Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Left High & Dry In Paris


It happened more than three years ago.  It was a sponsored trip to run a marathon in Medoc in France by the French Tourism Singapore Office.  I truly enjoyed the marathon.  After the marathon in Medoc, I planned to visit Paris for few days before returning home.  Anyway, it was my first trip to France and I was all excited about it.

I took a domestic flight from Bordeaux to Paris and I remember I arrived at about 1500 hrs.  I have heard too much about Paris and I was very wary of strangers.  There were few who tried to come near me on the pretext of helping me at the airport arrival hall and I ignored them completely.  One of my mistakes was to put almost everything in my haversack.  My laptop, my passport, my wallet comprising my cash and credit cards and handphone were among those important items squeezed into my haversack.  I had a large suitcase with me too.  I thought I will immediately re-organise my things once I have reached hotel and yes, it was a big mistake from start and I was too careless.

I walked to the airport train station which is located at the basement floor.  On my way down, I met an elderly Chinese couple and I offered to carry one of their bags.  Upon boarding the train, the wife then sat opposite me while her husband sat at other end guarding their own luggage.  I started to chat with the wife who are from Taiwan.  The train started to move off and we continued our conversation away.  The second stop was still within the airport terminal and someone was exiting out.  I heard coins were dropped and that man started to look for the coins around the area I sat.  As a good Samaritan, I helped him to look for the coins.  When I stoop down, I felt "something" like a breeze passing me.  When I realised my haversack was not around, I turned back to the man who by then already exited out of the train.  Within a second or so, the train door started to close up.  I realised too late my haversack was gone for good.  I immediately looked for alarm inside the cabins but there was none at all.  I cannot even communicate with the driver.  I was completely shut off.  An off duty airport staff who saw everything told me that I need to make a police report at the next station but it was half an hour by train ride.  It was a hellish half an hour train ride in my life.  I was beyond anger and in my mind, all I wanted to do was to get to the police station and to our embassy as soon as possible.  The off duty airport staff was nice enough to escort me to the police station.  He even stayed back to help me with translation just in case.

The policeman tried to call our Singapore embassy but it did not go through despite few attempts.  He then passed me the embassy address and advised me how to take the train to reach there.  If I counted correctly, I asked more than 10 passers-by for the exact direction to our embassy but nobody can tell me.  Many simply looked puzzled when shown the address.  I was simply going around and around the place.  It was very frustrating as the time was clicking away.  Finally, I sought help from a staff from another embassy who pointed me to the right direction which was just very nearby.  It puzzled me why nobody can tell me the location when the place is actually very nearby. I was excited when I saw our Singapore crest at the gate and I immediately pressed the bell.  Nobody came to the gate and I just waited.  I then saw a notice on the gate and it mentioned that the Singapore embassy has moved out more than a year ago.  My heart sunk immediately.  

A French lady pointed to me the direction to our embassy and she said it is not too far away but in her smattering English.  I did not want to waste much time, proceeded to walk to the pointed direction.  I was pushing my big suitcase along and I had only Euro80 on me.  I just walked and walked.  Finally, I reached a row of shop houses and sought someone at the motor shop for help.  A young man was sympathetic to my plight and he goggled the location for me.  He had the location printed out and then, told me how to walk there.  When I reached our embassy, it was already past 1900 hrs.  I touched down in Paris at 1500 hrs and after all the trouble, I was at the doorstep of our embassy way past office hours.  I did not want to leave the place.  I waited outside hoping someone would walk out of the embassy.  I heaved a big sigh of relief when I saw a familiar local Singaporean face walking out of the gate.  She is an Indian lady who happened to stay back late.  I think she is a second secretary.  On hearing my plight, she went back to the embassy to email to the Singapore immigration for clearance to issue an urgent travel document for me.  Thanks for her timely email, I was able to get my travel document the following day.  I can only breathe easy when I finally boarded the Air France plane for home.  I do not think I will be making a another trip to Paris in the longest time or probably never at all.  I hate to say this everything was a bad dream the moment I touched down in Paris.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Every tourist is a potential target. Un suspecting, his intention and goodwill is exploited. Happening everywhere. Sad but true that the first lesson on survival in a new place is to make sure you are safe before offering help to strangers.

Ravenblack said...

These things happen a lot particularly in European cities. An obvious tourist is instantly a target. One has to develop a habit of keeping alert all the times in these places.