Friday, around 10 am, at the Lijiang bus station.
I gaze at the empty floor. Can’t believe what I see. I see nothing, but I should see my shoulder bag. It is not there anymore. I yell to my wife Hillie sitting next to me: My bag is gone. My passport! I run outside, looking everywhere, into the adjacent fruit store, back into the waiting room, not a glimpse of my bag. Hillie shouts: we must stop the busses. I run into the first bus that is on the point to leave. Looking under seats and the overhead compartments. Nothing. The driver is so kind to open the storage room under the bus. Many bags but not mine. I am going to sit outside the waiting room with an empty head in my hands. Couldn’t think of anything else but my passport and this remote area. It’s friday the 22nd of July 2011 and we are in Lijiang, Yunnan province, on our way to Shangri-La near Tibet. A four hour bus ride into the 3500 m high mountains. We spent three days in the nice busy ancient town and now we’re ready to enter the outskirts of China. Our hotel arranged the bus tickets last night, to leave today at 11:30. We are looking forward to see spectacular sights and scenery, riding hair pin roads towards snowy mountains, away from the summer heat, to see the countryside with small villages and few people which is rare in the China we saw sofar. Not knowing that today would be the end of our holiday, although we had ten days left.
The taxi drops us in time at the long distance bus station. We enter the waiting room. With about 50 people it is half full. There is a free bench with room for our bags and Hillie is going to sit next to them. I place my shoulder bag behind our big bags and start looking for bus numbers and departure times. After ten minutes I am back and start talking to Hillie. After a short while I see what I don’t’ wanna see. My bag is gone. Some people react to our running around and stupefied faces and try to make contact. The language is a problem. Hillie was asked go upstairs to watch the security video. One nice person calls the police at 110 and does that again after a while: ‘They have to find a policeman who speaks English, but they will soon be here.’
Some 40 minutes later two uniforms arrived. I felt a bit relieved that something happened to solve my problem. I expected them to interview people and searching for the thief in the surrounded area. Pretty thoughtless because the thief off course would not wait for the police to arrive. The policemen asked us to come to the police station. At first I refused. I had such a strong feeling that going away from the ‘crime scene’ would turn the problem into really a problem: not having my passport and not a change to regain it. I asked them to look at the security video up stairs. So they did. And when they came back I was curies to what they have seen. They didn’t say. ‘We have see, com to station’. Well, what else can you expect? They took our bus tickets to the ticket office and got our money back. No Shangri-La today. Then they drove us in the backseat of the old police car with our big bags on our laps to their station.
At that time we were deeply depressed and saw things very dark. Still flabbergasted. Not knowing what would happen and what we supposed to do to make things right. How would bureaucracy in a country with a centralized regime treat us? ‘Expect the unexpected’ was what we told ourselves many times from then, like a mantra. Expect the unexpected.
But with all the bad luck, I was lucky enough to have kept my credit card and bankcard in my pocket. As was my drivers license that later on was a useful photo ID at the airport.
Lijiang friday, 12 am at the police station
In the police station was a policeman who to our pleasant surprise spoke fluently English. And not only that. He tried to make us feel at ease by offering cold water and cigarettes. A very nice man. At first I had to write down what happened. ‘What is it that you want to tell us?’ And then he typed the story in the word processor. He asked some specific questions like where exactly in the waiting room was your luggage. In the south-west corner, we concluded. Like more of us when we make a report, he used an older report as a template. So I learned that a foreign woman had the same experience in the same waiting room. To enter my statement in many pages took some time. I was restless walking in and out the office. He asked especially about the lost belongings. I could only think of my robbed passport and the trouble we were facing with no passport.
Perhaps it’s better to lose a passport in Shanghai where is the Dutch Consulate and a big Public Security Bureau, instead of here so far away from everything, I kept thinking. He was easy on the passport but thorough on the other things that where in the bag. For the insurance he said, which I had not thought of until that moment. When it was ready I was asked to put my fingerprint in red ink on eight several places of the text.
I was lucky to have a printed copy of a flight confirmation that had my passport number on it. That speeded up things. With that they could trace in a big database my visa and even the photograph that was taken by entering the country, 2500 km away from here. So they knew that I was a legal alien. I am amazed by the state of the art of the IT in China. It’s far ahead compared with the IT of the police force in Holland. Don’t think that the Rotterdam police can look in the files of their colleagues in The Hague. And that is only 30 kms apart.
Didn’t I had a copy of my passport? Yes I had, digital on my iPad, which was in the stolen bag. As was a Chinese cellphone and my digital camera. I am sorry for your lost photographs said the policeman. Which I found a thoughtful remark. And later on I realized how sad indeed it is to loose the pictures of your holiday.
When the paperwork was don, he gave me two papers with red stamps. One for the Insurance and one for the Public Security Bureau to get the exit visa. I was allowed to use their internet connection. I tried to find my iPad to turned it off remotely, but that tool does not work in some countries like China as I later found out.
And then the policemen were so nice to bring us to the hotel in the ancient town where we were before. We arrived there at 14:00 hours. Four hours after the sad incidence.
(For next episode click on “Waiting in hotel”)