HANOI - The assistance that Singaporeans gave a Vietnamese tourist who was scammed when he bought an iPhone 6 in Singapore has earned much attention and applause from Vietnamese newspapers and netizens.
The Singaporeans were able to raise more than US$12,000 for Pham Van Thoai, 30, a Vietnamese factory worker whose story unintentionally made the headlines of international and Vietnamese news services after a video clip showing him kneeling and begging for his money back at the Mobile Air Shop in well-known Sim Lim Square shopping centre went viral on the Internet.
According to Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean evening newspaper, Thoai and his girlfriend were at first asked to pay S$950 (US$732) for an Iphone 6 at the shop. Thoai was more than happy to pay in cash from savings he had accumulated for months on a monthly income of S$200 (US$154). He wanted to give the phone to his girlfriend as a birthday present.
Not fluent in English and thinking that it was safe to shop in Singapore, he failed to closely scrutinise the documents he was asked to sign. Just as he was about to leave with the phone, a salesman told him that he couldn't take out the phone unless he pays an extra S$1,500 (US$1,158) for the warranty.
"When they asked me if I wanted a one-year or two-year warranty, I assumed that the one-year warranty was complimentary, so I said one year. The salesman didn't say I have to pay for it," he told Lianhe Zaobao.
Not knowing what to do, Thoai knelt down and tearfully begged for his money back. But the sales staff just laughed at him and none of the passers-by were willing to help him.
His girlfriend called the police, who apparently did nothing. After the intervention of the Consumers Association of Singapore, Thoai only received a partial refund of S$400 (US$308), or S$550 (US$424) less than what he had paid for.
Upon learning of his predicament, concerned Singaporeans raised the money, but Thoai refused to accept all of it. "I lost S$550. So I will accept only S$550 from the donations of kind people. Nothing more. I'm grateful for your kindness, but I do not want to take more than what I've lost," Thoai told Lianhe Zaobao. Viet Nam News tried but failed to reach Thoai for comments.
The news quickly made the headlines of numerous Vietnamese newspapers and earned much applause from Vietnamese netizens.
Most of the praises went to the Singaporean community for their kindness and generosity to Thoai, a total stranger. "A nice action of the Singaporeans," said Dien Tu MrBien on vnreview.vn.
"Salute to the help of the Singaporans," Vien Nhat commented on news.zing,vn. "We should learn from Singapore's civilisation. They tried their best to compensate for the tourist so that they could maintain the image of their country," added Bao Hung Huynh.
Others simply said they were "proud" that Thoai humbly refused to take all of the money raised for him.
Saving national esteem
"I think the Singaporeans have done a very good job to save their country's tarnished reputation by helping Thoai and easing Vietnamese netizens' feelings," remarked Pham Hoang Anh, a student in Ha Noi.
Vu Thi Lan Anh, a former student of SIM in Singapore, revealed that it didn't throw her for a loop when the Singaporeans went all-out to help Thoai.
"The Singaporeans are really nice. In addition to this, they are seriously aware of their country's reputation. When Thoai's story became news, I was pretty sure the Singaporeans would definitely do something to help him," she said.
"But I was truly amazed by the amount of funding and the fact that the Singaporean netizens could track down all of the shop owner's personal information and indirectly force him to temporarily shut down the shop," Anh added.
Vietnamese netizens' reactions to the Singaporean act of kindness was a dramatic turnaround from their angry and severe criticisms against Mobile Air Shop and the entire Singaporean nation just a few days ago.
"This shop took advantage of the buyer's lack of fluency in English. People should condemn the shop and stay away from it," Nguyen Thi Thu wrote on vnreview.vn
"Why do such scams happen in a developed country such as Singapore? Even the police could not do anything. Singapore just gave a mouthful of words," commented quangtung on sohoa.vnexpress.net.
Other comments such as "Singapore the broken dream," "shame on Singapore" and "the collapsing image" went viral on Vietnamese websites.
Some netizens even took the extreme position of calling for a boycott on travel and tours to this island nation. However, other netizens took a more sober and reasonable position.
"Scammers exist everywhere in the world, even in Viet Nam. It doesn't make sense to be afraid of going to Singapore just because of such scumbags," hyunbinvn wrote on news.zing.vn.
Sim Lim Square's tarnished image
Thoai's tearful face has paved the way for a seemingly endless recap of similar stories that have since become widespread on media. Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese tourists have since come forward with stories about how they came to Sim Lim Square and were ripped off hard.
Online newspapers ran the story of a Chinese woman who got a S$1,010 (US$779) refund that the shop paid for in five- and ten-cent coins, and an Indian student reportedly burst into tears after falling for the same trick used against Thoai shortly after it made the news.
A large number of Vietnamese who have had negative experiences at Sim Lim Square likewise shared their stories and gave out advice on shopping in Singapore, including a message in big and bold letters: "Stay away from Sim Lim Square."
"The reputation of Sim Lim Square has completely turned to ashes. I doubt that another Vietnamese will dare to set foot in this centre, at least not until Singaporean authorities actually do something about it," said Hanoian student Anh.
"Posting other stories of Vietnamese who got cheated at Sim Lim Square was necessary because it provided important information for Vietnamese travelling in Singapore and may help them avoid becoming another Thoai," noted Nguyen Minh Tam, head of the Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper's news desk.
Singapore has so far remained as one of the Vietnamese tourists' favourite destinations in recent years, with an average annual growth rate of 10 per cent, according to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). Before Thoai's story broke out, the number of Vietnamese tourists in Singapore was expected to exceed 400,000 by the end of this year.