was Bakerloo line i think. Hilang passport takde duit nak pergi airport. Hampeh. But I did gave him about 3 pound kot gitu tapi he saw that I had 20 notes in my wallet and wanted that. Mana boleh bagi dia since that was my last 20 (baru sampai, biasiswa tak masuk lagi). Dah bagi 3 pun dah cukup baik. Dia boleh buat muka marah macam nak telan kita. eeei kalau ingat balik, geram sangat!

Kak Teh said...

msi - ya, thatis so true - its between him and God. Tapi, geram, kan? They invest on the fare to go and beg to more than cover the cost.
cik kieli: hehe - could be the same person - belum pencen pencen lagi dia!