Safety and Security

2015-03-17 15_29_43It’s fascinating how being in a foreign environment makes you more alert to the kind of stuff you normally wouldn’t give a second thought to.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been, spending a bit of time abroad to celebrate my cousin’s Asian wedding. Being my very first Asian wedding, it’s a fascinating topic and will require another post or two, but the long and the short of it is that I was in Malaysia, and over there, things work a little differently than they do back home.

But you don’t even have to be in a foreign environment in a developing country to be a little more aware of your surroundings. I was hanging around Melbourne airport waiting for my international connection to Kuala Lumpur, and one of my uncles wanted to meet up so he could pass something along to his wife and daughter who had already left. My dad, sister, and myself were waiting just outside one of the domestic terminals, just by the huge Melbourne signage near the designated pick-up and drop-off area. Those that have been to Melbourne airport will know where I’m talking about, and those that don’t should know that it’s really nothing special, in the context of all the big things Australia seems to be obsessed with.

I had just gotten off a flight from Hobart and was checking out what I missed on Twitter when a guy approached me and asked if he could borrow my phone. He had a Beats headphone case strapped to his waist and had two pieces of luggage in tow; it didn’t take much to tell he was a recent arrival, and judging by where he was standing, he was probably waiting around for a lift from a friend.

He gestured towards my phone, asking to borrow it because his own has no signal. He showed me his iPhone 6, and sure enough, “SOS only” was showing in the top left hand corner. He says he needs to call his friend to let him know he’s arrived, and wants to borrow my phone to do so.

I don’t consider myself particularly paranoid. Carefully cautious, maybe, but not overly so. But I hesitated. Call it whatever you want. I had heard the horror stories: people handing over phones only to have the guy run away with their phone, people handing over phones and then have the other guy drop it and absolve all responsibility, that kind of thing. I didn’t really need that kind of hassle before an overseas trip, so I took a split-second to think about it.

In that split-second, I weighed up my options. If he ran away with my thousand-dollar phone, could I catch him and get my phone back? A quick glance said probably, yeah: even if he did run away, he’d be leaving behind his luggage. Plus his backpack would slow him down.

Reasonably confident I could run this guy down if he made off with my phone, I said OK. He asked me if I understood Chinese (no idea where he got that impression from) and I shook my head.

Even after all that, I still wasn’t quite willing to just let a stranger have free reign of my phone. I asked what number he wanted to dial, he showed me on his phone (in WhatsApp, I think), and I dialled the number and made the call. Only then did I hand the phone over, staying close to the guy as he talked to his friend, telling him where to pick him up.

I laugh (quietly, to myself) when lawyers on Twitter tell me about not opening lollies for children in case they choke on it and something terrible happens, because as unlikely as it is, the parent could hold you responsible and sue. Then I think about situations like the one above, which aren’t that far removed — where do you draw the line between helping someone out and looking out for yourself? I could have made something up and told the guy I was just listening to music, or that I was out of credit. Instead, I played the good Samaritan and chose to help a guy out, remembering the eternal advice that sometimes, helping out a mate just ends up screwing things up for yourself.

Luckily for me, things worked out OK this time around. He finished the call, thanked me, and handed my phone back. In general Australia is relatively safe in the grand scheme of things, but as anyone who has been overseas will tell you, other countries can be so much more hazardous for the casual tourist that you really have to be constantly vigilant about your personal belongings. I’d even advocate not using your phone when walking along streets, in some countries, and keeping your hands in your pockets.

My dad told me about a time he was in a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur where he witnessed a thief try and pick-pocket another guy. The would-be thief used a crowd to cosy up to his target, and quick as a flash, was in and out of the guy’s pocket, only when he withdrew his hand, the dude’s wallet came out with it. Unbeknownst to him, his mark was smarter than that — he had attached his wallet to his pants with one of those chains that were all the rage a couple of years ago, and so the pick-pocket couldn’t haul ass with the guy’s wallet. As my dad tells it, the wallet owner turned around and elbowed the guy in the face, breaking his nose and sending blood spurting everywhere. He then grabbed the dude by the neck, and hauled him off to the side, where he then proceeded to call the police.

My dad said it was pretty brazen for the guy to attempt to steal the other dude’s wallet in plain sight with a bunch of witnesses around. Unfashionable as it may have been, the wallet chained to his pants may have just saved him a bunch of headache – and if there’s a moral at all to this story, it’s that a little precaution goes a long way towards your own personal safety and security of your belongings. Not just overseas, but locally, too.

At the end of the day, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, you know?

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