A Brief Guide to Bribes

The other day, we tried walking to the nearest station. It was hot, the sidewalk was nonexistent 50% of the time, and we were slowly trudging along towards the much appreciated shade under a freeway bridge. As we neared it, we noticed 6-7 police officers loitering under the bridge. Instead of feeling safe, we felt like we were headed towards trouble. It says a lot when police officers make you more uncomfortable than secure.

We hurried through the walkway with our eyes looking straight ahead, but as we were about to reach the end, they stopped us. Immediately they asked for our identification and continued to keep us there for 10+ minutes. We gave them our driver’s licenses and this cop exclaimed, exasperated at my Colorado license , “How do I know this is from America?!” I gave him a blank face thinking to myself, “Isn’t it your job to know which ID is real or not?” Afterwards, we showed them pictures of our passports on our phones. The cop took about 5 minutes scrolling back and forth between the pictures, not actually looking at anything, waiting for me to give him money. After looking at my friend’s Romanian passport and pushing some buttons on their phones, they decided that she was ‘not in the system.’ We continued to slowly assert our legality and finally, they let us go.

Apparently, this type of behavior is not uncommon in Malaysia. A while ago, some of co-workers had given their local cops their physical passports, only to have them destroyed by said cops. Then, they said our co-workers were there illegally. They have even tried to take our young students to the station for their lack of immediate ID.

So here are some tips on bribery in Malaysia that I’ve gathered from my co-workers and locals:
1. Know your rights and stand your ground without getting aggressive. Hopefully, they will realize you’re not worth the trouble and leave you alone. Be pleasant, but firm.
2. Keep your cash separate from your identification so they cannot see how much you have in your wallet.
3. If you really are in a hurry, tell them you only have 10-20 ringgit and hand it over when they acknowledge it.
4. Try not to be too bitter. If wages were high enough, this wouldn’t be as common. Even cops need to feed their families.

*Mostly unrelated picture taken in Bangsar Village alley*

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