^Some buildings near Scheveningen, where we stayed. I was walking towards the nearest tram stop when I snapped this photo. It was a beautiful day.
I was walking with my post-conference trip group to the nearest tram stop, where we were to hop on one that would take us to the mainline train station so everyone could get to their next destinations. My plan was to go to Rotterdam and drop my bags off at Mainport Hotel (they were nice enough to let me do this) so I can wander around the city for a while before catching my late-evening flight to London.
^This was the train I boarded.
As with many European trains, the carriages had an upper and lower deck.
I sat in a ‘table seat’ on the lower deck, three rows from the steps leading to the train doors. I left my 20kg suitcase at the bottom of these steps, where I could see it – I was really only about 5 metres from it.
However, as the train started approaching Rotterdam Centraal, I got up to carry my bag up the steps in preparation to exit only to realise that my bag was NOT THERE. The space was empty. I’m not one to panic, so at first I simply thought that maybe someone had moved it.
I inspected the surrounding areas. Upstairs. Downstairs. In the luggage rack.
There wasn’t even another bag of similar size in the carriage to indicate that perhaps someone had taken mine by mistake (this has happened to me before). It was at this moment that I felt my heart sink so low and heavily that it could’ve come out my bum, dropped to the ground and made a hole in it.
After interrogating the other passengers seated next to my bag, they described that a young boy had been standing near the steps previously. At Scheidam Centraal, the stop before mine (Rotterdam Centraal), he exited the train when the doors opened. During this time, many other people milled around the aisle and steps as they made their way out. It was a busy station. AND THEN, just as the carriage doors were about to close, the boy had run into the train and grabbed my bag up onto the platform. There wasn’t time for anyone to stop him.
I can’t recall the number of curse words that ran through my head at this point. But rest assured there were billions.
Once at Rotterdam Centraal, I ran up to the nearest train staff I could find on the platform. They couldn’t do much. I decided that I would try and go back to Scheidam Centraal. I didn’t know what I’d do there, but I just had to get back there. But first, I had to buy a goddamn ticket. This was when I learnt that the Dutch ticket machines did not accept foreign credit/debit cards, and if you wanted to pay by cash, you had to do it in coins ONLY.
I made a dash for the ticket counters. There was a massive queue. Now, I was officially in panic mode.
I just had my entire suitcase stolen! How could they make me LINE UP??
I had to get back to Scheidam Centraal IMMEDIATELY, and there it was.. a long line of people who.. did not have their luggage stolen. HELLO I HAVE AN EMERGENCY!
But guess what? A young Dutch girl standing nearby saw my state of distress and asked me what I needed. I explained my situation to her briefly. She then ran to the ticket machine, gesturing me along. She then bought and paid for my ticket back to Scheidam Centraal, asking nothing in return even when I offered.
At Scheidam C., I went straight to the Lost Property counter to file a report. I gave them very precise information about what happened, including the exact train I was in. There was nothing much they could do other than be in touch in case anything surfaces.
I walked out of the room feeling super dejected.. and then it dawned on me.
A further bazillion curse words ran through my mind before I ran back to Lost Property to reiterate the urgency of the matter, asking if they could check the CCTV for clues. I don’t know what I was hoping to get from this, and it was only until I was on the platform ready to head back to Rotterdam that I realised: DUH, call the police.
*Note – my passport was in my luggage because earlier that day, I had to use my backpack to go out somewhere and so I transferred it into my suitcase… and I later forgot to move it back in my haste when packing/checking out after surf class
^View from inside the police van.
Half an hour later, I was in the back of a police van on the way to the station to file a formal report.
Let me tell you that it’s really handy to have all the details of your passport in your head. That made the process so much quicker. My passport number was put on some sort of international blacklist, in case someone else tried to use or travel with it. The Dutch police were extremely helpful and empathetic. They even helped me source the number for the Malaysian Embassy (I still use a Malaysian passport although I am a UK resident). Sadly, the embassy was closed by the time I tried to contact them.
Later, I made my way back to Rotterdam. In the rain. Yep, I was feeling pretty damn miserable by now. I cried tears of frustration/sadness/tiredness.
I stopped by the Mainport Hotel as previously planned, but this time I asked if I could have a room since I couldn’t get on my flight back to London without my passport. Unfortunately, even with the media rate, it was much too expensive for me. I spent the next hour in the lobby, charging my phone and trying to sort myself out for the night.
I was on Facebook when I noticed Anja, an older lady that I had only met briefly during the conference, was online. Within two minutes of explaining my situation to her, she had invited me to stay in her guest room at her house in Haarlem. Aren’t people AMAZING?? She hardly even KNEW me. I thanked her and said I’d be on my way.
As I left, I bumped into one of the hotel staff, whose name I very much regret forgetting – but I was in such a state, it’s excusable, right?? I think it began with R, so I’ll use that for the purpose of this post.
R, probably sensing my blah mood, tried to talk to me and cheer me up. When he heard what happened, you know what he did? He offered me a room in his family home, with his wife and kids. I was a complete stranger to him, and there he was, trying to help me out. I was so touched by his kindness that I asked for a photo so I could remember the moment. Once I’m done writing this, I’m going to email the hotel to pass on a special thank you to this lovely man 🙂
During my trip, I had been slightly upset that I didn’t get to see Rotterdam’s famous ‘cube houses’. And when my stuff was stolen, my plan of hopefully doing so before heading to the airport was pretty much destroyed.
Anja’s directions said to get a train from Rotterdam Blaak.. and as I arrived there via Metro, I looked up to see none other than THE CUBE HOUSES. It was so unexpected. I couldn’t help but smile and do a little jump despite the gloomy grey backdrop!
^On the way to Haarlem – the journey took about an hour.
I counted my blessings and felt grateful that at least I had all my gadgets – phone, camera, laptop – in my backpack.
Anja kindly picked me up from the station in her car. I couldn’t thank her enough. I was so happy just to see a friendly face after all that had happened!
And then I stepped into her house..
WHAT AN AMAZING, QUIRKY, COLOURFUL HOUSE!
She collects toys and ornaments and THINGS from all over the world. She liked stickers and colours and light-up toys. She’d decorate boxes and other things she had, and call it ‘pimping’. She was my kindred spirit. Everything about her house reminded me of my own room back in London. It also reminded me of my friend, Joyce, who’s very much like me too. And she had a sweet little cat (if you look closely you can see him on the chair by the window).
I felt that I had stumbled upon a rare gem of a person in Anja. Our types are not easy to come by!
She made me a lovely dinner, poured me a glass of bubbly and we had a chat while I ate. We talked about being weird, not fitting in, and being socially awkward. I used to be very socially awkward, but I guess I’m much better now :p We spoke about our toys, travelling, and we shared bits and pieces of our lives with each other. I loved hearing about her life.
I went to bed that night feeling a whole lot better and ready to face the crazy day I had ahead of me. It was hard, but I kept reminding myself of all the GOOD that I had witnessed that day – from the girl who bought my train ticket, the man who offered me his house, and to the police who showed genuine care for me.