A big shout out and thank-you to the Chengdu, China police department and the staff of the Holiday Inn Express Chengdu Gulou. I narrowly escaped a pretty disastrous situation when we checked in last Friday night.
We arrived in Chengdu after a seven hour train trip and took a taxi from the train station to the hotel. The taxis are quite small here and usually we can only fit our two carry-on suitcases in the trunk and put our small backpacks in the backseat with us. That night I decided to put mine in the front seat and Susan and I sat in the backseat.
We got to the hotel around midnight. I was tired. We got our bags out of the trunk, paid the driver, walked the thirty steps into the lobby, gave them my name and passports. Then Susan said, “Where is your backpack?” I had left it in the cab which had just left 30 seconds earlier. I ran out of the lobby. The taxi was gone! I know there was no way the driver couldn’t have not noticed my bag right beside him in the front seat. He probably thought he hit the jackpot and got a nice bag full of electronics.
The front desk person said, “Let me check the security camera,” and rushed into a back room. She came back a few minutes later and unfortunately, due to it being night and the bright headlights, the license plate was washed out and couldn’t be read. She showed me the pictures. Yup, there was the taxi and us getting out, but you couldn’t make out the license number.
This was bad. My iPad, Surface Pro 3 computer tablet, half of my credit cards, my Canadian passport (I carry my American passport with me), Susan’s medication and some clothes were all in that bag. I asked to call the police. I had pretty well resigned myself to the fact that the bags were gone, but wanted to at least have a police report in case my travel insurance would cover this.
The hotel called the police and then told me that the police station was just a couple of blocks away and we should walk there. They sent along one of their staff with me to translate. Halfway to the station, the hotel employee’s cell phone rang. “The police are at the hotel. Let’s go back.” When we got back to the hotel there were a couple of policemen who looked like they couldn’t have been any older than their late twenties. They asked a few questions through the hotel employee and took a look at the photos from the security camera.
They told us to accompany them to the police station. The interpreter and I got into the police car and drove the three blocks to the police station. We went upstairs into a room with about a dozen or so monitors were on the walls looking at traffic cameras. A young lady who looked like she was in her early 20s looked intensely at her monitor, pulling up footage from traffic cameras in the area. After about 5 minutes of looking, the person from the hotel who was doing the interpreting told me, “They have searched the cameras in the streets in the area and they can’t find any clear shots of the license plate.” As she was speaking, the person scanning the camera records said something excitedly in Chinese. We went over to the desk, “Is this the car?” they asked. It certainly looked like it and we had a clear view of the license plate!
Next we went downstairs and they got on another computer and entered the license plate number. A minute or two later they called me over to look at the photo that showed up as the owner of the car. “Is that the driver?” Yes, it was!
“Now they have to find the phone number. There is not a phone number on the license plate registration.” Someone went into another room and about 10 minutes later came back with a telephone number. The oldest police officer in the room picked up the phone and called the number. By now it was about 1:00AM. Apparently, someone answered and a conversation took place in Chinese. After they hung up, the interpreter from the hotel told me, “The phone number was for the brother of the driver. That was who the officer talked to. The brother is going to call the driver and he will call back in a few minutes.”
Sure enough, in about two minutes the phone rang. Apparently it was the driver. The police spoke with the officer and then they told me. “The driver said that he just noticed the missing bag now when he got the call from his brother.” I had a very hard time believing that. The was a 46-liter bag, not that small. It was sitting beside the driver on the front seat. There is no way he didn’t notice it. “He is going to bring the bag back to the hotel now. It will take about 30 minutes for him to get there.”
I could hardly believe it! I thought my bag and contents were long gone, my iPad and Surface Pro 3 tablet already sold or in someone else’s hands, and someone using my credit cards to charge things. Here they were telling me I would have my bag back in a half hour. We walked the couple of blocks back to the hotel. The hotel employee told me, “You are very tired. Go up to your room. When the bag arrives, we will call you and bring it up to the room.” No way, I thought. I am not going to be able to sleep until I really get it back anyway. I told them I would wait in the lobby. Sure enough, about 35 minutes later, a car pulled up and two guys got out and opened the back door. There was my bag! It wasn’t the driver or the car that dropped me off. Apparently it was the guy’s brother and a friend. I took a quick look in the front pocket of my backpack. My iPad, Surface Pro 3 and credit cards will still there. Chances were the rest of it was there as well.
So, thanks to the police officers at the Taisheng Road Police Station and the staff of the Holiday Inn Express Chengdu Gulou, I had my bag back! I know it was my own fault and my negligence in not making sure I had all of my belongings before I let the taxi go. I was extremely grateful for the time and effort taken by the hotel staff and police.
I wondered if the same thing happened back in the States, would I have the same outcome? Maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all in the first place. I would have probably used Uber and would have been able to call the driver immediately and if I didn’t get satisfaction from him could have taken it up with Uber itself, they wouldn’t want bad publicity. If it was a regular cab company, I would assume that I would have remembered the taxi company name and been able to call the company. I assume there would be a record of the trip.
But what if not? Would the hotel in the USA have someone that spoke my native tongue at the hotel and have them accompany me to the police station? Would the police in a city of 14 million people dedicate two or three officers for 45 minutes to an hour reviewing traffic cameras and making phone calls for me if finding my bag? My guess is probably not. My guess is that in most cities the police would have taken down the information and told me, “If we hear anything, we will get back to you.” They probably have more important things to do.
- Only use licensed taxis
- Make a note of and/or snap a quick picture with my phone of the car license plate and/or taxi number
- When I am tired, take extra care and take my time making sure I have all my belongings before I pay the driver. Take a quick look around in the trunk and front and back seats of the car one last time before paying. The driver is not going to go anywhere if they haven’t been paid.
Thankfully for me, this story has a happy ending and instead of losing my stuff and have to spend hours cancelling credit cards, filing an insurance claim and replacing lost stuff I only delayed a couple of hours of sleep and ended up with another travel story.