As I’ve mentioned on this blog previously, Savvy and I lived for three years in Shenzhen before moving to Beijing. The stories of Shenzhen’s past rampant petty crime are legendary and because my photo studio was located in a crammed neighborhood with people on the go night and day, the opportunity to be a victim of pickpockets was high – especially in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year. Thank our lucky stars that Beijing is a much safer city.
Or is it? The unfortunate truth is that the pressure to return home to the provinces during Chinese New Year, to get gifts for friends and family, or the need to just take a shortcut in life, leads people to turn to liberating wallets, phones, and other valuables from unsuspecting citizens. Until recently, I was under the delusion that Beijing did not suffer much from this sort of seedy behavior, but recent conversations with friends and even a forum chat here on beijingkids has opened my eyes to the reality that Beijing is like any large urban population – we’ve got crime.
In Shenzhen, my wallet was ever so carefully removed from my trousers while going up a subway escalator. Most likely, the cad used a pair of long handled tweezers to avoid detection. That’s when I gave up on owning a wallet or carrying excess cards and money that I did not need – including my passport. Seriously, how many cards does a person need to carry on a given day? I also used to purposely carry a backpack that was easy to open up from behind, just not easily done without my noticing. I caught people on a number of occasions opening my bag on escalators (a prime theft zone, by the way) and while walking on the sidewalks. What they did not realize was that there was nothing of value in my bag anyway. It made for interesting confrontations, usually ending with the young man (often a young man, but not always) suddenly having a phone call, even though his phone was not ringing, and walking the other way; a challenging feat on an escalator.
The truth is, there is not much you can do if you catch someone trying to get into your bag or lift your phone from a pocket. You can rant and rage, but getting violent is not a good idea, as the thief may not be working alone. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is through preparation and vigilance. Don’t flash extra cash when paying for things in markets or shops. Don’t carry lots of excess gadgets. Backpacks, purses and courier bags are all great, but it’s easy to drop your guard while wearing them.
My favorite crime zone is wherever people are leaving mobile phones, PDAs, iPads and laptop computers on tables at cafes and restaurants. Check out any Starbucks for awhile and you will see customers walking away from their tables to get a coffee or some sugar or a magazine – even to use the toilet – while leaving their possessions on the table like a morsel of chocolate in a room filled with children. I’m not saying someone will take it, but it is creating an opportunity for ill-gotten gains and some personal inconvenience. That’s where I’d get all my swag for the holidays…if I were a thief.