Some years back I traveled in February in north China through the Gobi desert. It sounds worse then it was, I traveled by train despite an outside temperature of minus 10C at daytime. It was amazing to see the Gobi desert in the snow.
During that journey I was in cities like Hohot, Lanzhou and later in Xining. From here my plan was to travel south into a primarily Tibetan and Muslim area. The idea was to have my first stop in Linzhia, and then to Xiahe where there the famous Labrang Monastery, one of the biggest Tibatan monasteries in China, but outside Tibet and then further to Langmusi, Zoige, Songpan and finally Chengdu.
In the morning I went to the bus stop, bought a ticket and looked for the bus. There was only one bus ready at this small bus station.
Luggage goes always on top of the bus, with a piece of plastic covering it for rain, snow and other weather elements. So I pulled my pack over and made sure it was wrapped proper so I wouldn’t loose it. Satisfied, I got my seat in the bus, waiting for leaving, which should be any minute.
I looked out of the window and… saw someone walking away with a black/purple backpack. It couldn’t be mine, could it? I went out of the bus and saw my pack was gone. And so was the guy who took it.
My backpack contained almost everything I had with me except money, camera, dairy which I had in a small day pack, plus, of course the clothes I was wearing. All my film rolls were gone too (that’s why I can not offer a photo of Xining, I don’t have any from that trip). Nothing from the beautiful Gobi desert, Mutianyu Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and other sights I saw earlier that week in and around Beijing.
The driver was upset too. The police came, and I found someone to help me out with the translation about what happened. The bus was scheduled to leave at 8am but at 11 the bus was still there. At a certain moment the bus driver came to me and asked if it was OK that the bus would go on it’s journey. After discussing with the police, I agreed the bus could go without me (although I would not get my ticket back).
The agent turned out to be a very friendly and helpful guy who put my story in Chinese on an official paper, which was then translated by a very helpful lady who spoke English (she was an English teacher although I doubt her students would learn to speak proper English from her as her English was very basic).
After all the police work, I got the paper for the insurance. It was written on very thin paper but it made the journey home and I got a refund for my goods from the insurance company. But as it goes, you can reply materials, books, even a camera, you can not replace a photo made at a specific time.
The lady asked me to join her and her family for dinner. She told me she was embarrassed with the behaviour of her fellow countrymen. I told her this behaviour can happen anywhere, just bad luck it happened here and now.
The dinner was held in her own house, which is rare in China. Usually your Chinese friends bring you to a restaurant. However, this was my first experience of the Chinese hospitality. The family was not rich but special for the occasion they had bought chicken feet (my first experience with chicken feet) and other great food. After the pain of the loss of my backpack, this was giving the day a good end.
What is left is the memory of those early days of my first journey in China. What was more important is the memory of a theft and the help you get when you really need it. I have always been grateful for the people who helped me out that day.
Later that journey I had a small Chinese military backpack, which never had to be on top of the bus. However, some months after I cam back in Holland, I went again to China, and again with a backpack. And again, I had most of the time the pack on the roof of the bus. Most of the time there was simply not enough space in the bus have a big back in anyway. That day in Xining was the only time my backpack was stolen. Bad day maybe, and in many ways I learned a lesson. But I got help in solving the problems, yin and yang, you loose some, you win some. Trust me, I did win quite a bit that day.
Since those days I have traveled, mostly on bicycle, many places including several years in China, but I never went back to Xining.