So, your worst nightmares come true: on a visit to Beijing, your wallet is stolen. How did it happen? When did it happen? It’s worth noting that thieves in Beijing operate with slick precision, some even wielding chopsticks as they lurk in the crowds searching for their next unsuspecting victim. You will hear stories about iPhones just vanishing into thin air or wallets disappearing without a trace of either them or the perpetrator.
Some pick pockets 扒手 (páshǒu) even carry blades concealed in paper money or in their mouths, used to cut through clothes and bags to get to your valuables. Another creative way for the pickpocket to get the job done is by using tweezers. These tiny instruments can effectively snatch small objects and have even been modified to the purpose by wrapping cloth around either side in order to eliminate sound and prevent goods from slipping away. It may seem like pickpockets are loners in their trade, but some of them operate in gangs and their division of labor is quite simple. Some act as lookouts while others cause a distraction. In large places like shopping malls, pickpocket gangs usually operate in three groups. The first group will block the aisle containing the mark, pretending to find change. Then the second group will intentionally drop coins or even knock something out of other associate’s hands, so they can shift the target’s attention by grabbing their ankle and asking for help. After that, the third can pick the pocket at their leisure. If all goes smoothly, the whole ordeal will take no more than 15 seconds.
All of these methods can make you feel pretty helpless when it comes to protecting yourself and your precious belongings from falling into the hands of pickpockets. But have no fear, here are some things you can do to make sure you don’t become a victim of these street crimes. Aside from the obvious ‘don’t carry your valuables around town with you’, it is advisable to stay away from crowded places, especially around rush hour, as reports of most of these crimes have taken place around 7-9 am and 5-7 pm.
If you find yourself using public transport, try not to doze off. Stay alert, be wary of people around you, don’t expose your belongings, and make sure to prepare bus and train fares ahead of time so you don’t find yourself fumbling through your bag in the middle of the rush, making you more vulnerable to a pickpocket.
Stopping for a lunch break? Just don’t place your bag on the back of your chair and always keep your bag in front of you when you’re waiting in the queue to pay. Again, try to prepare your money ahead of time so you’re not forced to open your bag and expose the content in crowded places.
On a leisurely stroll, you don’t really need to carry much with you, but if you do try to stay on the sidewalk, as far away from the street as possible. Don’t stop to reply to people attempting to sell you something. Also, always check for suspicious people around you.
On a more reassuring point, the Chinese government is taking steps to prevent, or at least lessen, street crimes in the capital. As well as excessive use of CCTV cameras and deploying officers on motorcycles, the city has taken measures to use over 500 police dogs to accompany the officers on their patrols. It is estimated that the number of dogs on the street is set to increase to 1,000 by the year 2012.
There has also recently been a raise in awareness to help tackle crime prevention through the release of a data report made available to the public from the Beijing police on July of this year, along with the promise of an update every six months. The report covers types of crime and the areas in which they are most prevalent, giving statistics on what percentage of those reports have been dealt with. In the pickpocket section, for example, the report claims that 55% of pickpocketing incidents were reported to have come from public transport services. The report also names the areas in which there are more cases of pick pocketing, such as Xizhimen Street, Xicheng District and Fu Wai.
Last but not least, if you have been a victim of crime, it’s best to contact your embassy. It is possible to contact the police, however, most of the time you’ll find that there is no English-speaking service. Your embassy will be able to help you replace a stolen passport, contact a loved one on your behalf, and assist you with any medical help. Make sure to note the contact details and address of your embassy before you arrive in case of emergency.
Pick pocketing is something we all have to deal with and comes with the territory in large cities, but as the saying goes: “Better safe than sorry”. Now that we’re armed with little tricks to keep us from falling victim to pickpockets and are joined in the fight by police officers and their trusty canines, pickpockets might think twice before attempting to chopstick their way through our pockets.