Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Grinch Who Stole My Wallet (and Almost Ruined My Birthday)
Okay, this is a long and treacherous one, so brace yourselves. Due to the nature of this post, I must disclaim that this entry is in all forms FICTITIOUS - it is merely an exercise in creative writing and only based "loosely" on the events of what really happened this past Sunday. Be advised. Now, on with the story:

The weekend's activities started innocently enough - Saturday night brought dinner and beers at Hutong Pizza (which just so happens to be the best pizza in all of Beijing; anyone who disagrees can challenge me and we can take this outside!). Hutong Pizza was followed by the opening of a new bar called Block 8 in Chaoyang Park's West Gate. However, after being struck about 25 minutes in by the realization that "no air conditioning" + "100 kuai glasses of champagne" = ABSURDLY AWFUL, we made our way out of the 3rd circle of Hell and meandered our way to the casual Black Sun Bar down the street. Hours of drinks and good conversation were had by all, which confirms my belief that the simpler the venue, the better the times to be had. Something about pretentious, stuffy bars makes me want to show them where they can shove their snooty 600 yuan bottles of Moet.

Since after midnight it was 'officially' Sunday, the birthday toasts were abundant and hearty. Being hungry party people, we decided to switch venues and made our way to the rooftop patio at Kokomo for French fries, pitchers of beer, and champagne on the house, care of my birthday.

By the time we ambled down the stairs to hop a cab home, it was about 4:30AM. Which not only meant that the sun was up and our Sunday was already well underway, but that I was going to have to climb the fourteen flights of stairs to my apartment as I did not feel like waiting around for the 18-hour lift to start running again at six. I finally crashed, waking at 7:00AM to the sound of hammering in the apartment above mine. Good timing, guys!

Being awake, I decided to do my normal thing: read my emails, check for drunken texts (there really aren't drunken voice messages since no one in China owns voicemail), watch a little TV, eat some breakfast. There was a text from my friend (let's call her 'Annie') that we would meet up at 11 to go shopping in some really cute, haggling-style markets across town. Though I had originally planned to go to a brunch being held by my friend 'Ben' at noon, I hadn't seen Annie in quite some time (and had already spent two of the previous three nights with the 'brunch crew'), and so decided that was the way to go. Besides, it's SHOPPING. Which - strangely enough - I hadn't done in months (I'm sure mom and dad will appreciate that!).

I got myself together grabbed my bag and biked over to the subway stop. I made my way across the city, got out of the station, and walked over to grab a bus that would take me to the shopping center. Having lived just three blocks away from the station for six weeks last summer, I already knew where I needed to go and how I needed to get there. The 105 pulled up amidst a throng of people and I jumped on the bus, 1 kuai in hand to pay the fare. I sat down toward the front of the bus, looked down, and saw my bag was open. "That's strange," I thought. I had taken the 1 kuai bill out so that I WOULDN'T have to open my bag. I went to close my bag and realized that something just wasn't right. Then it struck me...I didn't feel my wallet. I carry around a gigantic wallet, about the size of an organizer. Humongous, I know, but it fits all my stuff. I felt around for it. I checked the other pockets of my bag. I checked the seat around me on the bus. But it was gone. And then it hit me. Getting on the bus I had been bumped and nudged - and pickpocketed.

Luckily, I hadn't brought a terribly large amount of money (or at least not as much as I had originally planned), but there was a greater loss at hand. Not only were all my credit and bank cards gone, but so was my passport. Now, normally I don't keep my passport in my wallet, but I had planned to apply for a new visa that afternoon after we finished shopping. And now it was all gone. I got off at the Beijing Zoo stop and called Annie. She was en route and would be meeting me soon. Needing a bit more comfort, I called my friend Ben who, upon hearing the words "wallet" and "stolen," proclaimed he was already slipping on his shoes and jumping into the next cab to meet me with no way to convince him otherwise.

After surmising the situation and figuring out what needed to be done, I started calling to cancel credit cards left and right. My passport and residence permit would also need replacing. I placed a call to the American Embassy in Beijing's emergency line and was connected with a gentleman who may literally be the nicest phone operator I have ever spoken with. He slowly explained the steps of what I would need to do: First, I would have to go to the police precinct and file a police report saying that the passport was stolen. I would then have to bring this document to the American Embassy's American Citizen Services Department, at which time I could apply for a new passport. He explained which entrance to use and how I would need to explain myself.

He asked me if I knew where the embassy was and if I had a photocopy of my passport and visa. I told him I knew where it was and that I keep a scanned copy of my documents in my computer. To this he exclaimed, “You’re so prepared – you should teach other people how to lose their passports!” He then noticed that it was my birthday and, like everyone else I had spoken with that day (credit card people, bank people, etc.), I got the requisite, “I’m so sorry this happened to you, but happy birthday!” It might sound obnoxious to readers, but this actually DID make me feel a little better.

After getting all the important stuff out of the way and realizing that it had hit almost noon, we decided to go have something to eat. Having originally planned to do brunch anyway, we decided to go back to the first plan and paid a visit to my favorite brunching eatery, Grandma's Kitchen (a slice of Americana in Beijing). We had a fantastic meal and I was already feeling better about the whole thing. What happened had happened and nothing could change that, right? I figured the hardest part was over. Which is something you should NEVER think, let alone say aloud.

Ben decided to go home and take a nap before the dinner festivities that would commence later that evening. Annie (with her amazing Chinese skills) and I went to go file the police report. We went over to the police station near my apartment, which was easy since I already knew where it was, and went in to talk to the officers who were (of course) lounging around in the lobby, chatting lazily. Annie presented the situation to the policemen there. They asked what exactly happened and where it happened. Annie explained.

We were then abruptly told that it was not their jurisdiction and, therefore, not their responsibility to fill out a police report for us. Which essentially means they didn’t feel like it and had enough justification to lay the work on somebody else. We told them straight out that we didn't expect to get anything back - I only needed the form so I could go first thing Monday morning to the Embassy and get a new passport. The conversation that ensued went something like this:
"We can't. It didn't happen in our district."
"It might have...she was on a bus."
"Yes, but it matters where she DISCOVERED it, not where it might have happened."
"So what do we have to do?"
"You have to go back to the spot where it happened, call for a police car, and have them take you to the appropriate police precinct. Then they will do that for you."
"You mean we have to go all the way back across town?"

To go all the way across town would not only have been a majorly time-consuming pain in our rear ends, but would also have wasted what precious shopping time we had left during the day. Sure, the day had somewhat of a hitch in it, but I still wanted to enjoy what was left of my birthday. So Annie and I decided to do the Chinese thing: improvise. We hopped a cab and headed toward the police district that was near her apartment, about ten minutes away. We would tell the same story with just a few minor alterations. This time, instead of a bus, it would be a cab (to ensure that the police wouldn’t try to pawn it off on someone else by saying that it was stolen somewhere along the route - which of course could once again mean it was someone else's jurisdiction; they could play that game all day and I would be stuck) and instead of all the way across town, it would have occurred a bit closer to home.

We went through the motions once again. We explained what had happened and - more important to the policemen - WHERE it had happened (apparently being robbed was not enough cause to muster some assistance, or at least a bit of empathy; being a foreigner means I deserve it). And once again, we were told we were in the wrong place. They redirected us once more to one more police station, where we went through the whole spiel ONE MORE TIME. And the guy interrogated us about the location of the crime like his career depended on it (now that I think about it, that might actually be true...).
"Where did you discover it missing?"
"I went to go buy something. My bag was opened and my wallet was gone."
"And you didn't just leave it somewhere?"
"No, I had to get money out to pay the fare, so I definitely had it then."
"And there's no way you just dropped it."
"No. I closed my bag when I was getting out."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." (I almost went with a sarcastic “no” and an eye roll to this last one, but thought that might not be the wisest move if I wanted to actually get this thing done in a timely manner.)

Wait. Did he just say okay? Yes! Finally!
So the officer sat down and started asking me questions. But since he had what I call the "slurring" Beijing accent (where the beginning of the sentence is clear, but the end just becomes a jumble of moans and grunts), Annie had to explain half the questions to me. The officer then got up and went into the back office area while we waited.

What you have to understand, dear reader, is that by this point, we had been jumping from police station to police station for two and a half hours – we were tired and rather fed up by the apathy of most of these so-called "policemen" toward us and our situation. All that seemed to matter to them was keeping their "foreign robbery" numbers low and getting out of doing paperwork (or actual work of any sort, for that matter). There was little (if any) concern for the person who for all they know could be stuck in a foreign country whose language she doesn’t speak (I do - but they don't know that), with no money, no credit or bank cards, no passport, and no way of resolving the situation without their help.

But being the upbeat and well-adjusted human beings that we are, Annie and I started to see the humor in the whole ordeal. We had started taking "I'm so sad because my wallet's been stolen and we're here at the police station pictures" - though we tried not to do it in front of the officers because we thought that might make us appear a bit disingenuous, like we were just making fools out of them, and we really did need their help.

SO, back to the story: The guy comes back in and says that he spoke with some people on the phone at a place called the Dongcheng Fangju (a different branch of the police). He said we had to go to their office in Jiaodaokou and that they would be able to help us. He told us that he had explained our situation to them and they knew we were coming. After the events of the day thus far, it was hard to be optimistic about this next stop on our journey, but what choice did we really have?

So we hopped yet ANOTHER cab to the Dongcheng Fangju. We explained our situation and, shockingly enough, they produced forms! The forms were half-Chinese, half-English, and read "Certificate of Loss of Passport" and "Certificate of Loss of Property." SUCCESS!

They asked me some questions about myself: name, age, occupation, current address, what was taken, etc. Filled out the forms and voila! I was ready to go. By this point, it was already four o'clock, three hours since the "police document scavenger hunt" saga had begun. We went to a mall back near where we lived and wandered around a bit before heading back home to shower off the grime of the day and prepare for the party that night.

The evening festivities definitely belong in the record books. We managed to get "Jasper" on stage with a snake around his neck, "Ben" outshook the Uygher dancing girls, and "Mack" and I broke it down on stage while the Chinese girls attempting to dance behind us looked on in awe. The hips don't lie, baby! It was a fantastic night and we definitely brought the house down.

The next morning, I took off work to go get my passport stuff done since I also needed to apply for a new visa and time was running short. First thing, I went to a nearby internet café that I often passed, hoping they would have a printer so I could bring a hard copy of my passport to the embassy with me. Once that was finished, I hopped a bus to take me down to the embassy district and, after wandering the street aimlessly for a few minutes, decided to ask a guard at a gate on Guanghua Lu how to get to the American Embassy. Apparently, I had found it. I explained the situation, showing him the copy of my American passport and the certificate of loss of passport. He confirmed that I indeed did look something like my picture and let me in the gate. Once you get in the gate of the American Embassy here in Beijing, you still have a whole other block to walk inside the gates before you actually reach the building. I went through security, who made me leave my cell phone at the gate, took the number they gave me, and made my way through the second security outpost and into the American Citizen Services Office.

On my way in, I saw the triad of pictures hanging on the wall - George W., Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice. It was actually a bit strange, I have to say. Living overseas, you see American politics in the news and hear about it in discussion, but looking at that picture, I couldn't remember the last time I thought of the triad as "my government." Perhaps living in China has made me more Chinese than I thought. I doubt it. I don't have any particular allegiances to Mao or Hu, but perhaps I have become ambivalent about the whole concept without even noticing.

My number was called; I explained - for the zillionth time - my current situation. I filled out a form for a stolen passport and filled out the paperwork for a new passport. But when it came to payment time, I was short. Apparently it is 776 yuan (US$97) for a new passport. I can’t even IMAGINE what would happen if the money that was stolen was all the money I had in the world. I was riled up about the whole thing, but couldn't really get mad at the woman behind the window as it wasn't HER fault that we really are "foreign capitalist pigs." She said she would hold onto my paperwork and that I should go out get the money and come back. She also noted that my passport photos were not the right size and that I would need new ones, so may as well do those while I was out as well.

Okay. So, deciding that I didn't want to waste much more time, I hopped a cab home. We arrived at my apartment and I produced a 100RMB bill - and 100RMB bills, at that time, were all that I had since all of my small change had been in my wallet. The guy said he didn't have change. Knowing that sometimes the drivers just don't like to have to break a 100 yuan note, I reiterated that I had nothing else but this 100 note. He said he had no change. Wanting to be nice (which needs to change because apparently I need to be meaner to get things done in China), I went to a store (which said they had no change - probably untrue, but I wasn’t about to buy anything just to get change) and to a bank (who insisted that I had to wait on line with everyone else just to break the hundred). The people at the bank asked why I needed to break it. I told them I needed to pay the cab driver. They got really mad and told me that I should tell him off - cabbies are supposed to be able to break 100 yuan notes. If they can't, it's their fault.

I went out to the cab driver and told him that I wasn't about to waste 20 minutes waiting on line at the bank for change since I had things to do. He said, "why don't you go into the store?"
I replied, "Didn't you see? I already went in there! It's not my responsibility to find change for you!"
He just yelled, "Ok. Bye-bye!" rolled up his window and drove off.
I was mad that I even had to deal with this, especially when I was already stressed out enough about getting this passport stuff done. But on the bright side, I had gotten a free cab ride out of it!

Upstairs in my apartment, I grabbed the money I would need, and headed back down to grab another cab going back. After a short drive, we arrived at the corner near the embassy where I once again handed the cab driver the 100RMB note - the only type of bill I had.
"I have no change for that!" Here we go again.
"Fine. Pull over there and I'll ask the woman in the kiosk if she has change." See? Still too nice.
He crossed the intersection, pulled to the side of the road and, suddenly, produced a large black bag. He unzipped it and inside were wads of bills - 1's, 5's, 10's, 20's - all neatly rolled up. Are you KIDDING me?! The stress, the earlier idiot cabbie, and now this moron unleashed my inner gorgon as I started on a Chinese cursing rant.

"How the f#@$ could you tell me that you didn't have any f#$@ing change when you have an entire g@#damn wallet full of money?! You are such a f@#$ing a@$#hole!" I snatched the change he had made for me, threw the 100RMB note in his face and stormed off, slamming the taxi door behind me. Bear in mind, that cursing in China - especially when done by someone like me - is rather intense for the recipient, though cursing generally does not go over particularly well here no matter who is dishing it out. He left it be as I had already stormed off in the general direction of the embassy and I doubt he wanted any further firefight, having already been embarrassed in a public place by a Chinese-speaking foreigner.

I got back to the embassy, with no problems getting in this time around. On my way in, I came across a foreigner who was attempting - in English - to ask the Chinese guard where to get passport photos taken. "Perfect!" I thought. I needed to get those done too and, in my mental state at the time, probably would’ve forgotten all about it if I hadn’t heard him mention it. I walked up to the guard and asked him, in Chinese, where the place was to take the passport photos. The American man looked extremely grateful.

The guard directed us both over to the American Embassy's Service Hall across the way. The gentleman I met was from Illinois and we chatted while waiting for the photos to be processed. He had been living in Shaanxi Province, working with a coal mining company and had his passport stolen after someone broke into his car. We got our photos and walked back over to American Citizens' Services. Once again, I waited for my number to be called. I handed the woman my pictures and the money and was told to do what I do best - sit around and wait. Finally, another woman called me up and told me that because of my time crunch, I would be issued an emergency passport that would be ready that afternoon but was only good for one year. I would need a new visa (which I needed ANYWAY) and I could come back and pick up my new passport after 2PM.

So finally, things were looking like they were back on track. Don't worry - nothing bad happens. In fact, if I may say so, the story gets even more interesting from here. I hopped a bus back home and was walking over to a restaurant to buy some lunch when I received a phone call. It was Nirvana Gym (where I work out). Someone had found my stuff and had contacted them because my Nirvana membership card was the only thing in there with any sort of Chinese identification on it (since most of my cards, my driver's license, and passport are all in English). Nirvana then called me and gave me the contact number of the person who had found it.

I gave her a call and told her I would be right over to meet her, since I needed to get back to the American Embassy around two. I met her over by her office building, which turned out to be several blocks from where the incident had occurred. I didn't know exactly what she would have for me (the more the better, obviously), but it was worth getting back anything I could.

When I met up with her, she had in hand my passport, and a stack of cards. First of all, let me say that getting the passport back is a major shocker. You can get so much money for passports – American and European ones especially – on the black market (even if the person it was stolen from gets a new one and cancels the old one), so we're obviously not dealing with a criminal mastermind here. Included in the stack were my credit cards (which had been cancelled), my bank cards (two of which were still active, so at least now I could get money!), my insurance card, a $50 iTunes giftcard (essentially free money - as I said, not exactly a criminal mastermind), and my driver's license (which had expired, but was nice to have for two reasons: posterity and the knowledge that some Chinese pickpocket wasn't holding onto my home address).

She told me she had found them thrown over a fence next to her office and - especially seeing as there was a passport there - wanted to make sure it got back to me. She cautioned me to be careful, particularly in this area as thieves often target foreigners around this particular stop (and it's not like they can tell who is a tourist and who is a foreigner who lives here). I thanked her and headed home to grab some lunch.

That afternoon, I went back to the embassy to pick up my new passport. The deed had already been done, so I couldn't undo the cancellation of my previous passport, but at least now they could place it in the computer as 'recovered' and I could keep it (and the cool-looking visas and entry/exit stamps inside it) for posterity and for my records. Since then, I have finished getting my materials together to apply for my visa, found a reputable visa service through a friend, and am fully back on track.

So that is my birthday story. For pictures of ACTUAL events, see the post below. And - as always - thanks for reading!
posted by Rachel @ 12:07 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
What You May Have Missed
A Brief Disclaimer:
This is a satirical site intended for the entertainment of an online audience. None of the features on this site are real (except in my own distorted view of reality), nor are they intended to harm the subjects mentioned. This site uses fictional names in all its stories, except in cases when public figures are being satirized or when I choose to use this site as a platform for someone's public humiliation (usually my own). Any other use of real names is accidental and coincidental (or purposeful, but with good reason).

Despite the trivial nature of my random daily (sometimes weekly) musings, I hope you enjoy your stay at my site. If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ring up the concierge, because I just travel in style like that. Have a pleasant stay and I hope that you will come see us again soon!

Thanks To
Free Blogger Templates
Blog Directory
Travel Blogs - Blog Top Sites
China Findouter
Ferienhaus Kroatien
Personal Statement Of Purpose
web page counter
Get a website hit counter here.
#1 Free Link Exchange Directory On The Web - Link Market