Culture Crash

Posted on February 16, 2013


I lived in Hanoi for two years and witnessed the culture there. As well as the good doctors and government workers I taught English to and the many lovely people I met, I saw and heard tales of corruption. It’s in the air they breathe. If you want a visa extended, take it here, pay extra US dollars and it’s done. If you want to drive a motorbike without a licence, don’t worry if the police stop you, just give them US Dollars.

I also witnessed lies, big ones, about important issues.

I met business people from Europe who’d lost all their money because they didn’t know how to work the system of bribery and corruption in customs. You need to have local people to translate and to know how the system works. It is very different from the laws which many of us are familiar with.

Once I needed to catch a plane in Bangkok. I rang a travel agent, they told me they had a seat on a flight and I booked it over the phone before catching a taxi across the city to pay for it. When I arrived, there was no ticket, they’d lied.

I often thought that someone should do a thesis on the cultural differences of people doing business in Asia, in particular lying. Some call it ‘saving face,’ or ‘telling you what you want to hear.’ I just call it lying.

It still shocks me how often people lie. It really shouldn’t by now.

In 2011 I was dropping my boys at school at 9am, as I’ve done for years. I parked the car, got out of the car, the kids had the door open and were getting out, when the car in front of mine reversed into mine.

The woman got out and told me, “Ten minutes ago you drove into my car.”

I looked at her amazement. I was standing beside my car on the side of the road.

“You just smashed into my car,” I said.

She insisted that I’d driven into hers. “My sensor told me no one was behind me,” she said.

“Well your sensor mustn’t be working, maybe you need to tell Honda. I was not in my car.”

I stopped arguing with her, took photos with my mobile phone of her car still smashed into mine, she hadn’t bothered to move it. I asked her to move her car away from mine and then took photos of her licence and recorded the details. It was a Malaysian licence and the car was a Malaysian embassy Honda station wagon. I took photos of her ringing her husband.

Luckily it was a busy time of day and there were plenty of mums walking past taking their kids to school. One mum offered her phone number as a witness.

It was a truly bizarre experience. Thank God for mobile phone cameras and the 9am rush because it meant I had witnesses.

I asked her for her mobile phone number which she gave to me. I rang it and someone else answered. I told her that she’d given me the wrong number. She said she didn’t have her glasses and gave me the right number which made her mobile phone ring.

She asked me to wait for her husband, which took a while, but I did. He arrived and asked for my licence which I gave him and he took down my details. That’s how we do things in Australia, fair’s fair.

I told him that she shouldn’t lie. He and another man from the embassy apologized to me for this woman lying to me.

I rang my insurer, GIO, which took a while because it was the morning of the cyclones in Queensland. “We are currently experiencing a peak in call volumes which are causing longer than usual wait times. For those customers whose call is not of an urgent nature you may wish to call back…”

I made a claim, gave them all the details, it was authorized and I went to the smash repairer to get a quote. I have a very good record, having been with GIO since I started driving at 17.

I had two calls from the other party’s insurer, one of them was Bobby at The Buzz Insurance, “… we are holding you at fault based on the information we have from our insured …” That didn’t surprise me.

My repairer gave me the number of a hire car place so I’d have a car while mine was getting repaired. I rang them and they said they needed the person’s home address in Sydney. I only had a Malaysian address. So I rang the woman’s mobile number and she hung up on me. I rang Buzz Insurance and they said for privacy reasons they couldn’t give it to me. I rang GIO and they didn’t have it. So I rang the police, who said that by law I have the right to know her home address. The police tried to ring the woman but she didn’t answer.

So I rang the Malaysian Consulate in Bellevue Hill. I spoke to a woman who recognized the woman’s name on the driver’s licence and put me through to her husband. He got very angry with me, said “Speak to my insurance” and hung up when I told him that the police said I have the right to know his home address.

I rang back and a man answered. I said I needed to speak to the woman who I’d spoken to before. He said he didn’t know who it was. I asked how many people worked in that office answering phones. He said about 30. So I said I’d ring back until I spoke to that woman because I needed the husband’s name. I rang back and spoke to the same man. When I rang again, he pretended to be a recorded message, “Thank you for calling the Malaysian Education System… The Malaysian High Commission is 61200300 or 61200310…” He did this several times, I rang back and he kept repeating this message as if he was a recorded message.

I told him that this is very bad PR, that he is representing the Malaysia government in Australia. I asked if he’d like me to publish a story about it on the internet with the photos I took. “Go ahead,” he said. “Please do. Stop ringing us.” I said the police said I had a right to the home address of the person who smashed into me in a Malaysian embassy car. “So let the police speak to us,” he said and I wrote down what he said.

So I rang the police and the police officer rang him. I went to the police station and explained the story. She tried to speak to him on the phone but they said he wasn’t there. I told her they were lying. I knew.

She said they were going to make a complaint that I was making harassing phone calls to them. Oh My God. I explained why I’d rung back, and she said they’d have no proof of the phone calls. I said I don’t lie. Imagine that, the Malaysian embassy threatening to report me! Oh My God.

Anyway, the police officer rang me later and said the husband had come into the police station and given her his home address, which she gave to me. But what a saga.

When I rang Compass Car Rental with the home number, they rang The Buzz Insurance.

“I spoke with the Buzz. The Buzz are trying to hold you at fault. They advised me of their client’s version of the story that you actually hit the rear of their insured. They said based on that description they are holding yourself at fault as they see it as a hit in rear which is basically ‘at fault.’ Then I notified them of your accident description and they advised they couldn’t confirm liability as there were conflicting descriptions. So unfortunately where there’s a case, whether they can prove who was at fault, it’s really difficult to come up with an answer unfortunately.

“They advised me what you’re best to do is send in your sketch and description, to GIO then chase up GIO and say sort this out.

“It looks like they tried to call GIO and confirm the description but they didn’t get through. They were chasing that from GIO still. They were chasing accident description and sketch diagrams from their client.”

I think people who are at fault in accidents should have to pay for the hours of phone calls incurred afterwards to sort out the damage and the repairs.

In the end, I changed my car insurance from GIO after being with them for over 20 years, since the age of 17. I had to pay the cost of a hire car and my excess. One thing I learned was never to trust Malaysian authorities.

Diplomatic immunity shields repeat driving offenders

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