Yesterday, in the morning rush hour, I was puzzled by the presence of three fully-tricked-out SWAT team members carrying automatic weapons at the Dongdan station on Beijing's line 1.

Today, in the afternoon rush hour, I could have used the stern hand of the law. At 5:30 pm, the eastbound line 1 between Jianguomen and Guomao was so crammed with humanity that it brought to mind the glory days of the Tokyo subway when we lived there. There is a distinct feeling of having pressure on every surface of the body that I associate mainly with rush hour Asian-capital subways. I don't particular fear it (or love it), but it's part of the sensory package of Tokyo, and of Beijing's lines 1 and 2.

Then, as the train rolled into Guomao, most of this vast throng wanted to get off, including me. All were yelling at once, including me,下车! 下车! -- xia che! xia che! (getting off! getting off!) -- and had to push through a band of young country-looking men who stood inside the car right in front of the door. I finally popped out on the other side of them, as if from a rugby scrum, reaching the platform as the car's doors were closing behind me. At that second, with human pressure suddenly removed from all sides of my body, I instantly realized that my wallet wasn't there. I was wearing a business suit, with my wallet in a place it wouldn't have left by accident. There had been a distinctly manhandled sensation in fighting through the line at the door.

A planned routine by the squadron that was forcing all debarking passengers to clambor through them? Something that had happened earlier when my arms were pinned against my side? Who knows, and there is no point in wondering. Until you've seen a thronged Chinese subway station at rush hour, with a departing train pulling out, you don't realize the futility of trying to locate a culprit.

Immediately start calling the credit card companies in the U.S. Cancel the first one, no problem. The second, a Bank of America Visa card, "And we're showing that your most recent charge was for $5.16 at a Starbucks in Beijing." "Well, no...." "Yes, it was at 6:05 am" -- "That's 6:05pm here, which was ten minutes ago..." Now if only Beijing didn't have a couple hundred Starbucks outlets, I'd be on the guy like a hawk.

A subway pickpocket who then goes to Starbucks? This is an unpredictable place. And apart from the nuisance, it could have been worse. Not my passport. Not a lot of cash. Nothing of real sentimental value (apart from my FAA pilot's certificate! And my United 1K card, earned through many bitter trips back and forth to California last year). As my wife just said, consolingly, "It could have been your Kindle!"

I remember offering her support in similar loving tones when she was knocked down and injured (but not permanently) a few months ago by a motorbike that was going full speed the wrong way down a freeway-like, eight-lane, one-way section of the major thoroughfare Jianguo Lu. Silly her: she was looking in the direction the rest of the traffic was coming from. Land of adventure.

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