I like to believe that people are generally good, and find more pleasure in helping others than doing harm. For the most part, I think that mindset holds true. I have seen more people go out of their way to comfort strangers than slap them in the face without reason. Experience in business, however, will teach you otherwise. It’s funny how when money gets added into the equation we all turn into savage beasts, all fixing to profit from one another’s demise.
In early 2014 I was visited in Bangkok by a good friend from Korea, whom I had known for a few years. She told me she was visiting her mother, ‘Ms. Lee’, who frequents Thailand because she had some kind of business going on. Uninterested, I didn’t bother to ask what it was, but was introduced to her Ms Lee anyway who appeared to take a liking to me despite not being able to communicate due to language barrier.
After meeting a number of times, Ms Lee began to open up to me and discuss through translation some of the projects she had going on in Thailand. Although none of it really made sense, she seemed passionate and optimistic about what she was doing. She mentioned she was looking for some seed money, and before I knew it I was on a plane with her headed to Laos, which was where a new project was about to be started. I trusted this lady, after all, she was one of my good friend’s mother.
Our plane landed in Udon Thani, Thailand, which is about an hour away from the Thai-Laos border by car. Upon arrival, we were received by her business partner, A well-composed Thai gentleman by the name of ‘Mr M’. Before heading to Laos, we took a detour to look at one of Mr M’s project sites, where he was procuring land for the purpose of panning gold. He had a team of 6 doing the dirty work. I remember it being boiling hot that day, and was taken aback by how primitive their machinery was, but tagged along nevertheless without complaint.
It was night when we arrived in Vientiane. We stayed the night and toured other project sites the next day, and the day after that I was back in Bangkok. Over the span of the next 30 days, I met with Ms Lee numerous times, and she attempted to describe the project it was she was trying to start, again via translator. I didn’t understand it fully, but it seemed she had something interesting coming together. Within weeks, we had agreed to set up a new Thai company, with Mr M, Ms Lee, and my name as shareholders. Dumb, impatient, and eager to invest in something, I agreed to fund the project along side with Ms Lee.
Things immediately got off to a slow start. Deadlines for procuring equipment were missed and despite making frequent trips to Laos, I had no idea what the hell was going on. I decided one day to make a trip unannounced to chat with Mr M who was in charge of operations. He had a troubled look when he picked me up at the airport.
“J, we’re way too underfunded. We need XX amount to buy equipment.”
“I gave you twice that amount. Where is it?”
“I didn’t receive anything yet..”
That was the gist of our conversation, which only got worse as it carried on. I learned that day that everything I put into the company was taken out by Ms Lee, who was by this time back in Korea and nowhere to be found. That money, a substantial amount if I may add, would never be recovered, and due to the complexity of the deal, no jurisdiction wanted to take responsibility.
This story would be retold differently depending on which party was telling it, but I know what happened to me. The feeling of confusion and betrayal, and eventually having to face the reality is something that happens to everyone, yet most don’t have the courage to confront and analyze it for what it is, a learning experience.
At that time, I would have liked nothing more than to see her executed, by way of guillotine, for what she had done to me. To this day, I still haven’t heard from neither my friend nor Ms Lee, but I now no longer hold any hatred towards either one of them. Retelling the story, I am dumbfounded I actually agreed to investing with her, given the events that unfolded. Although I’d like to paint myself in this story as a victim of theft, a crime of which result was no different than robbery, looking back I can only accredit this lesson to hubris as I was going through an over-confident, ‘invincible’, phase of my life.
I still have her picture, and I will never delete it. I look through those pictures from time to time as motivation for me to become a person she will wish she had not done wrong. It is human nature to want to point fingers and blame others for a streak of bad luck, or deals gone awry, but until you can man up and take responsibility for the hits you can never really move on.
‘Ms Lee’, Professional Scam Artist (That fucking tiger should have bit her head off)