Life. Is. Nuts. I can not believe how many times I have been in bizarre situations in China and came out of them like a bo$$. Some of my friends, on the other hand…well, that’s a different story.
Working your way through an emergency in China is merely all about luck and connections. If you can speak the language, you’re going to make out better than a tourist. If you’re Chinese, you’re at the top of the ladder. If you have a good support system like local or determined friends, even better.
While all of these occurrences are going to seem extremely irresponsible, I’ll go ahead and consider myself the chosen one. I’ve experienced some of these things so that you don’t have to.
Here are a few bumps in the road my friends and I have endured over the last four years that put me at liberty to give some pointers. Of course, everything will play out individually and not all of these are success stories. But, if you have a solid foundation on how to prepare for some of these scenarios, you may end up just as lucky as me.
What If I’m Locked Out?
This sucks. In any country. But houses in China have the weirdest locks and heaviest doors. Not only do people get locked out, I’ve actually known people that have been locked in, which is certainly much funnier than the former.
So what do you do? Well, if this happens at a reasonable hour, your school should likely have a spare key to your apartment. Call them up and get it. That, my friend, is best case scenario.
Worst case scenario is getting locked out after a day of heavy drinking on a very, very cold winter night with a dead cell phone. Does this sound strangely specific? Well, that’s because it happened to me.
Around 1am my neighbor woke up to the sounds of my friend and I banging on my door to wake up my boyfriend to let us in. He was stone-cold passed out from a day of takin’ a load off at some of our favorite bars.
There was no waking him up.
My neighbor would have welcomed us in, but her place is teeny-tiny and there was literally no room for us in addition to her family. She called the Chinese emergency number for us at 110, China’s 911.
They couldn’t get the door open, so the police took us to the station, and that was pretty much it. We had to wait there until about 6am when my boyfriend woke up. It wasn’t life-saving, but it was much safer and practical than sitting out in the cold all night.
Moral of the story: Make sure your school has a spare key or you have someone who can help you call the cops.
What If I Lose Something in a Taxi?
It happens all over the world. Some of the bad taxi’s even bank on it.
A sure-fire way to get your belongings back is to ALWAYS ask for a receipt as you’re paying for your taxi, like this: Qǐng gěi piào. (Please, give me my receipt.)
You can also just point to the meter and say “gěi”, which means “give” if your Chinese isn’t so hot.
The receipt has the taxi info on it and sometimes the driver info. If you have this, you’re golden. Have someone at your school contact the police or taxi service to get your missing item back. If the item is gone at that point, the company will be responsible for replacing it.
Again, this is best case scenario. But when you’re in a rush, which most of us usually are here, you may not always remember to ask.
So what do you do then? Well, speaking from experience, it won’t be easy.
May 1st, 2014 I went from Hohhot by train to Beijing to meet with a friend, which would be followed by a bullet train to Tianjin. After a 10-hour half standing, half sitting ride, we hopped in a taxi to Wudaokou (a sub-district in Beijing) and put our suitcase in the trunk. Our friend met us outside of her apartment and we got so excited that we quickly paid, ran out of the taxi to hug her, and realized we forgot our suitcase after about 20 minutes of arriving.
The taxi was long gone by then.
Luckily, everything in our suitcase was replaceable, but we had some solid friends with us that were determined to help us track it down. We ended up having to put off our weekend in Tianjin, big bummer, but our friends were more than understanding.
We spent the entire day going from police station to police station watching footage of us from the security cameras that line the streets. All the footage of us in Wudaokou couldn’t get the license plate number of the taxi, and the cops were clearly getting burnt out from listening to our frantic and poorly coordinated Chinese.
We ended up having to go back to the police station at the train station we arrived from where we happened to have an awesome, English-speaking police officer help us.
He let us watch all the footage of our arrival, zoomed-in on the footage of us getting into a taxi, and helped us contact the driver of the taxi after we figured out what the scrambled license plate said. Once we got in touch with the driver, he explained our suitcase was in the taxi, and he’d be at the police station in an hour.
We got it back, AND got to spend a day in Tianjin. Check out me and that amazing sunset! #lucky #blessed #ohmygod
Moral of the story: Ask for your receipt every time and never forget to look in the trunk.
What If I lose My Pet?
I’m writing this as I am in the coping process of dealing with it. We just lost our dog, Carl, May 1st, 2015. Can you believe it? Exactly one year after losing our suitcase, we let our dog run away.
We live in an incredibly safe neighborhood called a hutong. Beijing has tons of them, and they’re perfect for pet-owners. Carl hangs out on our front stoop, people watches regularly, constantly gets fed all kinds of treats from our neighbors and gets all kinds of love from passerbyers.
The boy is spoiled.
After 8 months of staying loyal off the leash and always coming back home, he decided to follow one of these people home.
Not only was he used to being off the leash, he was also unregistered. In Beijing. China. A country not known for it’s animal-friendly policies.
We posted immediately on WeChat and all of our friends shared it. We printed 300 flyers and posted them all over Dongcheng district and searched for him from about 3pm to sundown.
After giving up for the night and starting to map out how we’d go about it the following day, we sat down to have dinner.
Now, I’m not sure how this happened, but I must have unknowingly done something Mother Theresa-like.
Out of nowhere, Brendan gets an add on WeChat from some girl asking if Carl is our dog.
She turns out to be the person he followed home (he loves girls) and ended up hanging out with her for about an hour. She didn’t know what to do, so she left him outside thinking he was a stray (he was having a bad hair day) and he stayed there waiting for her, but ended up barking at other dogs enough to annoy the neighbors.
One of the neighbors decided he’d better go to the pound just in case.I was almost positive he was going to end up like this.
We ended up being reunited with him after a cold and lonely 24 hours.
#ohmygod #blessed #WHAT
Moral of the story: Make sure your pet is registered and that you act as quickly as possible on missing pets.
What If I Get Pick-Pocketed?
This is actually something has not happened to me, but it has happened to several people I know.
Where does it happen? In busy, touristy, and shady areas. Who does it happen to? People who aren’t paying attention or have valuable items visible.
This is one of the easiest and risk-free crimes to get away with in China. I actually know two girls with the same name (weird, right?) that were both pick-pocketed while riding their bikes listening to their iPhones. Before they knew it, the music was gone and so were their cellular devices.
Did they get their phones back? No way. They will probably have a Brother Orange scenario happen in the near future.
While the Chinese may not hold you up at knife-point in a dark alley, they will quickly reach a hand in your pocket during broad daylight and take off in the blink of an eye.
One of my applicants arrived in Beijing and had 5,000RMB (about $800) stolen right from his pocket after getting on the bus. He had only been here two days. I have no idea why anyone would bring their entire savings in cash anywhere in the world, but the thief that took it certainly made out P-H-A-T that day.
I’ve avoided this my whole duration in China by never keeping things in my pocket and clenching my purse like a looney. I definitely never bring more than 500RMB (about $80) out with me at once. My boyfriend avoids this by putting his wallet and phone in his front pockets when we go to heavily populated places.
Moral of the story: Always be aware of your surroundings and never bring mass amounts of money out in public. If you’re staying at a hotel and are worried it will go missing from your room, use a hotel that provides safes.
Like I already mentioned, I’ve been lucky. However, I’ve also been aware and quick to act when shitty things happen to me. Not every city in China has a ton of security cameras lining the streets. Not every city has English-speaking police or incredibly sweet neighbors. But if you’re able to take the advice that nobody gave me when I moved to China, you could end up in better shape than some other people.
What’s the scariest things that happened to you abroad? How did you get out of it? Share advice and stories in comments below!