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China, May 3, 2000

Watch Your Stuff, Theft is Rampant!

Mags disappear with ease in Beijing

She'd be nicer than I to the thief if we found him
Theft makes Jingmei mad
Ya have to wonder if it was authorized
Swiping the neighborhood!

Two days ago, Jingmei, and I went to the post office to mail a package to my friend in Shanghai. As we dealt with the usual bureaucratic bullshit of using the China-approved box, label, and mailing form (just like in Russia) Jingmei set down our bag of swim stuff and magazines. When I realized it was no longer with us, someone had already swiped it. I looked all over the post office several times; even barging through the line to see if we'd left it at the counter. No luck.

I was in shock! For the first time in a year of traveling and three years of living in wacked countries, someone swiped my stuff! I was so shocked; I couldn't believe it at first. Why would one of the uneducated peasants standing around the post office want swim goggles, a towel, and The Economist magazine? None of them could swim, that's for sure, and by the looks of 'em, they didn't bathe too often, so a towel was not a high priority. Finally, of all magazines for definitely English, and possibly Chinese illiterate person to steal, The Economist?! There aren't even a dozen photos in the whole damn magazine!

I could only come to one conclusion: they stole the plastic bag of my stuff precisely because it was mine. Laowai (foreigner) stuff. The curiosity of what I would carry with me, or the greed that it might have some value, overwhelmed them. They're gonna be very disappointed with my old and very scratched goggles, thin towel I bought at a street stall in Beijing, and a three month old magazine. Serves 'em right, I guess.

Now, I was willing to write that off as a random occurrence. A special case since the peasants in that particular post office were dirt poor, and anything semi-Western, even my crap, was worth the good beating I, then the police, would have given them. That was till I finally went to the pool I was headed to that day.

This time, Jingmei, and I skipped the post office and went directly to a pool and sauna in the bottom of a posh apartment building. The pool wasn't all that amazing, but the 20 quai door charge (around $2.50 USD) is enough to keep out the peasants and would lead me to believe that the occupants would be of a decent social caliber.

We swam, with me buying special 'laowai' goggles that had an adjustable nose strap, since the 'normal' goggles were not designed with a Western nose in mind, and afterwards hit the saunas. I was in the guy's sauna, reading a new Newsweek my mom just sent me that day. After I was thoroughly worked with a few hot sauna/cold shower/hot sauna sessions over an hour's time, I'd finished the Newsweek, and went to see if Jingmei was done. I wasn't the only one in the sauna, and they'd all seen me come and go a few times.

I talked with Jingmei a few minutes, but by the time I returned, the magazine and all the guys who'd been in the sauna were gone. My towel was still there this time, thankfully, though not concealing my magazine. The Newsweek was swiped, my second English news loss in a week! Now, maybe one of the guys the sauna could read English, and wanted to practice, but to take my mag? That's just too much! I would've given it away, since I'd read it from cover to cover, though I was hoping to have a bit of control over who got it next.

Interestingly enough, looking in the Friendship store yesterday, there was the same issue staring out from the magazine rack. If the guy wanted one so bad, he could've bought one his own damn self. Now I know. Never leave anything Western alone in China.

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