Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chinese Thieves Revealed

This is an issue that everyone who lives in a big city has to deal with. It's something unpleasant, disgraceful, kinda sad, and ultimately just sucks.

Yes, I’m talking about thieves, pick-pockets, purse snatchers, whatever you want to call it.

As a relatively forgetful person, I’ve had many encounters with people taking my stuff. The first time was probably in the 1st or 2nd grade when someone stole my bike in Ohio. My BMX "Batman" bike was great but some kid probably saw how cool it was and rode it away when I didn’t lock it up tight.

During my time in China, I have always been warned by my friends and relatives to be careful of thieves. They often recount horror stories they hear on the news: A guy walking around is stabbed for a cell phone or wallet, and guys on motorcycles drag a yuppie for a ways while trying to snatch her purse.

There are other stories about gangs of people working as a pack (ie. Ocean's 11 or Gangs of NY). I believed that these stories were true, but I had never experienced it myself.

Tuesday Morning, 7:10am, 东门中 bus stop.

I was waiting at the bus stop to go to work in the morning. Suddenly, a bus stops in front of me. Out jumps 2 guys followed by an angry women yelling and screaming, kicking 2 guys. You assholes, you tried to steal my cell phone!!! Fuck you!!

After her rant, she got back on the bus and it drove off. I watched this episode play out right in front of me. I had nothing else to do and it was kinda funny. Before I went back to sending a text message, I took a quick glance at the 2 guys as they walked away. No big deal.

5 minutes pass and I get hungry. I'm still waiting for my 106 bus, but I wanted to grab some breakfast nearby. I start looking around my stop to search for street vendors, and I immediately see one of the guys on the other side of the bus stop, creeping around.

I cant believe it, these thieves were going to work my stop!!

Different scenarios immediately popped into my head. Did I want to beat them up for being thieves and be the savior? Did I want to pretend I didn’t know what they were doing and try to be a "victim" of theirs? I finally decided on passively observing their interactions and how they operate.

As I watched them work, it seemed clear that they were not "professionals." When “professionals” come to mind, I think of Matt Damon pulling some guy's wallet on the bus in Ocean's 11, or the train snatch in Ocean's 12. These guys, although they probably did it for a living, were not that good. They didn’t have the look, feel or skill of a professional. What they did have, was the balls.

These two guys operated as a set. One guy (thief1), the one in the white dress shirt with black, cross shoulder bag pretended he was a regular guy going to work. He definitely looked the part. He walked around the stop, looked at the bus schedule, huffed and puffed and pretended to be late. At other times he would bust out his cell phone and pretend to start talking on it like he had important business to attend to.

Good concept, bad acting.

It was ultimately his job to locate the target, start talking to the target and work that avenue.

The 2nd guy (thief2) in the team of two was the guy dressed in all brown and his arms crossed. He stayed back, leering at different people and waited until his partner to make the initial move. After the thief1 started talking to someone, the thief2 would slowly move up behind the potential victim and set up shop. Again, the picture above shows them in action targeting a young guy in the black shirt (who's talking to thief1).

I observed thief2 much more than I did thief1. What I saw was that thief2 was very blatant in what he was doing. He would stay back and hang out to let his partner initiate the contact. However, when he was standing there, instead of being discreet and relaxed, he started looking around, almost too excited to maintain secrecy.

Whenever someone passed him, he immediately looked at their bag, wallet, cell phone, ect. There was no discreteness at all. It was like a fat kid looking into the glass of a cake store. Half the time when he was staring at everyone's bags and cell phones, almost drooling at them, I wanted to grab him, beat him up and then give him a lesson about covert operations. I'm no thief/pickpocket, but I bet I could do it a lot better than he could!

Ultimately, after these guys stayed around for 10 minutes, they didn’t see many good targets so they moved on to a different stop.

What's funny is that on 2 days later, I saw the duo again working the bus stop. However, after I got there, they immediately got onto a bus and left.

From my observations of this duo, the easiest way to recognize a thief is to look into his/her eyes. Most of the people doing petty theft are amateurs from the countryside. They are usually too greedy and too stupid do be discrete.

The eyes reveal all.

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