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Panic in Shanghai


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!”

Diner in Shanghai

Unaware of the drama that was about to unfold, I was enjoying a great diner with my friends

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.

Shanghai Skyline

The famous Shanghai skyline

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.

Shanghai Map

With over 20 million inhabitants, Shanghai is one of the biggest cities in the world

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.

Taxis in Shanghai

There are an estimated 50.000 taxis in Shanghai

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.

Shanghai taxi receipt

Had I kept the taxi receipt, my luggage would have been recovered within the hour

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.

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15 thoughts on “Panic in Shanghai

Comment author said

By Johanna on 23 December 2012 at 22:30

You are one lucky bastard!!!


Comment author said

By Emiel on 24 December 2012 at 13:11

1 word to remember for next time: fapiao


Comment author said

By Jasper Ribbers on 24 December 2012 at 13:53

That would have saved me quite some trouble! The other thing to remember is Hi Shanghai Taxi, great iPhone app!


Comment author said

By Addie on 24 December 2012 at 13:42

Woah- What a dinner table! What do you get when u have 1 communist party member, 1 communist sympathizer, a couple socialists, one scientologist, one apathetic, one raging capitalist/objectivist/ existentialist and some middle eastern chow? Interesting conversation, and to the bottom of it, when someone’s suitcase goes missing!! Glad it worked out in the end :-)


Comment author said

By Jasper Ribbers on 24 December 2012 at 13:52

Haha yep very interesting indeed! I’m trying to work out who is who :)


Comment author said

By Nick on 24 December 2012 at 14:36

As I recall, it suddenly occured to me that you had said you were going straight to the airport after dinner and I didn’t see your stuff, but figured maybe you left it at the hotel to pick up on the way. So I asked you where your suitcase was to which you immediatlely deferred to Emiel, “Dude where’s my suitcase,” to which he immediately and calmly replied, “oh, it’s in the trunk of the cab,” This was followed by a “REEALLY” and then 5 straight minutes of “ooohh noooo, ooohh noooo” while I glanced nervously at you thinking about the terrible next few days or week you might be in store for. The moral of the story is this when exiting a cab 1) Ask for a receit 2) Check the seat for keys, wallet, and cellphone 3) Take a second to ask yourself whether your entire life is currently residing in the trunk of said vehicle.


Comment author said

By Jasper Ribbers on 25 December 2012 at 12:07

That’s a pretty elaborate description Nick! I think my memory is a little blurred by all the panic attacks that followed :)


Comment author said

By Emiel on 25 December 2012 at 13:34

oh yeah, i remember the very jasper-specific “ooohh noooo, ooohh noooo”


Comment author said

By Coco Zhao on 4 January 2013 at 08:27

Shanghai Hengshan road is a popular place full of restaurants,bars, clubs… late night, drunk people, traffic, surveillance video is definately necessary, don’t you think so ? Were you in certain areas in BJ , security control can be stronger, HD & audio, you can be in full record in detail… what a image of a travelling Dutchman… Taxi hint : When locals take Taxi, they don’t choose Blue Alliance (blue Taxi) which is so decentralized; prefer green color Dazhong ( 大众)as has shown on above pic, or orange color Jinjiang (锦江) , both with English service hotline. The best ones are Dazhong Expo Taxis, they were for 2010 Int’l Expo originally, all drivers rating 3-4 star ( Taxi drivers evaluation system, look at the right corner near front window, drivers can be zero star to 5 star.) Zero star means it has accidents before; while a 4-5 star driver can speak 3 languages at least. So let’s choose healthy green or orange, not blue.


Comment author said

By Jasper Ribbers on 8 January 2013 at 13:12

Thanks for all the advice Coco! Orange or green it is :)


Comment author said

By Chris on 10 January 2013 at 12:16

Not an experience you would like repeated by any means! The value of friends and honest locals is well appreciated at such times.


Comment author said

By Jasper Ribbers on 13 March 2013 at 07:41

It certainly is! Without the help of my Chinese friends I would have lost the items for sure


Comment author said

By Victor Mendoza on 21 November 2013 at 11:34

This article is very helpful to be reminded to have presence of mind when you we are travelling. :) Thank you for this article.


Comment author said

By Jasper Ribbers on 21 November 2013 at 18:47

Thanks for stopping by Victor! I’ve definitely gotten more careful after this unfortunate event :)


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