I've had the privilege and adventure of visiting 50 different countries in my lifetime.  The vast majority of these have come in the last eight years, as a result either of business travel or adjuncts to it.  I've been to some rough places, very "foreign" places, and never really had any travel problems.  Only once in all this time had any human ever attempted anything malicious towards me.

Until last night.

And it was just plain stupid -- I might as well have had a bullseye painted on my forehead.

Kuala Lumpur has a big problem with "rush hour" traffic congestion in the city center.  In discussion with my colleagues, we agreed that the LRT -- light rail -- would be faster in getting from my hotel to the Lotusphere event yesterday.  Along the US35¢ journey, I got to see an interesting local phenomena -- the Malaysians queue up to board trains in orderly lines during rush hour.   This is good, because I had to wait four trains for my turn to board.  

Anyway, after yesterday's event was over, I doubled back towards the KLCC LRT station, several bags worth of shopping results in my hands, along with the laptop bag over my shoulder.  I got on the escalator down into the station area, and found my way blocked by someone else who got on it just at the same time as me.  As I moved to go around him, he moved, too.  He bumped into me, but apologized.  This happened once more, after which he turned and grabbed the handles of my bags as if to help me carry them.  I pulled away and walked off.

You probably already realize, based on the setup, what happened.  While dude #1 was busy distracting me, unseen dude #2 had opened my laptop bag's zipper.  Thankfully, the Tumi design (and the way I have the bag packed) made it difficult to try to lift my laptop itself.  But they took my travel wallet.  I didn't notice until a few minutes later, when I was in queue to buy an LRT ticket and noticed the bag open.  Another minute went by before I realized that meant something was missing, and it all clicked.

I retraced my steps, but of course they were long gone.  The LRT ticket agent was of no help, and told me to go to the police.  I went back into KLCC, and their security guard -- while helpful -- said it wasn't their property.  There was a security camera pointing right at the escalator where it happened, and I pointed this out to the guard, but he could do nothing.

Dejected, I got in a taxi and headed back to the Hilton.

Now fate, God, something protected me yesterday.  Normally, my passport would have been in that travel wallet.  I don't need the lecture about that being a bad idea -- I get it.  And in some "hotspots", I don't carry my passport there, but rather on my person.  In yesterday's case, it was simply that I took the passport out of my bag when I left the convention center during a break, and never put the passport back.  So, all that was truly lost was my airline ticket home, a credit card, frequent flyer/hotel cards (no loss), receipts from this trip (some replaceable, some just lost), and some souvenirs (pictures from the Singapore event, boarding passes, and a small collection of currency from about ten countries -- each note US$1 or less in value).

The staff at the Hilton Kuala Lumpur was incredibly helpful upon my return.  The hotel's security team talked to me about what happened and offered assistance.  After I squared away the airline ticket (curses for paper tickets, thankfully going away forever soon), Hilton's security detail sent an officer with me to the K-L Tourist Police.  As was pointed out, it's not so much that I needed a police report, but that the local police needed to know that a tourist had been pickpocketed in plain sight of hundreds of others, at one of the busiest tourist spots in all of K-L.

I debated whether or not to blog this adventure.  I had so many positive experiences here in K-L over the last three days (and on two prior visits).  I love being able to get a great bowl of noodles for the equivalent of US$1 (ok, at the hotel's noodle bar, it's more like US$7, but the noodle guys are great to talk to).  I find the Malay art and culture to be fascinating.  I marvel at some of the architecture.  But I've learned an important travel lesson, perhaps a few years later than necessary -- don't let your guard down, don't be a target, and sometimes fastest isn't the best way to travel.

I'm off to the airport in an hour or so...yes, on a train ("only 28 minutes!").  But at my flight connection to Chicago, I am planning a treat to get rid of some of the stress of last night's adventure.  And I'll be thinking about how to do things differently, safely, for next time.

Post a Comment