Sunday, September 06, 2009

Lost & Found—dealing with Chinese police

In the process of getting tickets at Shanghai Main Railway station, I lost my wallet.

The prelude
Vending machines are our preferred mode of getting tickets, without having to speak to anyone and being able to complete the transaction at our pace without being rushed into decision. There were 9 vending machines and all in long queues. There was at least a 5-metres long queue in front of us. After 10 minutes, our queue did not budge even an inch and more people were joining the queue every minute. It just takes one person who is unfamiliar with the vending machine to stall up the entire process.

Seeing the queues and the on-coming crowds, people travelling to specific cities were requested to purchase tickets at the windows which was located in a separate building across the road. So, a large crowd of people dashed towards the building, snaked through the traffic and we followed suit.

The queues there were moving swiftly but it was still 3-metres long. There were at least 30 counters but all were full of queues. Several minutes later, another announcement to direct passengers travelling on the same day to some other counters where the latest train tickets of the day were sold.

Again, another rush of crowds. At these specific counters, one member of staff were selling whatever tickets she had on hands and another member of staff who focused solely on printing out a stack of tickets and distributing them to all counters to relieve the pressure. It was amazing how calm and efficient the staff at the counter was despite the pressure of the crowds as people keep coming up to try to get hold of a ticket. Thus, the line was moving up very fast. I definitely cannot deal with such workload under such pressure.

When I finally got my tickets and left the counter, I realized my wallet was gone. I was frantic for a few seconds before some passengers who were behind me came to tell me that I left my wallet on the counter. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw my wallet behind the counter with the railway staff. Among the chaos, I had to shout to her about my wallet. While checking the cash and selling tickets, she asked me to describe the items in my wallet before directing me to the police.

Smokey booth
I was ushered into a small room which turned out to be a police booth. It was filled with cigarette smoke. I was too concerned about my wallet and dealing with the police than to worry about the dangers of inhaling 2nd-hand smoke.

The police who ushered me into the room passed my wallet to the other two in the room. They were attired in blue uniforms and I must still say that the uniform design and quality were not flattering at all. Instead, it resembled closely to the uniforms that the city cleaners wear. The police uniform definitely did not bring out the sense of justice and confidence of a police officer.

They looked more like gangsters than law enforcers. They went through the contents of my wallet slowly with a cigarette between their fingers.

Negative thoughts raced through my mind—I might have to bribe them; they might take the cash that was in the wallet, I might have to spend the rest of the day in this booth doing paper documentation just for this….

I was asked for my name and to my dismay, I realized I have to tell them my name in English as all the documents in my wallet that could prove my identity were all in English—ATM, credit cards and driving license. They thought I hadn’t got a Chinese name. It took me just a while to convince them that I was the rightful owner of the wallet. I was told that I was careless and I agreed.

Then the wallet was returned to me to check that nothing was taken off. Everything was there. I could smile at last.

After I left the smokey booth, I was reminded once again to be careful with my belongings for the rest of my journey.