Traveler Mishaps – Getting my iPhone Stolen in Shanghai, China


Traveling is an amazing risk when you think about it. You’re vulnerable and exposed, traveling with just a suitcase, armed with a few phrases of a foreign language, and open to anything and everything. As beautiful as travel is, it can also be full of stress and mishaps waiting to happen. After spending two years abroad, I’ve had my shares of both beautiful and stressful moments. Traveling without stress is nearly impossible, which is why I decided to start a new series – the Traveler Mishaps. In two years of travel, I have had plenty of travel mishaps. In this series, I will describe how I handled them, and how you should probably handle them if you ever find yourself having to deal with a travel misadventure while abroad. I think it’s important to not only share the great, amazing things that happen to us while we travel, but also share some of the stressful moments that made us feel a little unsafe, vulnerable, and stressed to show that travel is a beautiful risk, but one that is still worth taking.

Getting my iPhone Stolen in Shanghai, China
What Happened:

My iPhone has always been my lifeline, and it was even more so while I was living in China. I used my iPhone to call home, text, connect with Facebook, and check the news back home. One day I was walking back to my apartment after shopping at Miniso (an awesomely cheap store that sells everything) and buying some fruit from my favorite fruit stand, when I checked my purse for my phone. It wasn’t there! I emptied out my purse in a frenzy, throwing everything on my apartment floor. This was the one thing I had always feared! My iPhone was my connection to everything, and here it was gone.


What I Did:
After a few panicked moments that involved screaming and throwing stuff, I decided to engage my calm and rational side. I still had my iPad which had the useful “Find my iPhone” app. I decided it was worth a shot —until I remembered that my iPhone was dead and probably wouldn’t be emitting signs of life even if it was in the hands of a thief.

After cursing my inability to keep my phone charged, I decided to retrace my steps. I realized I had no idea when it could have been stolen. Was it on the bus? Was it at Miniso? Was it at the fruit stand? I decided first to check the fruit stand, which was about half a mile away. I ran to the fruit stand as fast as I could, and started looking around, attracting the suspicion of the fruit stand ladies. I smiled and pointed to a phrase in my Mandarin phrasebook that said, “My phone has been stolen” while also using my best non-verbal communication skills to imitate talking on a telephone. They smiled and looked at each other, and started talking to me in Mandarin. I smiled and shrugged, indicating I had no idea what they were saying. One of them pointed at the bus stop across the street. Hmmm, maybe I dropped it over there? Is that what they’re trying to tell me? I nodded and smiled again, and headed to the bus stop across the street. My eyes were glued to the ground, for any signs of my iPhone, which was encased in a bright coral case. Curious bus stop bystanders looked at me, probably thinking I was some crazy foreigner.

After keeping my eyes glued to ground and finding nothing, I decided my next bet would be Miniso. After all, I had spent nearly an hour in there looking for journals, pens, and sheet masks. I went to the young clerk with bright magenta lipstick and again pointed to my phrasebook. The clerk smiled nervously and went to get her manager. The manager, who also was wearing bright magenta lipstick (did their dress code policy include the stipulation that they must wear magenta lipstick?), came out and I again pointed to my “stolen phone” phrase in my phrasebook. The manager got out her phone and started typing in a translating app.

“Are you sure you lost it here?” she typed out.

I nodded yes.

“When do you think you lost it?” she typed out.

I shrugged.

“What time were you at the store?” she typed out again.

I said one of the few Chinese words I knew, “Qi,” which meant seven in Chinese.

The manager went to a computer, where I could see surveillance images from inside the store. The manager rewound the tape back to 7PM. There I was sitting on the aisle near the journals, spending inordinate amounts of time going through each one of them. She fast forwarded the footage, which showed nothing unusual.

The manager saw my disheartened look, and typed out on her phone, “You can come back tomorrow, after we clean the store we may find it.”

I smiled and said thank you and left the store. I was losing faith by the moment, until I saw my last hope drive by – the 803 bus. I rushed onto the bus and found the usually inattentive bus attendant looking up at me, my aura of stress and panic must have caught her attention.

I pointed to my phrase book, and she shook her head indicating they she hadn’t seen a phone.

She started talking in Mandarin to a lady nearby who spoke some English.

“What kind of phone is it?” the lady asked me.

“An iPhone,” I replied.

The lady gave me a look that said I was screwed, as she translated for the bus attendant who also gave me a sad look that my search was hopeless.

The bus attendant did go a step further and called one of the other bus attendants on one of the other 803 buses asking if she had seen an iPhone. The bus attendants tone and look indicated that she had not found an iPhone.

I thanked the women and got off the bus, as I walked dejectedly back to my apartment.

I never did recover my iPhone, and to this day I have no idea when or how it was stolen, if it was stolen, or if it was lost and then stolen. I was able to get a new iPhone shipped to me by my parents from the United States, which arrived a month later and spent nearly three weeks tied up in Chinese customs.


What You Should Do:
If you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, I would still say don’t lose hope. If your phone was lost you have a better chance of getting it back depending on where you are. I knew someone in Taiwan who lost his phone in a taxi after a drunken night out. The taxi driver eventually tracked him down and gave him his phone back. If your phone was actually stolen, the chances of you locating or getting it back are slim to none. Filing a police report is a hassle, but it is one step you can take. In China, I was told it was futile to do so, so I never followed up and just accepted it as a loss. The best step you can take is preventative measures – always, always, keep an eye on your phone. Today, I keep my phone in a safe place when I’m out and about and I always make sure to do a phone check to make sure it’s still nestled safely in my purse.

Share your tales of traveler mishaps in the comments!

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One thought on “Traveler Mishaps – Getting my iPhone Stolen in Shanghai, China

  1. I think when travelling don’t try to show your phone out in the public. Always use it only when its essential to do so. Keep your profile very low especially you don’t look like a local person. Same thing with the expensive camera in hand.

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