March 22, 2014
Did I ever tell you about my threats when someone was sent to “take care of me” after Indonesia? Well, I know I didn’t so let me tell you now.. Now that I have your attention I’ll start with a little history of why someone was after me which nearly yielded me coming home early mid-last December. Arriving in Jakarta, Indonesia on November 9, 2013 I stayed at an arranged Couchsurfing hosts house for what was supposed to be two days. Upon my arrival the man, Huang who greeted me into his home. During conversation he was constantly telling me how dangerous Jakarta is with theft and robbery. He told me countless stories about pick picketers, bag snatches and passport thefts suffered by many Couchsurfers he had hosted in his home. He scared the hell out of me. The following day we both were supposed to explore Jakarta together but in the morning he stated that he had to meet up with a friend for lunch and gave me directions of sights to see on my own. Before leaving, he once again reminded me to not being anything valuable with me and urged me to leave my passport, credit cards and only bring with me the cash I needed for the day. I obliged and left everything in his apartment leaving on my own. As I arrived to the major intersection, I quickly was turned around and returned promptly to Huang’s apartment to ask for directions a second time. Upon knocking at the door, no one answered. I remember thinking it was strange that he had already left so quickly but thought nothing of it and left the premises. I later would learn he probably was still inside. Upon touring the city I received a text from Huang saying to not return at 4:00pm, but rather 6:00pm because he had some extra errands to run. Upon arriving back at his home at 6:00pm he apologized saying that he relieved a call from his boss stating that he had an emergency project and would be leaving at 11:00pm that night by flight to Borneo and that I had to leave. Slightly confused, I asked him if I had done anything offputting to warrant an early departure? He assured me this was not the case and apologized again saying it was an emergency work meeting. He even was so kind to arrange the next train departure time for me out of town. I checked and made sure all my belongings were present, thanked him and headed for the train station one day early only after one night in Jakarta. At the railway station, I decided to check my bank account (for whatever reason) and noticed charges pending on all four credit/debit cards, a total of $3,470. I quickly messaged Huang asking if he used them which he then immediately called my phone.. and then disconnected. He then texted me stating that he had bad service and it was best to talk over text and asked me what happened. Well, we went back and forth for nearly two hours and this guy was good.. He manipulated me into believing that he left at the same time I did, did not use my cards and rather someone used a device and swung it near my bag to pick up my debit/credit card information. I was clearly in denial as he was “so nice” and believed him and even went as far as apologizing to him for the acquisition. Plus, he had an impressive Couchsurfing profile with over 40 positive responses from guests with zero negative over a three year span. He then gave me some religious proverbs of strength during difficult times and the guy really sold me. So there I was, going across Java, Indonesia with no access to money (since I cancelled the cards) and only the cash in my pocket. I was near broke and most of all, scared. I thought everyone was out to get me and whenever someone approached me I would quickly put up my guard and protect my belongings. Over a week passed and I mentioned it on FB how I had had money taken from me and suspected maybe it was my Couchsurfing host. Then on my way to Bali I received a message from a friend I had met a month beforehand in the country of Laos. He said he saw my post and he too lost money in somewhere Indonesia and he too had a Couchsurfing host. He said he was going out on a limb and sent me a photo of him and his Couchsurfing host from a couple months back asking me if by chance it was the same guy. I looked at the photo and next to my friend, with a huge smile and a beer in hand was Huang!!! My hands began to shake and my body tremble as I finally put two and two together and affirmed it was Huang all along. I quickly told my friend that yes, it WAS the same guy. My friend was equally as shocked. It turns out my friend went as far as traveled with him from Jakarta to Bali (!!!) Huang pretended to be his friend & travel partner for over a week and when my friend realized over $1,000 cash missing from his bag, Huang “helped him” and consoled him for two days before saying he had a work emergency and had to fly back to Jakarta leaving my friend nearly broke in Bali. The exact same excuse. On top of this, my friend then checked his credit card to find even more money stolen. The guy was good, he convinced us both that it wasn’t him and went as far as looking my friend in the eye, convincing him of his innocence. Furthermore, on his Couchsurfing profile he received his first negative post.. Someone else who stayed with him and was also told to leave early which was dated on the day after I was asked to leave, the same day Huang was supposed to go to Borneo. So now what next? Well, report him to the police of course and seek justice, right? WRONG! I had many mentors who were Indonesian who all stressed how dangerous it was for me, as a foreigner, to consult in Indonesian police. They went as far as telling me it was dangerous to report it to the police and it may even backfire on me if I do! They said the police system is completely corrupt and for me to stay away from the police. What. The. F@&K! So I decided to keep it to myself and even one of the women helping me with my case became suspect as she was demanding my passport info and bank statements. I didn’t know who to trust. It was just a horrible, helpless feeling of violation. I went to Gili T and met some great backpacker friends, had fun and looked forward to safely exiting Indonesia. Upon leaving successfully, I decided it was time to make this public and known. I wanted to wait until I was safe out of Indonesia before I exposed him so he couldn’t come after me. I started with Couchsurfing. I had a complete write up from when I wrote the US Embassy who apologized and said they couldn’t help me and to contact the Jakarta Police. “Thanks”. I posted this long transcript on the main backpacker page with the title “Dangerous Host in Jakarta” attached with a photo of Huang. Well, the post on Couchsurfing blew up. It was #1 on the page for nearly two weeks with hundreds of posts and responses. People were coming out of the wood works.. People from months and years ago who had CC fraud & money stolen from them as well. Most everyone had suspected Huang and when they confronted him were convinced that he was innocent. I even had previous roommates come forth who had computers and electronics stolen years ago in awe that it really was him who committed the crime. Previous backpackers who stayed with him saw the post and said they too noticed money from their debit/credit cards missing but never knew how nor when it happened. We found I believe a total of 8 “victims”. People were messaging me apologizing on behalf of the Jakarta community telling me they heard about this from a friend, Twitter, blog post or some online newspaper. People were spreading it like wildfire. Old coworkers were identifying him by another name, not Huang, as he had gone under a false name. I continued my journey through Malaysia and when I got into South Thailand I received a curious message from an unknown number. They stated that they heard about my case and wanted to help me. They said they were in Bangkok, nearby, and would be happy to help me anyway they could. I thanked them and kind of ignored the message saying I was busy and would get back to them. The next day, they messaged me again saying they were bored and didn’t have anything planned for their trip in Thailand and asked if I wanted to meet up and requested to know which island I was currently on. Well, this was a little too invasive so I told them I was with friends and for them to enjoy their vacation. Then, the next day I received another message. This time the tone was completely different. It was a paragraph long and started out saying that they were sent to Thailand from Indonesia to find me.. That he will not stop until he finds me and he will be my shadow and soon will be one only foot behind me. He stated that he will take out my fingernails, one by one and wasn’t afraid to go farther. He said he was a professional and wouldn’t stop until he got justice for publicly exploiting his “client” Huang. I was shaking and didn’t respond and then a couple hours later he sent another paragraph saying that he wasn’t joking and could track me by my bank account, visa info, hostel info, Facebook and other Internet tools. He also said he would follow me to any country I went to, including the USA and would find my family. I nearly got online that moment and booked the first flight back to the States. Yanno? Then, he said he wouldn’t stop *unless* I took down the post on Couchsurfing.. Then I would be “safe”. At this point with his quick ultimatum, I internally called his bluff. Plus I doubted he had access to such information but with such a corrupt police system, maybe he did. Plus getting a US visa isn’t an easy process. So what did I do? To not play with fire, I deleted the post from Couchsurfing and informed him of my action. Plus, his name was already out there and Indonesian natives were speaking of pressing charges from previous events. They were pissed. After I informed whoever was texting me that the post was deleted, they quickly thanked me and said that I was safe, that I could trust them that no one was going to hurt me. They went as far to wish me a good day. It definitely was an empty threat. I found out later that other people on the Couchsurfing page had received similar threats concluding that he probably wasn’t in Thailand coming after me. Also, comparing the broken English I think it was Huang who was messaging me all along. But I didn’t want to risk it. For a couple months afterwards I still was sometimes scared. There was always that small thought in the back of my mind, “what if someone is following me?” After speaking to some backpacking friends I concluded that I was more or less safe and after two months it became a story of the past and an exciting story to add to the books of my Asia travels. I did however go ghost on everyone helping me with my case, froze my Couchsurfing profile (since it tells you where you are geographically each time you log on) and made sure my Facebook profile was completely private and even switched my name from Morales to Moraies on FB (could you tell?). Then in mid February, I contacted one of the people I semi trusted in Indonesia asking what ever happened to Huang. They said that he fled the country seeking exhale in Thailand. All. Because. Of. Me. This too made me nervous for a while but then again decided what was done was done and there’s nothing I can do about it. So why didn’t I tell everyone? Well, unfortunately I was told first hand numerous times about the dangers of going to the police and how they could potentially work against me (for example, after my report the police selling my info and where abouts to Huang.. Not sure how probable this is but still.. Corrupt stuff like that) and I did want anyone from the States to make reports on my behalf not knowing the potential dangers it may cause me. Plus, my mother wouldn’t be able to sleep and it wasn’t fair to put her through that. It’s a sad reality of life in some places that the police just won’t help you and reporting it can in fact go against you. Whoever gets Huang caught I’m sure his “boys” will certainly seek revenge to whoever is responsible for the report. I was even warned to me by an Indonesian man that if revenge is sought that they probably would not stop until it was delivered. It’s calm and silent now, my name is out of the spotlight and the locals in Indonesia who were also stolen from have taken matters in their own hands. They all know of his criminal background and are doing everything in their power to seek justice. Plus I know of one European backpacker who is also currently pressing charges, or trying to at least. So no need to report this as American police have no jurisdiction. Thank You for your silence and cooperation. Well, that’s my story! It was definitely one of the hardest things I had to deal with on the road these past ten months but no regrets as it makes an excellent story. It’s thankfully only one of the few bad stories I have to share. Thanks for reading! Cheers from the man who has since defied a predator amongst his time in SE Asia.