Top Image: Basil Lee Jeen
Chuan’s wife gingerly slotted some brand new ten-dollar notes into the angbaos by the kitchen table when a series of heavy and rapid knocks on the front gate arrested her attention.
“It was three in the afternoon, and my son would only be back from tuition in an hour. So, I thought it could be the Ah-mah living downstairs bringing us her home-bake pineapple tarts. She always does that this time of the year,” she recalls. “I was wrong.”
Chuan’s wife was greeted by two strangers when she opened the door of her three-room flat at Bedok North. One of them said they were licenced debt collectors, and they demanded Chuan’s return of S$8000, which he had borrowed over the past year.
“My instant thought was they must have found themselves the wrong Chuan at the wrong door,” she went on. “I was wrong—again.”
Chuan was not the sole breadwinner of the family. With a refreshing look that makes her look a lot younger than mid-40, Chuan’s wife had a thriving career as a hairdresser and was about to open a salon with her friend at Far East Square.
While she and Chuan remained financially independent for the nearly 20 years they were together, she had never heard her husband complaining about not having enough money.
Nevertheless, the debt collectors insisted they were correct and even showed Chuan’s wife a document signed by Chuan attached with a photocopy of his IC. Dumbfounded by the confrontation, she called Chuan to hurry home. As the couple figured out how the amount came about and how it should be settled, a woman with a foreign-sounding lilt in her voice appeared.
She presented herself as “Chuan’s lover” and claimed that she was previously promised S$4000 as a gift to head home. The back-to-back incidents got Chuan and his wife into a huge fight. Chuan’s wife wanted to know if the two matters were related. Chuan could only repeat, “I don’t know.”
“I can forgive him for borrowing money, but not for having another woman and claiming that he doesn’t know about it,” Chuan’s wife says.
Unfortunately, their 9-year-old son caught the chaos upon returning home and watched in silence as his parents were verbally attacking each other before his eyes for the first time. “It was barely a week before Chinese New Year,” Chuan’s wife sighs.
Chuan is the “vegetable guy” of block 538 wet market at Bedok North Street 3. He is that skinny, tanned, and tough-looking uncle who recommends you buy Kang Kong when it’s in season or give extra chilis to regulars. Chuan’s routine includes meeting up with fellow vendors and hawkers for a late lunch after the market closes for the day.
At times, the ladies who worked at a nearby massage parlour would join the informal gathering, offering the men massages in exchange for drinks and, if they like, bringing them to the parlour for “extended services”.
That was how Chuan met his foreign angel (FA). From the start, Chuan’s FA would call him her “true love”. She said she trusted no one except for Chuan as he’s different from all the other men she has met. He’d always be there whenever she needed him. Be it taking care of her during her period, ferrying her around Singapore when her friends were here to travel, or searching for her whereabouts when she got lost in East Coast Park.
Gradually, Chuan’s FA began painting a rosy picture of them spending their retirement days together in her home country. She’d repeatedly use the excuse of building their retirement house or paying for their life insurance to ask Chuan for more cash. To spend time with his FA, Chuan would lie to his wife about getting vegetables from the wholesaler at 2 am.
Chuan couldn’t remember how much he had given her over the two and a half years they were together. Before he realised it, Chuan needed to sell off his vegetable stall to pay off his debt and resort to sleeping in the wet market after his divorce.
His FA has since disappeared when she found out Chuan was left with practically nothing. The love scam comes full circle.
Leong is a lorry driver. He, too, would have the occasional late lunch with the block 538 vendors and hawkers, where he met his FA when she approached him with some massages. Unlike the meek and reserved Chuan, Leong was very loud and forthcoming about his commitment to his FA. He was the one who started describing these foreign women as “angels”.
“Her skin is so soft that I’d hug her all day,” Leong says. “I feel like I’m in the arms of an angel.”
Unfortunately, Leong’s FA doesn’t quite belong to his imagined heavenly league. She had always wanted but was not successful in getting more money out of Leong. Leong wasn’t stingy, but with three teenage boys to support, there’s only so much loose change he could spare to satisfy his sugar-coated blackhole.
Leong’s FA decided to create an opportunity to extort money from him.
She secretly noted down his family’s phone numbers in one of the “extended service” sessions and sent a text to Leong’s eldest son when they were both naked in bed inside one of the rooms within the massage parlour.
Leong’s wife was furious when she saw the text and headed down immediately with her son to block 537, where the parlour was at. When they arrived and began taking photos as the evidence for adultery, Leong’s FA went into hysterical dismay.
She shouted at Leong in Mandarin, “Oh no, your wife and son know about us now. They have my naked photos of me with a man. How am I supposed to face my family? What if they show the photos to other people? I want you to be responsible. You need to pay for this!”
Leong has probably never been caught off-guard and red-handed in his life. Rather than deconstructing the violence between the two women right before his eyes, he made an unforgivingly bad choice by taking all the anger out on his wife and son.
Leong’s wife had to call the police when she was strangled, and her son was severely beaten. The incident also took everyone to the front page of the Chinese evening newspaper.
Despite this, Leong’s FA still refused to give up on her mercenary. She eventually departed when she discovered the money from selling off the four-room flat after Leong’s divorce would be split equally among his ex-wife and three children. The remainder would go into his CPF account.
She would eventually be left with nothing.
A love scam by any name
The wet market is a veritable geyser of weird tales—love scams notwithstanding. What’s more perplexing was that both Chuan and Leong could not communicate why they were so disciplined to abandon their families and years of hard work that sang themselves out of their humble background, only to let slip to FAs.
The number of such love scam cases has surged for three years since 2018. While we tend to come across news on how women were duped by their internet sweethearts, men are equally vulnerable—especially in real life.
However, many of these stories slipped under the radar because these men declined to be labelled as victims. It’s hard not to wonder if these men are using FAs to avenge their ordinariness or if the temptations are so immense that it’s worth ditching their morals in the bins.
“I don’t know if I can call it a love scam,” Chuan pondered in Mandarin. He has since become a little nonchalant after the whole incident. “I really wanted to marry her at one point in time. She said she could get us a beautiful home and the expenses back in her town are cheap. So, we can live freely without any worry.”
Leong also refused to acknowledge that he had been trapped in a love scam and instead blamed his wife and children for the problems he’s currently facing.
“They shouldn’t be so kaypoh,” said Leong in his hoarse, shouting voice, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “I am a man; I have business outside. They should just stay at home and do their things.”
Ironically, when asked if they still love their families, Chuan and Leong said yes, but they’d continue seeing their FAs, too, if there was a chance.
“As I said, my wife and children should keep to themselves,” Leong continued. “They should just do their housework; do their part-time job or go study. I am a man; I have my needs. You cannot stop me.”
“I also know I cannot continue like this,” Chuan added. “But I couldn’t find a chance to tell my wife. I know she wouldn’t want a divorce because our son is still young, but I also don’t know why things have become like this.”
Surprisingly, in what appears to be the bearings of Stockholm syndrome, some men did eventually tie the knot with their FAs.
Ping was barely 30 when she married Kuan, who was 30 years older. She declined to reveal where and how she met Kuan but insisted that she was not a scammer. Instead, she accused Kuan of being one.
“He told me he is single, and he owns a car, property, and several businesses,” Ping recalled. “So, I divorced my husband back home to marry him. I later found out that none of what he said was true. The car, property, and businesses belong to his family, not him. But by then, it was too late; I was already pregnant.” Ping added. She was tired of using her children as an excuse to ask Kuan for more money, and she even hinted that she’d leave when there was a chance.
Kuan, who does not wish to file a divorce a second time and take care of two toddlers on his own, would always pay Ping the amount she asked.
Tek Lim expressed a slightly different view from the rest. He admitted he was at fault and couldn’t bring himself to love his wife when he was with his FA. Teck Lim knew all along that this was a love scam and that his FA was after his money because he owned two shophouses and a thriving trading business back then. Still, he simply couldn’t stop himself from dwelling deeper.
“It felt like I was being drugged,” he says. “I believe at one point in time, I was.” Tek Lim remembers getting uncontrollably excited at the scent of his FA’s perfume, but he had no evidence to prove that.
“Our face is the last thing we want to lose”
Tek Lim’s wife and son left after finding out about his affair through the photos and texts sent by his FA. He wanted to reconcile and try searching for them. He once waited one whole day on a busy street in Kuala Lumpur, where his wife was originally from, hoping to bump into her but to no avail.
Tek Lim eventually lost his shophouses and business, partly to his FA and somewhat because he hadn’t been working formally. He couldn’t find a job to support himself over the next four years. “Even McDonald’s doesn’t want to hire me,” Teck Lim joked.
Still, his mother was kind enough to take him in, so he didn’t have to sleep on the street. He managed to work at a satay factory in Ubi after he begged the boss to hire him, and he would take the earliest bus from Choa Chu Kang every morning to arrive at his workplace.
He claimed that this is retribution as he had never expressed his gratitude towards his wife, who cared for his family and dying father while he was busy working.
“All I knew was to fool around,” Tek Lim closed his eyes, shielding himself from the rush of mishaps he had just recounted. He added men like him would never call themselves love scam victims because of pride.
“We have lost everything; our face is the last thing we want to lose.”
Indeed, of the ten love scam victims that I spoke to for this story, no one has taken any formal or legal action against their FAs, even though all, if not most, of their savings, were scrapped.
Leong’s ex-wife said Leong has since found himself a new FA whom he met in Chinatown. She’s planning to take legal action against Leong, who persistently ignored the spousal maintenance and personal protection order and visited the children to ask them for money.
“That Si-Gui (old man) found himself a new woman, from Chinatown,” Leong’s ex-wife says in disdain. We caught up again three months after our first interview.
“I complained to his elder sister last week. He had not paid a single cent for spousal maintenance and openly violated the personal protection order to visit and ask for money from the children. I am consulting my lawyer about the matter. Who he thinks he is; he can’t just walk away with all the money!”
Chuan’s ex-wife also finds herself financially trapped in her broken marriage.
“The flat was not a marital asset; it was a gift from my father when I got married to Chuan,” she explained. “That’s why I never thought of selling it until I realised Chuan had used the address to borrow money from the banks and several other money-lending agencies. Then, I received letters from the PUB after selling off the flat that Chuan hasn’t paid any of the water and electricity bills for the past six months.”
Chuan’s ex-wife wished to seek help from her local MP as she’s burdened by her medical bills and her son’s therapy sessions. She was recently diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, and her son also needed psychological support for his selective mutism caused by the family mayhem.
She said she regretted undergoing IVF thrice if she knew earlier that Chuan could be so heartless. “I’ve devoted my youth for a man, and this is what I got in return,” she says. “It’s just not fair, isn’t it?”
*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.