I was having dinner with some friends in a middle-eastern type restaurant in Shanghai. It was my last night there and I was heading to the airport straight after dinner. My next destination was replete with sun, beaches, and excellent surfing conditions. I was going to the Philippines. The meal was delicious and the atmosphere was captivating. Between the tasty kebabs, the sexy belly dancers, and my vivacious friends, the evening was sublime. Nothing could ruin it. Or so I thought.
I reached for my glass of beer and took a lengthy swig. Before I set the glass back on the table, my friend turned to me and asked “where did you put your luggage?” As I quickly scanned the area around the table, a ray of panic shot through my body. I turned to my friend and said “my bags are in the trunk of the taxi. SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!”
I instinctively dug my hands into my pocket. Why? Most things are replaceable, but there are three items that are a nightmare to lose when you're abroad: phone, wallet, and passport. I located the former two items, but the passport was gone.
And just like that, panic mode began. I slid back in my chair with a grim face and began to think of my next move. How the hell could I salvage my surfing holiday? My friends recognized that I was deeply distraught and tried to cheer me up. “We'll find your luggage, don’t worry Jasper. In China, people are very honest.” But with an estimated 23 million inhabitants and thousands of taxi cabs spread over numerous small companies, I quickly realized that locating my belongings would be a long shot. Had I been alone, I would have had no idea what to do. But thank God we had some Chinese locals in our group. They immediately sprang into action, calling the police and the major cab companies.
The police arrived within minutes. They advised me to go to the local police station and work with the authorities there. When I arrived at the station, the police officers greeted me with the utmost kindness and respect. They informed that they would do whatever they could to recover my personal effects.
Lucky for me, the Chinese authorities like to keep an eye on their citizens. The government has installed an extensive CTV system throughout Shanghai. This came in quite handy, and to my surprise and delight, the cops managed to locate the footage of me getting out of the cab. They couldn't read the registration plate, but at least we identified the name of the taxi company!
Just as my hopes began to rise, they were swiftly dashed. This particular cab company was fragmented into over 25 sub companies with no central messaging system. The odds were overwhelmingly against me. All I could do was go to sleep and trust that the cab driver would return my bags to the lost and found department. But, with a newly purchased Macbook Pro in one of the bags, probably worth several monthly salaries for the driver, this seemed somewhat unlikely.
The next morning, we checked the lost and found department. Nothing. I started losing faith in a positive outcome and I now focused on how to get out of the country. My friend had good contacts at the Dutch embassy and I was able to arrange an appointment the same day. It would only take a few days to get an emergency passport, but to be able to leave the country, I would also need some stamps from the local Chinese authorities. Retrieving these stamps could take more than a week. Goodbye beach, sun, and surf. Shit.
In the meantime, my extremely helpful Chinese friends were still busy calling all the different taxi companies, hoping their harassment would encourage them to take a proactive approach to find my bags. After several hours, we suddenly got a promising phone call. Someone found two bags, one of them containing a Dutch passport! We confirmed the location of the bags and jumped in a cab.
As soon as we arrived at our destination, a Chinese person rushed me into a building. Several cab drivers gathered around me as I approached my bags. I let out several shouts of happiness as I was re-united with my belongings. I've never experienced such a strong urge to hug random Chinese dudes. I checked the contents and everything was there, even a few hundred dollars worth of cash. I felt terrible for not having faith in the honesty of the cab driver. “Apparently, in China, people very, very honest” I said. My friend nodded and laughed. I then hugged several cab drivers, scooped up my belongings, and headed to the airport to board the first plane en route to the Philippines.