Vietnamese tourist thanks Singaporeans, but declines iPhone gift

Mr Gabriel Kang (right) with tourist Pham Van Thoai and his girlfriend. Mr Thoai had been subjected to aggressive sales tactics over an iPhone 6 at a Sim Lim Square shop that left him $550 poorer. As a gesture of goodwill, Mr Kang raised money online
Mr Gabriel Kang (right) with tourist Pham Van Thoai and his girlfriend. Mr Thoai had been subjected to aggressive sales tactics over an iPhone 6 at a Sim Lim Square shop that left him $550 poorer. As a gesture of goodwill, Mr Kang raised money online and bought an iPhone 6 to offer it to Mr Thoai before he left. PHOTO: GABRIEL KANG

He had begged, knelt and cried after being overcharged $550 while purchasing an iPhone 6 from a mobile phone shop at Sim Lim Square.

Yesterday, Vietnamese factory worker Pham Van Thoai’s Singapore stay ended on a different note.

The 30-year-old, whose story touched many, was offered a 64GB iPhone 6 as a gesture of goodwill by Singaporean Gabriel Kang, who spearheaded an online campaign to secure “justice” for Mr Thoai.

Mr Kang bought the phone for $1,538 and rushed to Changi Airport to offer it to Mr Thoai before he returned to Vietnam.

Mr Thoai thanked Singaporeans for their generosity, but said he would not accept the gift as it was “not right”. All that he would accept from Mr Kang were local food items such as kaya, bak kwa and chilli crab sauce.

As far as the incident was concerned, Mr Thoai said: “I am just glad it is over.”

Speaking to The Straits Times before boarding his plane back to Ho Chi Minh City, Mr Thoai looked calm and happy.

“I decided to come here because I was familiar with the place,” said Mr Thoai, who visited Singapore 10 years ago.

“I am glad that this episode has closed for now. Now, I just hope that this matter will not affect my life back in Vietnam or my country’s image. That is my priority,” he said through an interpreter.

On Monday, Mr Thoai went to Mobile Air at Sim Lim, owned by Mr Jover Chew, looking to buy a phone for his girlfriend. He was told to pay an additional $1,500 for “warranty expenses”, on top of the agreed price of $950.

After intervention from the police and the Consumers Association of Singapore, he managed to get $400 back. A local businessman gifted him the $550 that he had lost on the deal.

The incident raised national awareness of consumer protection, with Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and several Members of Parliament suggesting that the law could be strengthened to deal with errant retailers.

It even made international headlines, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry issuing a warning for its citizens against buying electronic goods here.

Mr Chew has since gone missing, and his shop is no longer open.

Images of Mr Thoai’s teary face prompted hundreds of Singaporeans to pledge some US$12,000 (S$15,500) in an effort started by Mr Kang. Mr Thoai did not want more than he had lost.

Mr Kang said the remaining money that was raised will be donated to a charity of Mr Thoai’s choosing. He will also be looking for a buyer for the iPhone 6 bought for him.

Mr Thoai, meanwhile, had one parting shot for Mr Chew and his shop Mobile Air: “I am happy that it is closed.”

awcw@sph.com.sg
jalmsab@sph.com.sg