Newsletter (14) – 6 Tips for Preventing Kidnapping

Lessons from the Sheng Siong Kidnap

The mother of the CEO of Sheng Siong (a chain of local supermarkets) was kidnapped on 8th Jan 2014. She was released the next day when the family paid a ransom of $2 million. The police later arrested the suspects, and all within 2 days.

Compared to the horrific kidnappings that happen in other countries, or those that happened in Singapore during the 1960s, this case turned out quite well. The victim was ransomed quickly, was returned to her family safely, and the police arrested the suspects in a very short time frame.

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singaporean-pair-arrested/948388.html

I never talked about kidnapping and abduction in my newsletters before. Two reasons: there weren’t many kidnap cases in Singapore for a long time; and preventing kidnapping largely involves using the same principles I have talked about in earlier newsletters anyway.

But now, two things worry me:

1)      Copycat crimes – some other criminals may look at how the kidnapping was botched up, figure out that they can easily do better, and just go for it now that these two kidnappers started the ball rolling.

2)      Singaporeans who regularly go overseas may leave themselves vulnerable to abductions, if the overall safety of the Singapore environment has made them careless.

6 Tips to Prevent Kidnapping:

1)      Please don’t be gullible.

Madam Ng was kidnapped easily because one of the kidnappers told her that her son was injured and he was going to take her to see him. She had a mobile phone, she could have easily called to verify things, but she didn’t. Granted, she’s 79 and that generation might not be used to the convenience of modern technology. But we, and our children, have no such excuse! Call to verify if anyone claims that a loved one is hurt and offers to bring you there straight away.

I have a special code I use for my sons to let them verify if someone who approaches them has been sent by me. If you have kids and you are not around them all the time, do work out such codes and passwords too. It sounds silly, but it is a small step to help prevent your kids from being kidnapped.

2)      Watch your environment always.

If a stranger approaches you in a Bad Place, don’t switch off your mind. More on this at https://walkinsafety.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/newsletter-02-dont-bug-me/

If kidnappers cannot trick you into moving you to a secondary location (mentioned in https://walkinsafety.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/newsletter-12-a-friends-story/), they might try to physically move you there. To prevent that, always watch out for places where people can hide themselves and jump out to grab or attack you. A parked van with a door slightly open (and someone leaning against a wall nearby), a stationary car with the driver looking at you with unusual interest as you walk past, or even a dark doorway along a row of  old shop-houses can mean trouble. Avoid such places if you can, or if you have absolutely no way of  avoiding them, please don’t face such places with earphones in your ears, your favourite music blasting away and your mind on the latest, greatest music video by your favourite artistes!

3)      Expect To Be Out-Numbered.

This kidnapping was an anomaly in that it was pulled off by just one person at the beginning. Experienced criminals know that it is very difficult for one victim to be restrained by just one criminal, so they will usually have 2-3 at the very beginning. So if you see a suspicious group around you (and notice someone further away who might be looking out for witnesses or the police), get your guard up and be prepared to run like nuts if you have to.

Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself if you are wrong. Statistics from around the world show that more people have died from kidnapping than from embarrassment… : P

4)      Grab and Hold On.

If criminals want to move you somewhere else (secondary location), grabbing and holding on to things will mess up their plans. A nearby lamp-post, a trash-can, even a passer-by will do in a pinch. Don’t let the kidnappers get you inside a vehicle that easily, or else it will be even harder for you to escape. Make sure you yell and scream while you are desperately clinging to a nearby lamp-post. Depending on which country you are in, you may or may not get help. But you will certainly get attention, and that can make things just that little bit more complicated for the kidnappers. If you are dealing with amateurs, that extra level of hassle might be enough to make them lose their nerve and look for easier victims.

5)      Remember the Bystander-Effect (https://walkinsafety.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/newsletter-01-genovese-syndrome-the-deadly-bystander-effect/).

You aren’t safe just because there is a crowd around. You have to get the people involved in helping you. As I said in a previous newsletter,” if you are ever in a large group when you need help, realize that you may not get any help at all if you appeal to the entire group. Single out a specific person instead.”

In a kidnapping situation, screaming in panic may not be enough to galvanize bystanders into action. You may have to yell something like “Police! Call the Police! Kidnap!” This is NOT a fail-safe, but it just might tip the odds in your favour.

6)      Keep safe company when traveling overseas.

Many Singaporean women travel overseas by themselves in this day and age. I know I sound like a wet blanket and a spoilsport, but please consider traveling with people who know the world, who can recognize danger and have the common sense to avoid it. Travel with someone who knows when to change channels when necessary (https://walkinsafety.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/newsletter-13-changing-the-channel/).

Take more precautions especially when overseas. Most criminals do have some vestiges of humanity left, which means they are not so quick to inflict harm and pain on another human being. However, if you are a foreigner, it is easier for the criminal mind to rationalize you away as being less than human, as I said in another newsletter, “to look upon you the same way the Chinese consume sharks-fin soup, or as a breathing sex-doll or a walking ATM”.

Far better to totally avoid such situations than have to ever deal with them!

All these tips assume you are not a high-profile target (like the family member of a supermarket chain CEO). If you are a high-profile target, you have the means AND the motivation to engage professional security services. Please look for these people and get your lifestyle assessed in terms of your safety and that of your family.

But if you are NOT a high-profile target, don’t assume you are automatically safe from kidnap. In some other countries there are such things as Express Kidnaps (I know, it sounds like some laundry delivery service) when criminals target regular people (like us) demand smaller sums of money for ransom and aim to make a significant profit based on volume. The good news is that such criminals put less effort and planning into each kidnap and would thus make foiling such attempts a lot easier for us.

In the end, please give some thought and put in some effort to prevention. A kidnapping event can lead to long-term emotional problems, just as any violent crime would. Far better to prevent this in the first place than have to deal with all the fallout later. There is now one elderly woman who has discovered the hard way that crime can happen to her (https://walkinsafety.wordpress.com/2010/06/06/newsletter-05-hindrances-to-self-defence-2/). I hope that won’t happen to us too!


JJ Huang
Founder
Walk In Safety ™

Like what you read here? I am going to start offering the women’s self-defence classes again soon, where I teach basic techniques that will give you a fighting chance against violent crime. Class slots will be very limited, so email me if you want to know when and where those classes are going to be held!

And please SHARE this post if you have found this post useful. Thanks! 🙂

Newsletter (13) – Changing the Channel

It wasn’t funny at that time.

It was May 1996, and my whole family was in America for my sister’s convocation. It was a jam-packed trip with lots of places to go and even distant relatives in the States to meet up with. Being a total music nut at that time (with a Yamaha electone competition waiting for me when I came back to Singapore) I spent my days there thinking more about music, checking out really cool jazz instructional materials and looking for electones to practice on for my competition.

But one day in particular stands out. It was a day when I was out with my mum and sis, and we were in Los Angeles. I don’t know how it happened, but we somehow or other wandered into downtown Los Angeles. I was caught up and absorbed in my thoughts, but gradually I realized that all the windows we walked past with fitted with external security bars. Then I noticed that there was no one else on the streets except us.

My mind fully woke up when my sis gleefully pointed out a large sign on the wall. It said “No Sleeping On the Streets Between —-” As she ran forward to the sign and started posing with it, saying “Ma! Take picture! Take picture!” I suddenly realized that

  1. we were in the part of the city where the poor people lived;
  2. we were total sitting ducks to any muggers or gang members who wanted to add us to American crime statistics; AND
  3. my mum and my sis were totally oblivious to the danger!

Now my spoken Chinese standard was only marginally higher than my written Chinese standard (almost totally non-existent) but suddenly I found myself able to speak to my mum and sis in fluent Chinese, telling them with a forced smile on my face (no point alerting any muggers that I, at least, was on to them – they might just decide to shoot me first) that we were in danger and ought to just get out of there. But my mum and sis insisted on taking their tourist kind of pictures before starting to walk out of there.

Problem was, we were lost, or how else would we have ended up in the wrong part of L.A.? So as we walked down the streets (with windows that were either seriously barred or already broken), my darling sis proceeded to take out a MAP, spread it open WIDE and start pointing and staring at it. I thought I would faint. We were already doing a very good job of hanging a sign on our backs, saying “We are blur tourists from Singapore, with a lot more money than good sense. Please rob us!” But the map really took the cake!

“Don’t look at the map, if we keep walking straight we’d get somewhere! Try to look like we know where we’re going and what we are here for…” I spoke to my sis in Chinese again. And again she happily answered in English “How can we not use the map? I don’t know where we are!” I honestly could imagine all the hordes of muggers, swarming behind us, just out of sight, licking their lips and rubbing their hands in glee…

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As you can guess, I didn’t die that day.

I’ll not give you a story of how I overcame numerous knife-and-gun-wielding assailants with my super-human martial arts skills, since no one is paying me to write a TV or movie script. Since in the end nothing happened, my mum and sis probably thought I was paranoid that afternoon; I prefer to think of it as being able to change channels when necessary!

For most of us in Singapore, violent crime is something that happens on a TV screen, in a movie theatre or to other people. Someone else (the police, bouncers at nightclubs, security guards, etc) has to handle all the nasty people. If we live in a well-ordered environment (like most of Singapore) don’t even notice them doing their job unless things go drastically wrong.

In my talks I explain about Bad People, people we ought to avoid if we want to stay out of trouble. But two problems arise. First, Bad People may pretend not to be Bad People, so that we would let down our guard around them. Second, even if we know they are Bad People, we may HAVE to associate with them anyway. For example, if you are a school teacher and the Bad People are students in your class, or if the Bad People are your relatives and your parents don’t recognize them as problems and let them into your house.

If you want to keep these two problems from making you vulnerable to violent crime, you need to be able to change the channel quickly. By that I mean being mentally ready to defend yourself, knowing when you stop thinking of someone as an office colleague, misunderstood teenager with serious family issues or weird uncle who always made you feel uncomfortable, and start assessing them as a potential threat to your physical safety.

Going back to my L.A. experience, if anyone approached us in the streets, my guard would already be up. It was the middle of the day, why was there no one else around? Did the locals know something we didn’t? The whole street fit in my criteria of a Bad Place, we were more than 30 seconds away from viable help.

And when that happens, that’s when you have to change channels. A teacher alone in a class, surrounded by 3 burly teenage students who seem to be upset or just don’t have a good reason to be there at that time ought to be wary. Another time you ought to be wary when someone is upset and shouting away in public, like if you accidentally hit his car. If you are a civilized person, you won’t resort to violence that easily. But just because you are civilized doesn’t mean that the other person is too. While the two of you are yelling at each other and commenting on each other’s parents, grandparents and other ancestors, don’t be surprised if the other person suddenly launches a punch at you!

What keeps people from being mentally prepared to defend themselves when it is necessary?

  • Unawareness – that was how I ended up in the wrong part of L.A. before I knew it. Don’t let your mind be occupied by music (like me), work or any distraction Bad People may use to catch you off guard.
  • Denial – “This can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me…”
  • Anger – if you are too outraged by the other person’s comments on your ancestry or some other offence and your mind is frantically trying to come up with insults to throw back, you may not notice him or her winding up to clout you in the face.

So give these factors a look-over. First ask yourself if you are prone to any of them (unawareness, denial and anger), then, to be doubly sure, go ask your spouse and promise you won’t lose your temper, whatever they say. If you are prone to them, then make it a resolution to remove them from your life.
That way you are better able to change channels when necessary!

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I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at walkinsafety@gmail.com and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!

Newsletter (12) – A Friend’s Story

A friend of mine shared with me this incident:

In Woodlands I used to live with my operators.. 8 of us. The sly guy chose to attack the slimmest and the weakest among us .. Freak(ed) her out . No one was home, not even the neighbors. She just stood there facing the door being touched by the guy .. The only thing we could do later was to make a police report and cry. He even had a scissors pointing at her back .. I cant remember how she got out of the situation but it was sure freaky.. I think she gave him money and asked him to go ..

… this happened in 2003.. Also, we suspect this guy has been watching . And also there’s a very long corridor separating us from the other neighbors.. So yeah.. It would have been hard to run unless we exercise self defence “kung-fu” ..

A couple of points from this incident I would like to highlight:

1) Freezing

As my friend related, the victim just stood still and allowed herself to be molested. If you find that surprising, and think that any woman would have been able to scream, run or try to clobber the guy, chances are that you have never encountered a genuinely predatory person.

I’m not talking about an angry customer yelling and screaming at your company’s service personnel, or the obnoxious jerk who raced into the parking lot even though your car was already heading in. Those are triggers for Personality Based Violence, which is very different from Criminal Violence. Don’t harbour the illusion that just because you dared to face up to some loud-mouthed jerk, talk down an irate customer or overcome a difficult opponent in a martial arts match, you will not freeze if you encounter a predator.

There’s something different, very chilling about a person who sees you as prey, who looks upon you the same way the Chinese consume sharks-fin soup, or as a breathing sex-doll or a walking ATM. Unless you encounter such people regularly (working in a prison perhaps) the odds are that you will freeze if you are unprepared.

Why would most people freeze? Freezing makes sense in a very primal way. In the days when the predators we were most worried about were sabre-toothed tigers, wolves or other carnivorous animals, freezing could allow us to escape an animal’s notice (if it hasn’t spotted us yet). It could also allow us to escape being eaten immediately, because if we freeze and the lion thinks we are dead, it might think it could come back and eat us later, and so give us a chance to escape. Most people who freeze find themselves feeling that because what they were doing (nothing) hasn’t killed them yet, so it must be working.

It may sound ridiculous to you, but don’t dismiss it until you have encountered genuine criminal violence!

So how can we overcome this tendency to freeze? The only way is by training, by scenario-based training. Such training has two objectives;

  • First, to get you to move, just move. Moving may just be what it takes to break the freeze and then allow you to take necessary action.
  • Second, to take a very alien situation and make it more familiar. The attack or the threat may be delivered by a stranger, but at least the form of the attack/threat (say, a knife pointed at your back) is familiar, and your body has drilled some form of response. This helps give you a better chance of making it through this encounter with criminal violence.

This, of course, assumes that you have been trained in scenario situations, not bouncing around in a boxing ring or performing empty movements to the air…

2) Secondary location

Notice that the lady was molested at her doorstep, with a long corridor separating her from her neighbours (potential witnesses and help). That made it an ideal location for the attacker to strike. However, things could have been worse. If he had somehow gotten her housekeys and moved her inside her flat, that would have been much, much worse.

You see, when a criminal closes the distance to the chosen victim (as I described in my talks), the location is still far from ideal. The criminal runs the risk of being interrupted by other people passing by, potential witnesses and help. What some criminals may try to do (if they think ahead far enough) is to try and move the victim to another location where they can give their victim undivided, uninterrupted attention.

And that’s the last thing you’d ever want!

So if you ever run into a criminal, fight like nuts to avoid being taken to another location. Nothing good can happen to you there. This applies even if the criminal has taken your kids hostage and is threatening to kill them unless you follow him to another place. Based on actual cases in other countries, the odds are that you are better off running away immediately. He may still kill your children, but he may think it safer to try to escape first. But if you do follow the criminal to the secondary location (the place of his choosing), he will most likely torture and kill your children right in front of your eyes, forcing you to watch, before he starts on you…

Having said all that, the example I described above is a very extreme situation, and you would have to make many, many idiotic mistakes to get to that point. The best way to keep yourself and your family far away from ending up in such a situation is to just live in safety. Don’t do things that can turn around and bite you later on (like doing the wrong kind of things with the wrong kind of people) and always be aware of your environment, the dangers and opportunities therein.

In the above account, for example, the fact that her neighbours were far away was seen as a problem. It is, but on the other hand, it takes away the confusion. Simply out, any stranger at the end of a long corridor, at your doorstep, is not up to any good. You should have already begun reacting to the situation way before the person closed in to put any bladed or sharp instrument at your back or neck. You can be sure it’s not your neighbour. And even if it is, that doesn’t mean that your neighbour isn’t a criminal. After all, in urbanized Singapore, every criminal has to live next to someone, right?

So that’s my take on my friend’s story. What’s yours? Does it bring any thoughts to mind or raise any questions for you?

Newsletter (11) – Women and Self-Defence

The Straits Times on 3rd Jan 2010 had an article on more people signing up for self-defence classes. The article said that the recent spate of gang-related activities has led to more men signing up for classes, while there isn’t a corresponding increase in women sign-ups. And that was attributed to a lack of awareness amongst women about their need for self-defence skills.

Now I would be the first to say that some people (not just women) live in denial of the possible dangers around them. In fact, I even wrote about it here.  But this is not the only reason women may avoid self-defence classes.

Here are some other reasons:

1)      False advertising – the class is advertised as a self-defence class but it is actually a martial arts class. If it is a traditional martial art (such as Karate or Taiji) there will be a strong emphasis on personal development. You will have to spend a long time (months or years) on mastering certain movements, to get them exactly just right. The process itself is valuable, and I’d be the first to argue for its benefits. However, if the women come in for self-defence, that’s what they are looking for. They don’t want something that CAN be used for self-defence three years down the road if they practice it for hours every day. They want something that they can use NOW.

If they join a sport-based art (such as Judo) that has been advertised for self-defence, then they will spend time in physical conditioning (which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong) and then training in competitive techniques. As a gender, women are more cooperative and less competitive, so they will be uncomfortable with that. Also, they may not be comfortable with violence for the sake of winning a competition.

On the other hand, women may find themselves in a class that combines fitness, meditation, weight-loss and martial arts training. This is appealing to women because of the one-stop-shopping concept, that they only need attend one class to get all these benefits, but unless the students are taught the common attacks they may face and how to deal with them, it’s not self-defence. And the students have been misled by false advertising!

2)      Uncomfortable with Violence – most people are uncomfortable with physical violence, but women on the whole are even more so. To make things worse, what is often advertised as self-defence is often violence for the sake of sport (competition) or violence for its own sake, characterized by savage techniques that are more suitable for a soldier in the battle field than a civilian in normal society.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe any criminal who attacks a woman deserves whatever he or she gets (remember, there are violent women around!) but it is very hard to justify teaching anyone how to break another person’s neck, or how to sneak up behind people to cut their throats with a knife. That’s violence for violence’s sake. Self-defence should be violence for the sake of escape, to get out of the very dangerous situation that you foolishly got yourself into, either by bad decisions or inattention.

3)      The Lessons Take Too Long – As I said earlier, if it takes years for people to learn to get to a useable level of skill, people get discouraged and drop out. Martial arts are intricate, multi-faceted and deep. Of course it will take a long time to acquire martial arts skills. However, self-defence skills should be something people can use without having to train hours a day for years.

It’s like the difference between learning stunt driving and the driving that gets your kids to school and yourself to work safely. Many women who try out self-defence classes find themselves signed up for the stunt driving version when all they want is what gets them and their loved ones home safely. Of course they’d drop out! But what frustrates me is the realization that these women may then get the impression that they can’t learn self-defence skills within a reasonable period of time and therefore not try anymore. And that would be a shame, wouldn’t it?

With all these reasons, it is unfair to say that “self-defence awareness hasn’t caught on with women yet”. It sounds very patronizing to me, like a businessman claiming that people don’t buy his products just because they aren’t aware how wonderful his products are…

So if you have any disappointing experiences with attending self-defence classes, do email me about it and share your story with me!

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Quick announcement: because of some difficulty in finding a good venue for group classes, I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at walkinsafety@gmail.com and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!

Newsletter (10) Reflections on The Downtown East Killing

This is really the talk of the town, the killing of Darren Ng at Downtown East.

http://sg.theasianparent.com/articles/teen-slashed-to-death-at-downtown-east

I don’t have any special insider information on what REALLY happened that day, so I’ll have to wait for the results of the official investigations to be released. But in the meantime, here are some thoughts I’d like to share with you.

1)    Staring Incidents – Some people, especially ladies, cannot understand how a staring incident can lead to a fight, much less a killing. At the very root of it all, staring amongst us males is a very primitive way to establish dominance and hierarchy. The lesser is supposed to look away first, and if he doesn’t, it’s a challenge to the other guy.

The drive to be the top dog, or at least fend off anyone challenging our position in the ranking, is a very primal force within us guys. So don’t be surprised if it makes us do things that are very stupid. You can tell that you (or any guy you are hanging out with) have gone stupid when you have the option to walk away from a dangerous conflict but choose not to because you think it causes you to lose face, and so you ‘cannot’ back down.

Back down. Your pride isn’t worth getting into that much trouble!

Sometimes, however, the bad guys will use staring as part of the interview, to see if the guy they have selected is a safe victim. They’d go up to a lone guy, accuse him of staring at one of them and trying to pick a fight, and watch his reaction. If he shows any sign of fear (cringing, bluster or other forms of nervous behavior) they take it that it’s safe for them to attack this person. Then they’d usually ramp up the intensity (to feed off the person’s fear) until they finally attack physically.

One way you can tell the difference between the two is to look out for witnesses. If there are many other people around (for example, in a pub or a public place), then it’s a face-issue. If there aren’t, chances are that it is a criminal, predatory attack.

2)    Groups – In my crime prevention talks, I mention that one of the danger signs to watch out for will be guys in a group. I’m not saying that every single group of guys will give problems; what I AM saying is that if you see a group of guys together, watch out for the other danger signs as well.

It doesn’t have to be from an ‘official’ gang. Any group of closely knit people may be guarded towards outsiders, and also try to demonstrate their loyalty for the group by putting down or being hostile towards outsiders. And don’t forget the face issue. Losing face is bad, but losing face in front of your ‘gang’ is even worse. So the members may end up feeding off each other’s aggressiveness and getting even more belligerent than they would have been if they were by themselves.

What can make things even worse will be the fact that if you have a group of 10 guys, and if the top dog starts acting stupid, those who know better may be too intimidated to speak out, or if they do speak out they get brushed aside. It’s not unknown to have an entire group of guys dragged into a fight, and later discover that almost all of them wanted to walk away but they were all too afraid to speak out. So they ALL end up in trouble together…

3)    Weapons – The police have classified this case as murder, and I suspect that the fact that weapons were used was a large factor in their decision. Let’s face it, unless you are in a large group of trainee chefs on the way to work, you have no good reason to be going around carrying choppers at Downtown East. The fact that those people armed themselves with choppers showed that they had the intent to commit violent crime. That makes it quite straightforward, in my opinion.

And that is what you need to think about before you leave home armed. If you have some official weapon, like a combat knife, chemical spray or the like, and if you ever end up using it, you are going to have to prove to the police that you did not go out with the pre-meditated decision to cause harm.  That is not going to be easy to prove, so carrying a recognized weapon will be a legal risk to you. Think carefully before you make that decision.

About the only situations you MIGHT be able to justify using a weapon may be if you were attacked at home (you grabbed whatever was nearby to defend yourself, and it just happened to be your mummy’s Japanese sword, for example) or if you used some makeshift weapon to buy yourself time and space to escape. I remember discussing this topic with some ladies who worked at Cold Storage Supermarket. They had a pretty long list of creative (and nasty) options that look very innocent, but could effectively buy them time to escape if they ever needed it. I’m not going to give away any secrets here, but let me just say that I pity any robber who tries to rob any of those ladies armed with their grocery concoctions!

Conclusion: these are my thoughts and musings on the Downtown East killing. As I said before, I don’t have any special insider information on it, but I am looking at it from the angle of what lessons we can gleam from it. Think through carefully, are there any changes to your habits or lifestyle you ought to make now in the light of these lessons?

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I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at walkinsafety@gmail.com and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!

Newsletter (09) Those You Let in Your Home

I have a confession to make.

I am a Tom Clancy fan.

If you are unfamiliar with his works, he is known for writing military-related fiction. In other words, his books will involve people beating each other, shooting at each other or blowing each other up with increasing levels of explosive power. The rest of the book will be about giving the heroes good reason to do all these nasty things to the bad guys.

I know, this makes me sound like a totally Neanderthal guy, sitting and staring blankly at the walls of my cave and saying “Oog hungry! Oog want eat now! Now!” while pounding on my chest!

Anyway, what struck me recently was a plot detail from his book Patriot Games. The bad guys were going to attack the good guys at the home of the hero. So they arranged for a power failure at the home and got past all the security details by dressing up as the repairmen from the electrical company. What they were counting on was the fact that people usually let down their guard when they are around the hired help, the machine-people.

This is a very common tendency in Singapore. We tend to divide people into three categories:

  • People-people: those we acknowledge as people. We have a relationship with them, they are our friends, family, colleagues, church (or temple or mosque) associates and so on.
  • Machine-people: they are there to do things for us, to serve us. We don’t acknowledge that they are people like us, with real feelings, a family and their own struggles, dreams and hopes. People in this category include people at the fast food counter, maids, cleaners at the HDB estates, airport counter staff and repairmen.
  • Non-people: those we don’t want to acknowledge at all. These include the chronically drunk, the mentally disturbed and the poor and homeless. I read in passing that the ninja of ancient Japan could easily infiltrate enemy territory by disguising themselves as non-people, because many are revulsed by them and would rather ignore them totally (thus rendering the ninja effectively invisible).

Some things don’t change, do they?

For us in Singapore, we encounter what I call the machine-people often. Sometimes we even give them entry into our homes to repair our plumbing, our air-cons or to do renovation work. When we let them into our homes, how often do we stop to consider if that is safe?

The two dangers I see are:

  1. We are rude and offensive to them because we choose not to respect them. That can provoke violent retaliation from them. Some people think they can be verbally violent with repairmen or service staff, and forget that they may react with physical violence.  And odds are that they are better at physical violence than we are…
  2. We are unaware, not paying careful attention to any signs that they may be planning violent crime against us. This lack of alertness on our part means we are in deep trouble if those people deliberately enter our homes with violence planned.

Some time back I was talking with some teachers about the personality traits criminals tend to share. One of them mentioned “That sounds like around 40% of my class.” Soon after that I had the opportunity to actually interact with such students. It was very disturbing, because:

  • They showed a defiant, rebellious attitude towards authority (teachers, parents and, possibly later on, the police).
  • They were totally addicted to immediate gratification. For them there was no such thing as waiting until after class before they got on Facebook or Counterstrike. They would get on it even as the teacher was teaching, and regardless of how much work they were supposed to do in class at that time. This also means they usually had poor impulse control, they would do what they feel like doing with little (or no) regard for the consequences.
  • They truly believed they were entitled to their behavior. Woe betide any teacher who tries to stop them from their Counterstrike games! They had no compunctions about mocking and provoking teachers and authority figures who try to rein in their behavior. One of my friends, a school teacher with a genuine heart for kids and the gentlest soul I ever met, was so provoked by such kids that he actually laid hands on them and as a result had to leave the teaching profession. A career ruined just because of such kids.
  • Group Dynamics – they would egg each other on to see who could provoke the teachers more, or come up with meaner pranks to play on their better-behaved classmates. Sometimes they would ‘prey’ on each other too, with mean pranks, racist insults and physical violence, and as a result you can never really be sure when any of the students will suddenly lose his temper and go violent.

And here’s the part that worries me: how can you be sure that the repairman or renovation contractor you allow into your house is not like one of those kids I described above? The honest fact is, you can’t. As I said earlier, people tend to make two big mistakes with those they consider machine-people, provoking them or letting down their guard. So:

  1. Don’t provoke them. If their service is bad or they make a mistake, speak to them assertively but not aggressively. “This is lousy work, I insist on speaking to your supervisor about this” is assertive, “You’re an idiot! You’d better watch out or I’ll…” is aggressive. Don’t be surprised if they react to verbal violence with physical violence. They may go to jail for it later, but the damage is already done.
  2. Don’t let your guard down. Watch for all the signs of impending trouble, like unusual eye contact, moving into a dangerous range (as I showed in the talks), suspicious behavior such as unexplained nervousness and all that. Basically trust your intuition and don’t try to prove how brave you are by staying in a situation you suspect is going bad.

I know of some husbands who do not leave their wives alone at home to deal with any visiting repairmen. They would make sure there are friends, neighbors or relatives present at home with their wives. Let’s face it, having your mother-in-law around may not be able to prevent an attack by determined criminals, but it will add one more layer of complication, one more thing that might go wrong for the criminals. And if that comes on top of a number of other security measures (such as basic alertness) the criminals may just decide to look for easier victims instead.

Yes, I know I sound paranoid. There are many honest, hardworking people around in Singapore, even amongst those we see as machine people. But we lose nothing by making basic common sense a lifestyle and habit. As I said before in the last newsletter, we should not wait for problems to arise before we start taking smart precautions. Make them a habit now, teach them to our friends and children, and become the sort of people criminals ignore because we would be too much hard work to handle!

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Quick announcement: because of some difficulty in finding a good venue for group classes, I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at walkinsafety@gmail.com and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!

Newsletter (08) The Next Big Win

One of the points I emphasize is this: avoiding bad people is a very important part of living free from violent crime. The problem is, most bad people don’t go around with a big sign saying “I’m a bad person, stay away!” Sometimes they conceal their true nature (to make it easier to find victims) and sometimes people are drawn to them because they find them fascinating (like women going for the bad boy type, for example).

Here’s a sneak peek into the typical mindset of gambler who has already crossed the line into criminal behavior.

http://singaporeseen.stomp.com.sg/stomp/sgseen/in_the_heartlands/449398/gambler_smashes_relatives_car_for_not.html

What made this gambler cross the line?

Like most other criminals, the gambler probably feels that his brother IS obligated to help him with his gambling debts. He may be thinking “He has so much money / He has more money than me, so he ought to lend me the money.” This is the same reasoning as a mugger thinking that it is OK to rob someone because the mugger is broke and the victim has the money the mugger wants.

I also suspect that this gambler just assumes that because he wants the money, his brother WILL lend it to him. So in his mind, he has already planned where he will spend the $2500 he wanted his brother to lend him, maybe $X to Loanshark A, $Y to Loanshark B, $Z to convince someone else to loan him money, and God knows how much to gamble on a big bet that will not only cause him to win big, but also allow him to pay off everything and be filthy rich for life.

(It’s easy to look at this assumption and think the gamblers are stupid. But if we interact with bad people and assume that they will not prey on us only because we don’t want them to, we are just as deluded as they are!)

Pay attention to what I call the Next Big Win phenomenon, when gamblers manage to convince themselves they WILL win that next big bet, they can just feel it, that their luck is just about to change. In their mind they are already counting the hundreds of thousands they are going to win with the $2500 you HAVE to lend them. So if you do not lend them that money, you are not depriving them of only $2500. In their mind you are robbing them of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that they will win in the next bet.

And their rage (and corresponding violence) will be scaled up accordingly!

In other words, the potential for violence so much greater from a gambler because of the Next Big Win fever, that fervent belief (hope) that his BIG win is just around the corner.

Recognizing the Next Big Win phenomenon explains a lot of the stupid things this gambler has done. He has embezzled company funds (he will certainly be caught sooner or later) as well as borrowed money from loansharks (illegal moneylenders who WILL get their money back in some way or other). And now he has gotten the attention of the police because of smashing his brother’s car and issuing death threats.

All of these are very unattractive options to sensible people in their right minds, because we know that the consequences will hit us hard sooner or later. But to a gambler caught up in the Next Big Win fever, he or she believes that he/she will be able to collect the prize winnings quickly and return the funds to the company before detection or pay off the illegal moneylenders before they start harassing him and his family.

(And he has justified his violence to his brother by thinking the brother has robbed him of hundreds of thousands of dollars, so in his perverse mind it was self-defence…)

What does this mean for you?

This means that you have to be extremely careful when dealing with a gambler. If you are an employer, recognize that you should as far as possible keep this person away from your company funds. If you are a friend, remember that someone infected with Next Big Win fever cannot think rationally. Please be careful when around him or her, especially when he or she starts trying to borrow money.

And if a gambler has already started threatening violence to you (such as in this case), then do EVERYTHING you can to make sure you are not an easy target.

  1. Always keep your guard up when you are out of the house, especially when coming out of the lift or going to your car in a carpark,
  2. Make sure that your home locks and doors are sturdy and secure – no point having the best locks on your door if an enraged person can kick your door down without much trouble.
  3. If you are face to face with a gambler threatening you with immediate violence, don’t count on the police coming to the rescue within a few minutes of you calling for help. Be prepared to take immediate action (running away is probably your best bet if you are not trained to handle extreme violence).

I know, all that sounds like really bad news. But frankly, all these things are what you should do in the first place. Don’t wait for someone to start threatening you or your family before you start taking smart precautions. Here’s the good news: if you are the sort who is aware of your surroundings, watch your home safety seriously and you are mentally and emotionally prepared to face someone like the gambler in this case, chances are that the gambler will go find some other victim and leave you and your family alone.

And that’s always good!

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Quick announcement: because of some difficulty in finding a good venue for group classes, I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at walkinsafety@gmail.com and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!