Thursday, May 10, 2012

How To Deal With Thieves


Yesterday morning, on my way from the bus stop to the train station, a thief attempted to unzip my backpack and steal whatever he could get his hands on. Fortunately, he didn't succeed, but last summer, when I had been in China only about a month, I had my wallet stolen from my backpack as I was walking from the train station to the taxi line. (Tangentially, I hate Chinese train stations now; my heartrate gets elevated every time I go near it.)

When my wallet was stolen, what followed was a world of inconvenience, as I scrambled to cancel debit cards and report them as stolen, make new copies of the keys and keycard to my apartment, and basically just inconvenience the hell out of my apartment-mates with my keylessness. This time, of course, all ended well. I even got a look at (the back of) the would-be thief: short, skinny, male, dressed all in black, head down as he watched passersby out of the corner of his eyes. I was in too much of a shock at the moment to do anything except rezip my backpack, but then I spent the rest of the day dreaming up possible things I could have done to him.

Things That Steph Wishes She Could Have Done to the Thief:
  • Trip him as he ran past me up the stairs after I foiled his attempt at theft.
  • Make a sign along the lines of "KICK ME," except this one says "I'M A THIEF," and surreptitiously attach it onto his back.
  • Same thing, except on his forehead, and accompanied by a punch in the face.
  • Making him supremely nervous by stalking him (making sure he knows he's being stalked) and grinning maniacally at him whenever he looks at me.
  • Making a scene on the pedestrian overpass by following him and shouting after him, "HEY, THIEF! WANT ME TO MAKE YOU A SIGN, MAKE YOUR JOB EASIER? HEY EVERYONE, HE'S A THIEF! YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT, THIEF, YOU BETTER NOT SHOW YOURSELF AROUND HERE ANYMORE. YOUR HUNTING GROUND IS RUINED FOREVER!"
Vengeance: it feels so good.

Alas, consult the title of that list. Therefore, I will channel my unspent anger into giving (probably unnecessary, for you urbanites) advice on how not to let yourself be a target for thieves in China, which really boils down to one thing:

Avoid using backpacks as much as possible.

8 comments:

  1. I agree with your advice. Just want to add one more point: if you have no choice but a backpack, you can always put your wallet deep inside the inner layer of your bag, so that you make the thief's job much harder. (imagine someone is trying hard to dig inside your back but finds nothing worthwhile)
    Anyway, I am actually very curious about your imaginative shouting part. Will you vent out your anger in Chinese or in English?

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  2. How horrible to be targeted twice, but it's good nothing was taken this time! It's best to keep your valuables closer to your body, like in a fanny pack in front or to keep your money and transit pass separate from your cards and keys.

    I once confronted a pick pocketer in NYC with his hand on my shoulder bag. He backed off and didn't run away so I thought I'd stopped him, but later I discovered that I'd caught him after he'd already taken my wallet. I called the police but they wouldn't except a report unless I came to the station in person, but I didn't want to miss my flight home. Having something like that happen makes you feel so mad and vulnerable. It's hard to do the right thing at the time.

    How do you shout "stop thief or help!" in Mandarin?

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  3. Aw... screw 'em!
    I like choice 4: "Making him supremely nervous by stalking him (making sure he knows he's being stalked) and grinning maniacally at him whenever he looks at me."

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  4. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work

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  5. I have had similar experience and that too while browsing books in Delhi's second hand book market. As I usually buy a lot of books I carry a backpack and had foolishly placed my cell phone in one of pockets. The thief unzipped my bag as I was picking up a book from the stash and started walking away and that was the instant my friend realised that my bag was open. We ran after him and he turned around and calmly handed us the phone and ran away. It was weird but then by the age and looks he must have been a novice :)

    Since then I avoid backpacks and keep a watch out for suspicious characters .

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  6. I really like the punch him in the face suggestion.

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  7. Gah, that really sucks. If I had the guts, I would totally go with stalking the thief and making him/her supremely nervous!

    I'm so paranoid about pickpockets and actually walked around Europe with anything important (money, passport, etc.) in a lanyard tucked deep inside my shirt around my neck! Everyone kept warning us to look out for thieves, so I spent my whole trip waiting for someone to rob me. (Thankfully, no one did. But I would like to think my angry face and shifty eyes had something to do with it.)

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  8. As much as I love thieves in fiction, I'm not a fan of them in real life! Whenever I use a backpack and I ride the train, I put it in front of be (so it's more like a frontpack than a backpack) so I can keep track of the zippers and pockets.

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