What follows is the story of what happens when you inadvertently leave your suitcase in a Beijing taxi. Little did I realise, when the light bulb pinged that my bag was gone, how long and eventful the aftermath would be. Let’s begin…Note for American’ts: Boot = Trunk ;)
At 10am on Saturday 4th June, I took a taxi across Beijing from Beixinqiao (just south of the Lama temple) to the south entrance of Sunshine 100 apartments. I was planning to spend the long weekend driving up to the Baoshan grasslands with my friends Robbie and Suzanne, so I had packed a small suitcase containing clothes and shoes, my passport (which happened to be in a wallet with all my travel stuff – UK SIM card, PADI diving card, Air Miles cards etc.), my Canon DSLR and Tamron lense, wash bag with electric toothbrush, and my Amazon Kindle. I unwisely placed all this in the boot of the taxi on departure, instead of taking it with me in the front. (STUPID!)
On arrival at the entrance to Sunshine 100 apartments, I was in a hurry, talking on the phone to Suz about what provisions we needed for the trip, and leapt out of the cab without thinking. Since I was by then on the phone to Robbie about the hire car, it was about a minute before I realized I had forgotten the suitcase in the boot…
Since I had not taken the receipt from the driver (STUPID!), I realized immediately that I had no way of knowing which of the thousands of taxis in Beijing I had just been in. I immediately spoke to the security guys (bao an) at Sunshine 100 to see if they had a security camera pointing to where I had disembarked. No luck. We then drove over to the local police station on guang hua lu and explained what had happened. They gave me a crime report document, and recorded the details in the system. They also tried to find footage of me leaving the vehicle, to discover the car licence plate, but unfortunately the only camera that could of seen me was not working that day. Typical…
We then headed to the local police station near my departure at Beixinqiao to see if any footage existed of me entering the taxi, but again no luck. I then headed back to my apartment to grab more clothes for my weekend away (second time lucky) and did notice that there was a camera immediately above where I entered the taxi.
After the long weekend, on tuesday morning I went and put a message out on Beijing traffic radio. The message went out once at 3:30pm and again at 4:30pm. I gave my friend Robbie’s number as the contact for the bulletin, since I didn’t want to risk a misunderstanding because of my functional but limited Chinese. Robbie’s Chinese is considerably better than mine.
At about 3:50pm, a guy called claiming to have the luggage. Robbie negotiated with him for some time to get him to meet us to exchange for cash, but despite constant effort on Robbie’s part, the only way he was prepared to proceed was with us first transferring the money into his account, and then he would bring us the bag.
Reluctantly we agreed to the transfer, figuring that we had his bank account details, name and phone number, so would be able to track him down. Without boring with you with the details, let’s just say that after several days of back and forth with the guy, I am now 2000 RMB out of pocket and the bag is still not in my possession. The guy kept asking for more money, and coming up with more and more excuses as to why he couldn’t deliver the bag. It became clear as we progressed that he most probably never had the bag in the first place. The police are now looking for him, and seem confident they will be able to track him down. I will post an update here if I here anything.
After wasting several days with the guy, I then spent a couple of days going from police station to police station to find security camera footage of my route. I did find footage of me walking to the taxi but, annoyingly, the camera was facing in the wrong direction that day so I could see myself walking to the taxi, but not the taxi itself. The police did point out to me that the cameras are pretty low resolution so even if the car was caught on camera, it is often not possible to read the number plate…
Sadly this does mean that I am unlikely ever to see my bag again, and have reluctantly called of the search. I still hope that maybe by some miracle it turns up…
Now I just have to figure out the best way to get a new passport when my visa is about to expire!
Lessons Learned and what to do if you lose your bag in a Beijing taxi!
- Get in the habit of always taking the receipt of every taxi you take, regardless of whether you think you need it! If you have the ticket it is easier to identify the taxi you were in when you forget something.
- Always keep your passport on your person! (That is actually more of a note-to-self!) Also, unless your luggage is enormous take it with you in the taxi – don’t put it in the boot – you are far less likely to forget it this way.
- Immediately after you lose your stuff, take a note of the time of your departure and arrival in the taxi. It will help you later.
- Head immediately to the local police station (pài chū suǒ) closest to where you disembarked from the taxi and report the crime. They will give you a crime report document which you can use later for insurance claims, if you are unable to recover your stuff. You will need to head to another office to get it officially translated – foreign insurance companies are unlikely to accept a report in Chinese! It is unlikely, but not unheard of, that they will speak English, so it is advised to take a Chinese speaker with you. If you have the receipt from the taxi, give it to them so that they can assist you in tracking down the driver. Your bag is at least now in the system should a the taxi driver hand it in.
- If you don’t have the receipt, ask to see the security cameras at the local police station for the area where you arrived in the taxi. They may have a camera which captured the event, so you can discover the number plate of the taxi, and prove that you did not leave the vehicle with your stuff.
- Also head to the local police station for the area of your departure. This may well not be the same as the destination. Ask to see the footage of you entering the taxi with your stuff, if it exists. Try to see if there is a shot of the car number plate.
- Bear in mind that most cameras on the roads in Beijing are traffic cameras that the police do not ordinarily have access to. They only have access to the public security cameras. Traffic cameras apparently are more difficult to refer to, since many are fake (ie do not record anything) or only take still photos, not video. Their angle is also often too high to see detail close up. To see the traffic cameras the police will need to put a formal request to the traffic bureau to get access to the footage – not an easy task apparently.
- Other than for discovering the number plate of the taxi, the reason for getting footage of you both entering and leaving the taxi, is that it can help to prove that you really did leave your stuff in the vehicle. Even if the driver is tracked down, if he is a thief, he could easily claim that you never had a bag with you, or that you took it when you left. While this evidence is not conclusive – he could claim that another passenger who was in the taxi after you has taken your stuff – it is better than nothing.
- Your next step is to put out a message on Beijing Jiaotong Tai (北京交通台) also known as “Beijing Jiaotong Guangbo”, Beijing’s traffic radio station and hope that the driver hears it. They broadcast on 103.9 FM. The office is located in the building to the east of the SciTech building on the south side of Jianguomenwai. The airplay slots for each announcement are allocated daily (you cannot book ahead). The best way to ensure you get a slot is to arrive at the office just before 9am when they start work and tell the receptionist what you want to do. You can put out more that one message in a day, by choosing the time slots in the provided form. It costs 300 RMB per time. Once again they don’t speak English so bring a Chinese speaker if needed. You may want to offer a reward for return of the lost items. I suggest offering 500 RMB less than you are prepared to pay. The person with your stuff may ask more (because they can!). Give a description of the key items lost, but leave some out of the broadcast so you can verify that the caller really has your stuff, by getting him to tell you what the other items are. He could be a fraudster who is after the reward money, as I discovered to my cost! It is probably a good idea to listen to the radio when the bulletin goes out to check it was correct.
- If somebody calls you, the first thing to do is to get them to verify that they actually have your stuff. Get them to list an item that was not in the radio bulletin. Do not agree to giving them any money before making sure they actually have the stuff. When making the exchange try to get them to meet you and pay them in cash at the time of the handover. Don’t pay any money until you have made sure they are really the person that has got your stuff – they could be someone who is just after the reward money. If they keep asking for more money, go and ask the advice of the police on how to proceed.
- There are over 270 different taxi firms in Beijing, so the chances of you finding the one with your stuff by calling each of them is a time consuming prospect with an unlikely outcome.
- One other thing you can try is to contact the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Lost & Found by calling the bilingual hotline 6204 1111 or by visiting their website here.
- Good luck!