More on petty crime

Thanks to many who wrote in after my recent brush with a pickpocket gang in the Beijing Metro. Main themes that emerge:

- There's a lot of this going on in China, as in fact was predicted in the wake of recent large-scale factory and construction layoffs.

- There's always been a lot of this going on all around the world. From reader Pietro, who has lived in Europe, Africa, and North America:

There's more artistry in Africa. Once I stopped to take a look at a group of people surrounding a poor old man lying senseless on the pavement. My sadness was compounded by the feeling, seconds later, that his friends had consoled themselves with my wallet. Artsy setting, soft touch. Times have changed.

- The particular tactic I mentioned is time honored: confederates who create extra jamming and confusion in already-jammed circumstances, while the legerdemain artists do the snatching.

- Below and after the jump, an account from Charles Dukes, a Texan now of Beijing, about similar encounters.

- Legal sequelae: Within the few hours after we canceled our credit cards, someone tried to use them (and was turned down, with different cards) at what seems to be a fine-art dealership, for big ticket purchases. Nobody on that subway car particularly looked like an art hound, but who knows.

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Dukes's account begins:

In the days before there was a huge highway called Xizhimenwai, there was a wonderful two lane street with bike lanes.

A friend and I got on the 360 bus to go to Xiang Shan.

Somewhere past the Beijing Zoo, I noticed a little guy standing at the stop waiting for a bus. I don't know why he caught my eye, but he did.
He got on at the front of the bus.

As we lumbered along heading to the next stop, he worked his way toward us in the crowded bus, usually with one hand steadying himself with the overhead bar.

Finally, as we approached the next bus stop, he stopped and stood just in front of me on the step down, waiting for the door to open.

Just as the door opened, he turned to me, smiled and showed me five wallets he'd pilfered in the one-Beijing-block span of travel.

The door closed.

I asked my friend what we should have done about it. She asked me if he'd taken anything from me. I said, "No." Then she said, "Forget about it."

And this brings me to my favourite subway tale.

With my friend again, we got on the #2 Line subway at Yonghegong heading to Xizhimen. Back then (and maybe now as far as I know) the train often lingered at Jishuitan to adjust the train's route timing. (I guessed.)

A young woman, maybe a student, rushed to get on the train before the doors closed. In her hurry, her high-heeled foot slipped between the train and the platform, which at the time was quite close. Off balance because of the high-heeled shoes she was wearing, she fell down past her knee. Then the door closed once like they often do and she was still stuck.

I instantly looked left and right in the lightly loaded cabin and saw no one was going to do anything to help the woman. So I leaped up, grabbed the woman under her arms, lifted her up and spun her enough for her foot to be freed, like taking an old key out of a door lock, just as the door closed again and the train took off.

After ensuring she was okay and helping her sit down, I turned around, and realized that every eye in the train was on me. No one was smiling; in fact, there was no emotion at all.

My friend looked at me sternly and whispered, "What were you doing?"

The people were simply amazed that I did what I did. My friend explained that my getting involved could have made me responsible; therefore, I had acted irresponsibly and had, in fact, greatly embarrassed the woman I assisted, who never so much as said xiexie.

As far as wallets go, there's a reason why Beijing gals wear their backpacks up front. The thieves on some of the crowded buses can get dozens of wallets without people realizing they're gone in a trip, say, from Guomao to Tongzhou. In one case, shown on TV, the thieves used razor blades to access some amazing places in clothing and bags to get what they wanted and none of the victims realized they'd been had until later.

What's worse: in times like these, some people, far from getting very angry, "understand" it. Still, if you look carefully, you will see a lot of defensive behaviour taken by people, especially on crowded buses and subway trains.

We are definitely not in Dallas.