So, my parents arrived safe and sound from Germany and brought with them a certain engagement ring. With China’s reputation and the additional factor that my parents had recently watched an episode of a German TV show, where a reporter managed to get the hotel staff to open the safe door simply by asking, they felt unsafe about leaving the ring in the room. After all, it would be pretty annoying to put it lightly, if it got lost now.
I am very easily swayed into mild paranoia when it comes to theft, even more so in China, where petty crimes are incredibly common and no one is safe. According to official numbers issued by the Chinese People’s Court in 2012, 22 2078 cases or an equivalent of 22.51 percent of their total case number, were related to theft crimes. In actual fact, the petty theft crime rate is infinitely higher as many cases do not even make it into court for a number of reasons. A substantial factor is that in smaller cities, where corruption is rampant, the police and thieves actually know each other and often cooperate, the “man of the law” receiving a little sum from the lowly criminal as protection money, and hence there is often no point in contacting the police if your things were stolen.
Sometimes, this can lead to interesting situations, such as in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia in 2010, when we were traveling with a large group of students from our university (I had not met Mr. Li at this point yet). On what was meant to be a short break at a certain fast food chain with golden arches, one of the girls hung her handbag from the chair behind her, a rookie mistake to which many foreigners new to these realms fall victim… Long story short, her bag including Iphone, wallet but most importantly passport, were stolen. The police were called and after a four-hour wait, the bag miraculously appeared in a bin in the vicinity and was brought into the police. While all material valuables had been removed, the passport was still there.
After telling this story to Mr. Li a few years later (I often teased him with the fact that my main memory from his home city was the bag theft and our being stranded at Macci’s for four hours before embarking on what would turn into a 24-hour bus trip back to Beijing; but that is another story), he informed me that obviously the police and the thief were in cohorts, explaining that the policemen had probably informed their contacts to return the passport as this case involved a foreigner. Now, I do not want to be cynical, but one thing one has to admit in China is that no good deed goes unpunished and hence many Chinese people are not very willing to help strangers.
The classic example are the many cases where people run over by a car received help from a third party, but would suddenly turn on their helper, accusing them of being the one who ran them over in the first place; otherwise, why would they be helping them? According to reports some of the “victims” even got away with this shameless strategy; as a result an innocent person, who only wanted to help, could find themselves paying damages for an accident they never caused. These incidents are the reason many Chinese have a fear of altruistically helping people, since it might cause them suffering and in the worst case financial loss. The most tragic example was the death of the Chinese toddler a few years ago, who was killed in a hit and run, because for 20 minutes people walked by the dying two-year old pretending not to see her.
The point I am making is that the story that someone found the bag with the passport in the trash and then decided to bring it to the police sounds rather unlikely, as sad and cynical as that might be, and with Mr. Li’s local knowledge and explanation, it seems rather likely that the bag was handed over by the thief to a police officer instead. Admittedly, though, at least the girl got her passport back; a true silver lining, since getting a new passport and visa while in China is sheer hell.
So, in conclusion, this experience has scarred me into paranoia when it comes to theft in the Middle Kingdom. My father’s suggestion was that I simply wear the engagement ring although there had been no proposal. As we all know, better safe than sorry!
“Don’t be so superstitious! It is the safest option”,
he said when he saw my mum and my exasperated faces. While I agree with him on that particular point, I did decide to wear the ring on my right hand ring finger instead of my left (the customary engagement ring finger in Germany since it runs along the love vein). After all, despite the fact that I shake my head at most Chinese superstitions, I am in truth a rather superstitious person myself.
Upon arrival back in Nanjing, the circular piece of jewelry returned to its little red box and was picked up by Mr.Li. Now it has traveled to Beijing with him, waiting for the big moment. Let’s hope it needn’t wait too long!