Breaking and Entering

The honeymoon is over.  Reality has set in.  A week after we arrived and considered almost everything ideal at ZAFU, the locked sliding glass door on our second bedroom was jimmied and our six-month old Acer computer stolen. So how did that happen?  Who did it? What’s the long version of the story?  If you are interested in the details, keep reading.

Barry and I’d started out that morning at about 7:45am waiting for the teacher’s bus to Hangzhou in a light drizzle with other foreign teachers: Sarah 1 (from Milwaukee), Sarah 2 (from North Carolina), Mark (from Pittsburgh, and returning teacher Patrick (from Ireland).  We were all eager to check out this city that Marco Polo described in the 13th century as the most beautiful city in the world.  It’s still one of the most popular places for Chinese tourists to visit.  West Lake is subject of many Chinese poems.  As we waited for our bus, our campus was teaming with arriving freshmen students, at least 5,000 of them and their parents. We waited and waited and finally realized the bus probably hadn’t been allowed onto campus because of all the new students milling about moving into their dorms, so we just walked off campus, took a bus to Lin’an, and then changed to a bus for Hangzhou.

Before we had left that morning, both Barry and I had double checked the locks on our windows and doors.  We’d heard that Matt another foreign teacher (from Poland and England) had his sliding door opened and his computer, watch, and a few other things stolen.  I’d been rather obsessed about making sure everything was locked up because we are in the dean’s apartment.  He has a flat-screen T.V. and a great sound system among other things, and I didn’t want to be responsible if something was stolen.  However, Matt’s apartment is on the first floor while ours is on the second, which is rather high since the Chinese don’t count the ground floor.  We’d been told that Matt hadn’t locked his window, which turned out not to be true.    Anyway, I had double-checked all the locks, drawn the curtains on the sliding glass doors, and double locked the door on the way out. We felt our apartment was safe.

We spent a nice day in Hangzhou.  The others were craving Western food, so Barry and I found ourselves in a McDonald’s eating French fries.  We all took a long walk around part of West Lake and found a Carrefour, a kind of Costco.  We were able to buy a coffee pot, extra-sharp cheddar cheese, good bread, and other things we hadn’t been able to find in Lin’an.  It was a good day and we finally returned and walked up the stairs to our apartment about 8:00pm.  We were eager to unpack and go for dinner.

But we couldn’t get our door to open.  We could hear the tumblers moving, but the door wouldn’t open.  We thought it was my fault since I’d double-locked the door. Mark came over and tried, but to no avail.  So we called Wendy, the foreign teacher secretary who handles everything.  She said she would come.  She seemed to think we had forgotten our keys while I kept explaining that Barry and I both had our keys, but the door wouldn’t open.  Anyway, she was on her way.  She sent Diana, a student whose English is excellent, over in the meantime.  Diana tried the keys too.  Wendy arrived with a Chinese guy who after trying the keys said he thought the door was bolted from the inside.  But that couldn’t be because both Barry and I were outside the door. The guy even tried climbing out the stairway window to try to get in our bathroom window, but as I kept repeating, I had locked all the windows.  Finally, when it looked hopeless, Wendy called a locksmith who came within fifteen minutes and had the lock popped off the door with little trouble.  We were finally in our apartment after being in the hallway about two hours!  At ten, we happily said goodbye to everyone, unpacked our Hangzhou loot, and left for dinner. We came back about 11.  I read in the living room for about an hour.  That night was the first time since I’d arrived that I didn’t check my e-mail because it was late, and we didn’t check the windows because we had locked them early that morning.  After our long day, we slept well.

The next morning, Sunday, I woke up about 8 and went in to my desk in the other bedroom to check my e-mail. I drew back the curtain over the sliding glass doors to let in the sunlight.  The door was wide open!! I turned to look at the desk, and our computer was gone!  I let out a blood-curdling scream. No one had come to check on what we were doing out in the hallway for about two hours the night before and no one came when I screamed. There may be too many people for individuals to start getting involved in the problems of others.

However, the rest of that Sunday morning was taken up with visitors.  Mr. Bob, who is the man who hired me and our Wai Ban, the college foreign teacher supervisor who takes care of everything, his wife, his boss, the secretary, Diana, our English speaking student, and four police came over. The police took a report and photos of the footprints on our balcony.  Those footprints of slippers smaller than mine were at both the sliding glass doors of the second bedroom and at Barry and my bedroom.  At the time, I thought someone had come in while we slept and taken the computer. That is really a creepy thought.

The only thing missing was the computer and its cord.  Barry’s Bose headphones were next to the computer.  Nothing else was taken or disturbed.  If, as we now think, the robber had come in while we were in Hangzhou and bolted the front door, why did he take only the computer?  We had money in a bowl right by the front door.  None of it or anything else was gone. Why not?  Did the Chinese government want to bug our apartment and use the stolen computer as the cover?  Did the friendly Chinese students just want to make money getting us to buy another computer?  Were we paranoid?  The answer to all those questions except the last is probably no.  We may never know what really happened.

So we were the second targeted teachers, and we warned everyone else.  The locks on the windows are not strong, and all of us are very visible on this campus. Lots of people could tell we were going to Hangzhou, and it is very easy to watch when we come and go.

The following week, we heard a report of an off-campus apartment building being hit and the sleeping occupants of a whole floor being robbed.  They lost computers, watches, and cash (the Chinese often store lots of it in their apartments). The police reported that one of the robbers had a knife.

Then  a week ago  Friday just as we were going out with Rahman and his friend to pick up our new computer (which is an older version and more expensive than the computers we can get in the US—a whole other story), I got a frantic call from Becky.  She asked if we had heard anything.  She and her husband Ryan live in our same building, one entrance down and on the fourth floor.  They had been gone twenty minutes to get a take-out meal and had come back and heard a noise in their apartment.  Ryan rushed in thinking they had the thief cornered (since they are on the fourth, really fifth floor).  But the thief leaped off the balcony and disappeared.  Ryan said it was like Superman or Batman.  The thief was gone.  He did leave behind Ryan’s laptop on the balcony and a set of the thief’s keys. Within minutes, our building was swarming with all sorts of security guards and the police.  The thief did get away with Becky and Ryan’s camera, but overall, they were lucky.  But why didn’t the thief bolt their front door? (Bolted doors can’t be opened with keys here).  Was it a different thief? One of the security guards tried to reenact the escape to another floor probably wiping out evidence.  However, the thief’s fingerprints were all over Ryan’s computer.  So who is he?  What is he thinking?  In this country of draconian punishment (if your family doesn’t have money) how can this be a career with a good future?

As a result of these thefts, we now have 24hour security guards around our apartment buildings.  They’ve strung up lights.  And we’ve been given little safes.  However, we take anything we don’t want to lose with us every time we go out, and we lock ourselves in our bedroom when we’re asleep.  I don’t think it is any of the people who we have met who took the computer.  It could have been much worse, but even though I have lived in the city of Chicago and many other places, I’ve never had a window forced and anything stolen, so it’s been a bit of an unnerving experience, one that isn’t usually normal in China.  And I know we’re lucky. And now we have a replacement computer so we can connect with everyone again–and we are more conscious about our stuff.   So that’s the rest of the long story.

Here's our computer in the 2nd bedroom next to the window

We have another computer now, but we really liked the one we had.


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Breaking and Entering”

  1. Courtney says :

    Wow, very interesting Renee… When we stayed in France, my husband rigged some kind of special security system for the glass sliding doors, because theft is so common in France. He had his passport and wallet stolen on an earlier trip to France, so was very cautious. I’d have to find out exactly what he did, but it might work for you there.

    How interesting there is a Carrefour in China. This is a French superstore common throughout France, but had no idea they were international.

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Courtney: It’s good to hear from you. What Danny may have done is put a piece of wood in the sliding glass door tracks so no one could open the window even if the lock was broken. That works as long as one side of the sliding glass door is fixed. Here the windows and sliding glass doors have no fixed side so it would do no good to brace the inside section. I think it may be a sign that breaking and entry is a really rare occurrence. We too have been surprised at the number of international stores we’ve seen. I hope everything is going well for you and Danny. Aloha, Renee

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