On June 27th my bag was stolen from a Starbucks in Xian, China – which pretty much says a lot about me, and about Starbucks. I bought a Panini and an iced chocolate, set my bag down next to me and tried to figure out how to get WIFI on my iPod. I wasn’t there for more than 6 minutes and my bag was gone. Different people have different reactions to certain event. Factors, like language barriers, where you are, and your emotional being play a very a big part in how you react.
This is how I reacted.
My heart wanted to rip itself out. Panic was immediate. I screamed at a worker that someone had stolen my bag. I even ran out in an attempt to stalk out the thief Taken style. But then the ground felt unbalanced and my whole body went weak and I lay on the floor of Starbucks, sobbing profusely – all in the space of about 3 minutes.
Everything I needed was in that bag – my money, my debit card, my train ticket, my camera, my fucking passport! A waitress consoled me in broken English and told me they were calling the police. As I sat and waited, I went through an emotional turbine. I thought of how stupid it was to leave all my stuff in one place and how stupid it was for someone to steal things, in a Starbucks no less. I thought of how I was going to get home, sans money and passport. I thought of how they were only possessions, but they were my possessions. What a FUCKING arsehole that thief was.
Mostly I just felt stupid and alone.
Police work, I found out, is not all running and car chases, it’s mainly boring but necessary paperwork. I wrote down what had happened and an officer gave me a confirmation slip of my stolen passport. This was all the more jarring because the officers had pretty indecipherable Xian accented Chinese.
After that they took me back to my hostel. I told the reception that I had been robbed and they helped me as best as they could. I cried again, in the corner, by myself. A lovely woman who worked there gave me green tea. Another woman, hearing that I had no money to my name, gave me 100 kuai (approx. £10), which goes a long way in China.
After a few hours of calling the bank, trying to get a hold of and finally getting through to a family member and friends, I thankfully found out that two of my friends had arrived in Xian that morning, staying just down the street from me. They were fabulous and bought me a train ticket back to Nanjing (where we were doing my study abroad) and money to tide me over. Thank the beard of Zeus.
What will follow? I’ll be going to Shanghai to sort out my emergency travel documents and visas, and a whole lot of money will be spent for it.
This is the advice I can give to anyone who is unfortunate enough to have experienced theft while travelling.
1) Get your panic over with quickly. You’ve just been robbed, you deserve to go a little crazy, whether it’s crying on the floor of Starbucks, smashing a chair or running in circles. Do it quickly and get it over with before you have to deal with the police, the bank, etc. Being hysterical with these people won’t get you far and you can offer a lot more information if you’re calmer.
2) Report your loss/theft to the police, even if you’re in another country and everything’s in another language. They can give you instructions on what to do next and be sure to get a certificate/proof of your report for travel insurance claims or evidence for embassies.
3) Let your hostel or hotel know. I was lucky enough to be in such a sympathetic hostel. They let me use their phone and pretty much collected a large bill from me calling friends and family from home. They can also give you good advice.
4) Call home. Even if you know the first thing they’ll say is how stupid you are, your family will hopefully be able to get hold of your bank details and other info that would be useful in cancelling cards or for getting an emergency passport. Also, get in contact with friends, they might know someone willing to put you up or take care of you.
5) If your bank card has been stolen or is lost, always cancel it. Banks tend to need your sort code and account number, so keep that handy especially when travelling. Sometimes they can access your account in other ways, but it’s much easier to know your account number and sort code.
6) Don’t neglect the kindness of strangers. I had really wonderful people in my hostel who were willing to give me money for a ticket to Nanjing or buy me some food. Even small and trivial things like offering a cup of tea is hugely comforting and helps ease a frazzled mind.
7) Don’t let it ruin your holiday. Learn from it, but don’t shut down. Even though it makes a serious dent in your travel plans, everything can be replaced. There’s not much you can do about it, and it’s far better to get back to seeing the sights then wallowing in a dark room. Things like this do occur, but it doesn’t occur all the time.
As a Quebecois man said to me, “Shit happens.”
Written by Carmen Hoang