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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The Milan Tax

“You know that you are punished because you refused to buy me the Prada bag I wanted,” I teased him.

“Babs, don’t be cruel,” Alex said. His three frown lines appeared thicker after the police car drove off. “I lost 600 Euros…” He flattened his lips, pouting like one of those yellow plastic rubber ducks. “Oh fuck it!” He ran his fingers through his hair, sighed and submitted to the Consumerism gods in Milan.

At long last I managed to drag Alex into a tabachi (Italian newsagent) on Day Three in Milan, who sold the right ticket on the right side of the street, on the right road towards the right tram platform. Happily we walked down the street. Alex was singing his happy tune again and I was absolutely thrilled that my legs could take a rest. Afterall we had three more days of walking in Rome, so obviously we should conserve as much as our walking miles points as possible.

A car pulled up fast to the side of the road, just a junction away from the right tram platform. The fellow wound his window down and spoke in Italian. We shook our heads and replied that we did not understand a word of Italian. Our hands were still strung onto each other’s and we were still smiling, happy for the fact that we managed to buy the damn tram tickets.

“There are complaints of drugs around here. What are you doing here?” the fellow asked in English. He opened his badge and we saw a shiny silvery tag of some sort. The driver (on the left side of the car) was talking on the radio, mumbling on in Italian whilst the guy on the passenger seat asked us for our passports.

Alex showed his red one while I ransacked through my black bag for mine. Milan was equally famed for her pickpockets as well as her Dolce and Gabbana’s, so I had my stuff locked securely in the secret pocket inside one of the three compartments. The police took a look at our passports and proceeded to ask us for reasons why we were in doing in that slum part of the city.

“We are tourist in your city,” I replied firmly, peering into the car. There was a radio and walkie talkie set and of course, the two men in dark police suits.

He asked Alex to empty his pockets. So out came the map of Milan. The police man proceeded to sniff it and flapped it a little. Maybe he’s searching for pot, I thought to myself. Another pocket revealed some tissue paper and scribbles of paper. And the two damn tram tickets. I was smiling nervously as the police said that some residents lodged a report that some tourists were dealing drugs in the area and he was searching us.

Fucking stop sniffing, I thought to myself. The thought was meant for Alex. He was having slight flu and was busy sniffing away, like a coke addict. “We are just walking to the tram stop,” I said to the police. I tried to remain calm as he asked Alex to empty his jacket pockets.

Out came the passport again and then his wallet. The police took his wallet, swung it about, opened it and sniffed it. He emptied the wallet into his left hand and said, “Are you sure you are not on drugs? You really tourist here?”

The moment he touched the cash, the Malaysian in me jumped. Oh my fucking lord, the police is doing it here, I thought to myself. I could not believe what was happening in front of my eyes. The damn Italian police were fleecing our cash. I heard of “duit kopi” (trans: coffee money ie. Bribe) back home in the sweet country called Malaysia but to see it happening in Italy was something absolutely devastating.

What are we going to do? Two stupid tourist just passed their cash to the police and there was nothing that we could do. I stood there, stunt by the whole event when Alex reached out and demanded for his wallet. The driver picked up the radio and mumbled something. He handed the wallet back to Alex, and then the cash.

“It’s dangerous here. Don’t walk about after dark,” he said. They then sped off down the street, leaving us only with dust and a wallet much lighter.

Three seconds later, my mouth was still wide open. “Did the police just take our money?” I asked Alex. I turned around and looked at his face. Alex’s frown lines deepened. “Did it happen here in Italy? Fuck, it has never happened to me in Malaysia and it is happening in Italy?!” I asked again, shaking his right hand for comfirmation.

“They are not the police,” Alex said as he took a deep breath. He turned around and covered his face with his hands. “We lost 600 Euros.”

“Are you sure we lost 600 Euros?” I asked. I asked him to open his wallet up and check precisely how much we had lost. The hairy boy nodded his head. He walked aimlessly down a street while I tried to convince him that we should report to the police.

“What for? We are not going to get our money back…” his voice trailed off as he walked on.

“We might not get back our money but we have to report so the police can look into the matter and make sure other tourists don’t get conned by the police or otherwise!” I took his hand and walked back towards the hotel, determined to make hell for the people who took our 600 Euros. Oh now Milan has really pissed me off.

We informed the front desk that we were just robbed in broad daylight. The man nodded and repeated what I said a sentence earlier in question form.

“So we lost our money!” I fumed.

“So you lost your money?” the front man asked.

“Yes! The police stole 600 Euros!”

“The police stole 600 Euros?”

It was getting us nowhere. I asked where was the nearest police station. Judging by the near circle on the map, we were about 20 minutes walk from the police station.

“It is too far. Let me call a taxi for you,” the front man said.

“No…” the hairy moaner said. “We don’t have any money. We will walk…”

I recorded the time and street where it took place and we walked towards the police station. The Italian police are a strange bunch on a public holiday. They do not speak a word of English. You should bear in mind that the fashion and tourism industries are Milan’s heart beat, one would assume that English is spoken, no matter how broken the English might turn out to be. Even the egotistical French, known for their national pride and insistence on speaking only French, speak rudimentary English at all tourist related industries (such as restaurants, museums etc).

A Chinese man with a small moustache walked in a few minutes after Alex and I sat on the bench. After a talk with the policeman who appear to have swallowed five honey melons for lunch, the policeman walked on over to us. We spoke in English and he shook his head. He did not understand English.

I mustered all the Mandarin vocabulary I had under my belt in order to communicate to the Chinese man. He nodded his head and related back to me that he was at the police station for similar reason. He had 3000 Euros stolen from the same syndicate and he had the car registration number. After going around in three way conversation, the policeman instructed the Chinese dude to go to another police station to record the incident.

So we got a ride in the Chinese man’s car since we were all in the same boat, quite literally. After two stops, we found the police station and were made to sit on benches again. A Greek couple came in after us and I could not make it out what was their report about. Another Italian couple came in, presumably tourists too to make a theft report. Then 4 chubby kids came in with two Thai ladies to make a theft report. Their 6 passports were stolen and their passports were Australian.

“Those police you met were not real,” said this young man, a guard at the main door said when I related the story to them. Alex coughed a “no shit” audible only to my ears while I recounted the incident to the young guard turned translator.

“Slowly,” he mumbled. “I don’t understand.”

So I repeated the story, the second time a little slower and a whole lot more concise. He nodded and got a form for us to fill. Since we did not have the car plate number and we could not recognize the men from a profile book, it was a formal goodbye to our 600 Euros. We walked out of the police station 3 hours later, passed by Armani Café and had no heart to feast on something then.

“See, this wouldn’t happen if Alex bought me the Prada bag,” I said to Adrian. Adrian had a smirk on his face. Yes, the curse of the Consumerism gods in Milan struck a hard blow on us. Alex refused to part with his hard earn money on some useless bag with manmade logos beginning with “P”, “D” and “G” and now had to suffer the lost of 600 Euros at the hands of some con artist posing as the Italian police.

I must add at this juncture that the real Italian Policia were not the most empathetic people on earth. One would have expected that they had more heart for people who find themselves in a terrible situation. Such as the lady who broke down in tears as she sat in the police station, realising that her whole family had lost their passports and it spelt the end of their Italian holiday as they had to file report of lost in the police station and then at the Australian embassy.

“You have a point, Otto.” Adrian agreed. “If the money was converted into a bag, it would not be stolen.” He pointed his finger at Alex. Alex broke into protest. He crossed his arms and said, “Well they could have snatched the Prada off Otto… But anyway it was Otto that lost her Prada than me losing 600 Euros.” Alex rolled his eyes.

Yes, your mind has the ability to cheat you into believing a better lie. Alex convinced himself that he did not lose the 600 Euros. He decided that it was less traumatic on his brain if he deceived himself into believing that it was I that lost a potential Prada handbag. It obviously appealed more to his ego self – Otto losing a bag instead of Alex losing 600 Euros. Whatever, I thought to myself, the first time he uttered this nonsensical excuse.

So there you go, gentlemen out there. Here’s a tip from Miss Otto. Remember to buy your girl a Prada when you are in Milan, less you get penalized by the Consumerism gods who are eyeing on your wallet. Either way you have to vomit your cold hard cash, so you might as well treat your girl to her dream bag.

Don’t lose money + happy girlfriend + extra shagging potential = happy holiday in Milan.

It makes absolute mathematical sense.

You know it would be a shitty day
when the sky is crying...

Oh rainy day...

The height of Roman technology.
This was a two storey palace built in before Christ!

The Romans call the building behind us
the "Wedding Cake".

Will be flying back to Malaysia tomorrow morning, arriving in Malaysia lunchtime 18th Jan.

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No use crying over spilled milk, Otto. hey, it's a surprise to found out you speak Mandarin. And welcome home!

8:44 am  

To be precise, I speak BAD MANDARIN. I stepped into a Chinese owned shop to ask for direction and upon discovering that the ladies spoke only Italian or Mandarin, I switched to Mandarin.

"Do you know where the... the..." I said in Mandarin, then went totally black. I did not know the word "police station" in Mandarin. I was so embarassed and lost for words, so I said, "police station" IN ENGLISH.

I don't even know the most important word in Mandarin. Needless to say, they weren't able to help me.

Resolution 2007 (which is failed resolution 1986, 1988 and 2000 to date) = Learn Mandarin.

Yeah...... right....

8:54 am  

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