It was a bit of a trek from our Yangtze cruise to Shanghai. We’d taken the bus directly to Yichang East Train Station, and luckily were just in time to get tickets for the next train to Wuhan. It was a bit of a scramble but we made it. Trains directly from Yichang East to Shanghai were very long and very slow, and so we’d decided to go via Wuhan – a much faster option.
From Wuhan Station we managed to take a local bus to the other train station [of course we had to change stations!] where we could take an overnight train onwards to Shanghai. However, when we arrived at the station we saw that the ticket hall was closed. We tried using the automatic ticket machine and it told us that the train we wanted had no seats available. We weren’t too happy, as three days earlier – before we left on the cruise – we’d seen that there were approximately 700 tickets available. Dejected, we were trying to figure out our options when we saw a sign pointing upstairs to a second ticket office. Not wanting to get our hopes up we ascended the stairs to find an OPEN ticket office! And, even better, there were definitely seats available and we secured two hard-sleeper tickets for the overnight train leaving about an hour and a half later.
The train trip itself was uneventful. The open carriages had bunks three-high, and John had a bottom berth while I had a top. There was so little space on the top that I had to crawl into the bed and I couldn’t actually sit up at all. Still, it was comfortable enough for the night. John however was not so comfortable as the beds were about half a foot shorter than he was. He thankfully dealt with the problem fairly well.
Arriving in Shanghai at about 7am, we were both exhausted from a poor night sleep. We lined up to buy metro tickets and were eventually waiting for a train.
The trains were packed. It’s hard to describe how packed the metro in Shanghai is at peak hour. For some form of reference the greater area of Shanghai has a population of more than 23 million people where as the entire population of Australia comes in at around 22 million. So it’s crazy! It’s safe to say that sardines in their tins are significantly more comfortable than we were. They’ve got legroom – or would, if they had legs. We were being pushed and shoved and squashed from all sides, and each time we thought that there was no possible way that any more people could fit in the carriage, the train stopped and another forty people forced their way in.
We got off the train, got out of the station and I checked my pocket for my phone to confirm the directions to our hostel.
There was no phone in my pocket.
John checked his pocket. Passport, there. Phone, there.
Wallet, not there.
The metro had been so goddamned packed that neither of us had noticed we’d been pickpocketed until it was far too late.
Unfortunately John hadn’t listened to me when I recommended that he didn’t keep all his cards in the one place. He had everything in that wallet. Without it, he couldn’t access any funds at all. [Lucky he has an amazing girlfriend who still had her wallet!].
We were pissed. There wasn’t anything we could do except head to our hostel – we hoped we were going the right way – and figure it out from there.
The hostel we stayed at, City Central Hostel, was the single most useless hostel I have ever stayed at. I’ve never come across such unhelpful, uncaring staff in any of my travels. I’ll admit I took great joy in leaving them a very negative review.
We explained that we’d been pick-pocketed on our way there and I’d had my iPhone stolen, while John had his wallet with credit card and bank cards stolen. They demanded full payment upfront and suggested if we didn’t have cash we could pay on credit. [????]
They wouldn’t allow us to use a phone to make a local call to the English speaking police so that we could find out where we needed to go to report the theft and get a police report for insurance purposes. They also wouldn’t tell us where we could find a police station. We needed to get online so that we could find the emergency contact numbers for John’s banks, however the wifi wasn’t working. The ethernet cable in our room [which had advertised cable internet in room] was broken and so we couldn’t access the internet. They wouldn’t tell us where we could get internet access. After much discussion and requests that they consider being remotely helpful they told us to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tourist branch, on the other side of Shanghai.
It took 3 changes on the metro and about 45 minutes walk to get there, as we’d received terrible directions. When we arrived we were laughed at by the staff and told they only handle lost and stolen passports. Thanks, City Central. The guy at the desk there wrote something in Chinese on a bit of paper and told us to take a taxi to whatever it was. He didn’t know if it was near or far however. We got in a taxi and it took us to a police station about 10 minutes drive away. There, we were fortunate to find a woman who spoke English and was able to translate our request to the officers. As it turned out, the police station was also the wrong place to go. We had to go to the Subway Police [and no, they don't make sandwiches].
Another bit of writing on another bit of paper and we found a taxi to drop us off at Longyang Rd Metro Station. There, we had no luck finding any police and asked at the customer service desk. I don’t think the girl there understood that we wanted directions to the police office there – she instead called them and they came to meet us. I was worried that they’d think there was some emergency.
Fortunately, the metro police officer who came to meet us spoke a bit of English. Not a lot, but enough that we were able to explain our situation. He took us to their office and after about an hour and a half of repeating the same thing, pointing out on maps where the pickpocketing may have occurred, we were able to walk out with the required police report. I’ve paid for travel insurance and it covers stolen phones – it’s the first time I’ve had to actually use travel insurance and they absolutely require a police report, filed within 24 hours. So we had to report it that day.
Back at the hostel the wifi worked well enough that it only took about half an hour to open a single website and obtain an overseas contact phone number. If you detect a note of sarcasm there, congratulations. There’s a bucketload of sarcasm there. The phone number was reverse-charge and the hostel wouldn’t let us use their phone, but happily sold us an international calling card that did not work. We tried for about fifteen minutes, following all instructions, and were repeatedly told by an unpleasant automated voice that we didn’t have permission to call those numbers. We got the staff there to try [seriously, the phone was high for John to use and they legitimately got a dwarf to climb up on a chair] and they couldn’t use it either. Still, they weren’t very happy about refunding the card that they knew we couldn’t use. And even despite this, they still wouldn’t let us make a reverse charge call. They admitted that if the calling card didn’t work nothing would, and that their internet was too utterly useless to make a Skype call, but basically – not their problem.
We were very lucky in that a group of American girls staying their overheard our conversations with the staff [to be fair, so did almost everyone in the common room - it's not that big] and were equally unimpressed with the reaction we’d got from the staff. They offered to let us use their phone to call the bank – building up karma, they said. John was able to call his banks and have his cards cancelled, but not, of course, before some f&^#ing thief had used his credit card. Which wouldn’t have happened if we’d stayed at a hostel staffed with human beings and they’d let us make a phone call that wouldn’t have cost them anything – and which we’d offered money for anyway. John was extremely thankful at the assistance rendered by some wonderful travellers.
It’s horrible, but I’m really hoping that the girls working there end up in a similar situation one day and everyone they ask for help basically tells them, sorry – not my problem. Go find someone who gives two shits. Karma goes both ways, and I think we’re both really counting on it kicking them in the arse. We’ve definitely got some good karma to pay forward!
Incidentally – I can’t say it enough – if you’re going to Shanghai, DON’T stay at City Central Hostel. Just don’t. Also, don’t take the metro in peak hour. It’s so packed that you don’t know you’ve been pickpocketed until it’s too late.