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A thief, me, and the PSB (Public Security Bureau)

By Brian Hennessy - posted Thursday, 13 August 2009

I had my wallet pick-pocketed recently near my home in Chongqing, China.

The thief was slick and quick, and by the time I reacted he was several metres away and running and dodging like Matt Giteau (an Australian rugby player) on steroids.

I gave chase. Down some concrete stairs, over a protective barrier, and down to the scrubby and rocky steep riverbank below. But I couldn’t keep up with him. So I doubled back to the riverside freeway above, and headed for another place downriver where I thought he might exit the riverbank and make his escape.


Sure enough, I found him there, sauntering along, thinking that he had shaken off this old foreigner. I threw my penknife at him hoping to slow him down a little before I tackled him, but the handle-end hit first and bounced off his shoulder. So more running.

Young feet are more agile, however (he was about 25), and although I am a fit old buggar who exercises regularly, all I could do was scream “Police” as I chased him past humble floating restaurants and their clientele hoping that they would get a good look at him and call the police.

My injuries? Two damaged ankles and sundry cuts and bruises sustained during two chases across steeply-angled rocky ledges above the river … plus injured pride for dropping my guard in a known dodgy area.

When I returned to the freeway to get my bearings and plan my next move, I noticed that police were patrolling the road in the air-conditioned comfort of their late model VW Passats. (It was a hot day, folks, don’t be too hard on them.) The boat-people had telephoned them.

Their response was a show only, so I ignored them and continued my own search along the riverbank. Any thief with half a brain would avoid an open road patrolled by mobile cops.

About an hour later though, I gave up the search. So I tapped on the window of one of the police-cars parked beside the kerb and told the officer my story as best I could given my less-than-fluent Chinese. Then I called my wife (who is an English-speaking Chinese) and asked her to come and help me with the detail.


The officer motioned for me to get in the car.

This was a mistake. Now I would be part of a police process which would have to run its course. But I didn't know that then.

The officer then got out of the car, but insisted that I stay in the air-conditioned comfort of the vehicle. He was polite but firm. He gave me a bottle of water, called his base, and next minute three more police vehicles arrived, blocking any escape. By me, not the thief.

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About the Author

Brian is an Australian author, educator, and psychologist who lived in China for thirteen years. These days he divides his time between both countries.

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