Other Stories

The Card Game

Or "Wanna Meet My Daughter?"

It was my last week in the Philippines before going to South Korea to find a teaching job.  I was walking through Angeles City, minding my own business, when a Filipino man approached me and extended his hand as he greeted me with a smile.  He was quite distinguished looking, well-dressed, and I guessed his age at around fifty.  He said he knew me, though I didn't recall — he reminded me that he was the driver for the hotel where I stayed during my previous visit.  I just had to take his word for it.

He asked a lot of friendly, getting-to-know-you questions - "Where are you from?" - "Where do you stay?" — that sort of thing.  When he asked, "Where will you go after the Philippines?" I told him I would be going to South Korea to teach English.  Upon hearing that, he told me that his daughter had lived in South Korea but was now back in Angeles City and had just opened a new club.  He then asked if I'd like to go see it.  I really didn't, but not having a good excuse ready, I was somewhat trapped into going along — he promised it wasn't far.

It turned out to be quite far indeed, but by then it was too late to get out of it.  Along the way, he pointed out several landmarks, one of which (I think) was the club he had mentioned, another was a Bar-B-Que restaurant someone in his family owned.  Finally we ended up at his house, so I could meet his daughter — which I gathered was his original reason for kidnapping me in the first place.

We passed four elderly ladies on the front patio sitting around a table playing cards.  My new-found friend, Jimmy, informed me that the eldest of them was his mother and that it was her birthday.  Jimmy led me on into the house and offered me a seat in his living room; one of four high-back chairs arranged two-by-two facing across a low table.

I was prepared to meet his daughter, which I assumed would turn out to be a very unattractive Filipina lady, and to whom I would be as polite as I could for only as long as absolutely necessary before making a smooth exit.  But the mysterious daughter never appeared.  Instead one of Jimmy's friends, whose name I didn't catch, came in only a couple of minutes after we arrived.  Jimmy explained that he was there to pick up some cash for their money exchange business and, in fact, Jimmy handed him quite a large roll of bills.

The friend seated himself across from me and we chatted while Jimmy wandered off to some other part of the house.  When he returned, he had his brother in tow.  After we were introduced, he sat in the chair to my right and joined our conversation.  Jimmy reappeared and said something about his mother's birthday gift, which turned out to be a deck of cards.  He expounded at length on the quality (or lack thereof) of playing cards made in the Philippines and seemed very proud of this particular deck — which appeared to me to be a rather ordinary deck of blue Bicycle brand cards.

He handed them to his friend, who opened them and started to shuffle.  He asked if I'd like to play a friendly hand of poker — to which I gave a noncommittal answer — but he started dealing cards anyway.  At first, I thought it strange that he just dealt cards to me and himself, not to Jimmy's brother seated next to me — but I would soon realize the reason why.

We played a "friendly" hand (i.e. no betting) of five-card draw.  I forget who won; I think maybe he did.  Then he had me shuffle and deal the first few cards for seven-card stud.  We didn't bet any money during the first round, but after the next set of cards were dealt, my opponent bet 100 pesos (about two dollars US).  I didn't want to bet, but also didn't want to be impolite and decided I could lose two dollars just to be friendly, so I put in my 100 pesos to call his bet.

Jimmy's brother was very enthusiastic about helping me with my hand, which was looking pretty good after the next two cards were dealt.  At that point, Jimmy's friend bet 1000 pesos.  I told them then that I didn't want to put in any more money.  Jimmy's brother said he had confidence in my hand and that he'd put in half and take half the winnings.  Even though I still didn't agree, he put 500 pesos down on the table.  I was about to deal the next two cards, thinking I had successfully avoided putting in any more money, when Jimmy's brother reminded me I hadn't put in my half.  So I reluctantly added 500 pesos to the pot, vowing to myself that that would be the end of it.

For the remaining two rounds of dealing and betting, they made a big show of talking about the cards that were showing and the cards that were hidden, and what possible hands each of us might have.  Mine still appeared to be the winning hand — full-house; queens over sevens.  Of course, I had smelled a con in the making as soon as the first 100 pesos had been bet, and their over-acting just confirmed it in my mind.

During those last two rounds, the bets got much larger — 10,000 pesos each round — but I didn't agree to them and certainly had no intention of matching them.  So, of course, when the final cards were revealed — Surprise! — Jimmy's friend had a full house too — kings over tens — which, of course, beat my hand.

I got up and told them I was leaving, and turned toward the door.  Suddenly, in addition to the two con artists involved in the game, there were three more Filipino men in the room, Jimmy and two others.  The five men had me surrounded and were blocking me from leaving as they told me that I had to pay my bets.  I told them I didn't make those bets, the brother did, and I wasn't going to pay anything.  I tried to gently but firmly push my way past them to get to the door, but they held my arm so I couldn't go.  It wasn't until I threatened to call the police that they finally parted and let me pass.  Of course, I actually had no idea how to call the police, but, fortunately, they didn't know that.

As I walked down the street away from the trap that I had so stupidly fallen into, getting more furious with myself with each step, I decided that I was lucky to get away having lost only 600 pesos and was going to just forget about the whole incident.  But the more I thought about it, I got even madder at the men who thought they could just take advantage of foreigners like that.  So I hailed a tricycle and, after the usual run around haggling with the driver over the price of the trip, I asked him to take me to the nearest police station.

I think the poor driver thought I had a problem with him, maybe over the original outrageous price he wanted to charge me, and that I might cause trouble with the police.  He took me a short distance and stopped just before an intersection, indicating that the police station was just around the corner.  It wasn't.  It turned out to be another ten minute walk in the searing heat of the afternoon.  When I finally found it and started to relate my story to the officer, he informed me that I was at the wrong station — they didn't have jurisdiction over the area where the incident occurred.

Another expensive taxi ride later and I was finally at the right station.  I told my story yet again and concluded by telling the officers I only wanted my money back — I didn't care if anyone got arrested or not.  In fact, I was asking not only for the 600 pesos I had actually lost in the game, but also reimbursement for the taxi rides I was having to pay for to deal with this problem. Total amount I was after... a mere 750 pesos — about $14(US).  After a lot of discussion between the two officers (in their own language), and a lot more standing around wondering, I suppose, exactly what they should (or could) do, one of the officers finally motioned for me to get in the jeep to go with him to Jimmy's house.

By the time we arrived, about forty minutes had elapsed since I had made my hasty departure.  We pulled up in front of the house, but never even got out of the jeep.  A woman came out to talk to us — or rather, to the officer — because again, they spoke only in their native language.  The officer told me she said Jimmy wasn't there.  Big surprise!  She said he had gone to Manila.  Bullshit!  I told the officer that it was a family operation and that she could give me my money and get it back from Jimmy when he got back from Manila.

She told me, through the officer, that I should come back at 6:00pm — Jimmy would be back then.  That was another clue that he hadn't really gone to Manila; you couldn't get there and back in that short amount of time.  I restated my demand to get the money from her now, and pointed out to the officer that, at this point, all I was asking for was my money back.  But if I had to wait and come back later, at which time Jimmy would most likely be conveniently gone somewhere else, I wouldn't be asking just for money, I'd want someone to go to jail.

After hearing what I had to say, the woman immediately turned and went back into the house.  She returned only a minute later and handed me 760 pesos, explaining that she didn't have exact change to give me the 750 I had requested.  She stood there expectantly and I finally realized she was waiting for her 10 pesos change.  I just laughed and said, "Ten pesos for my troubles."

Suddenly she decided she could speak English after all and said, "No problem now, ok?"

I replied, "Actually, it was a big f--king problem.  Foreigners don't come here to get screwed out of their money by local crooks."  And with that, we drove away.

I lost 600 pesos in the scam, incurred 75 pesos in taxi and jeepney fares, and regained 760 pesos.  So in the end, the "victim" ended up making an 85 peso profit, and Jimmy was out an extra 160 pesos over what he had scammed from me.  I wish I could have seen the look on his face when he realized that.