A flight to Paris

KUALA LUMPUR: My first visit to Paris recently ended in disappointment.

It’s not that the capital of France hasn’t lived up to its eminence as the ‘city of love’ or ‘city of light’.

Nor was it an attractive metropolis of attractions.

Unfortunately, I was the victim of a theft.

I had been enthusiastic about my first visit to Paris, and that too during a mission for Bernama, the Malaysian national news agency.

While I was having dinner one evening in a restaurant there, my backpack was stolen.

I sat at the table with two friends, a Japanese and a Parisian, for dinner and I put my backpack on the floor. I only noticed the bag was gone when I was about to pay the bill. No one at my table or around our table noticed anyone taking the bag.

There was, among other things, my new MacBook and a wallet with all my money – all valued at over RM15,000 – and my passport.

I learned later that I should have wrapped the strap of the bag around my leg or a chair leg.

The incident turned my visit into a major disappointment.

I had to apply for an emergency certificate from the Malaysian embassy to be able to return home.

A senior manager told me that at least one Malaysian loses their passport or ID card in Paris almost daily, especially during the summer when many Malaysians are vacationing there.

“That’s how bad pickpocketing is here (in Paris). We always get missing ICs (identity cards) or passports delivered here (to the embassy),” he said.

The staff themselves were assaulted the first week they were there.

“It’s a normal phenomenon here (in Paris). A lot of Malaysians get mugged or pickpocketed and their IDs (identification documents) and passports are thrown away somewhere by the culprit (or culprits) and good Samaritans who find them send them to the embassy,” he explained.

In my case, I guess the thief wasn’t just a pickpocket. I feel like the job must have been done by a team of expert thieves as this happened in a closed restaurant where you have to wait for tables.

This kind of crime is not only widespread in Paris but in many other tourist cities in Europe, said a French police officer who wished to remain anonymous. I had met him in a police station where I went to file a complaint for theft.

According to him, the French police believe that these crimes are committed mainly by trade unions in South America.

In fact, he said, French police had formed a dedicated unit just to deal with South American criminals.

“They target tourist towns and often move in a few groups. They will only stay in each city for a few days and move to other cities after collecting and reassembling stolen items that would be sold in another city.

“These guys are professionals. They dress impeccably, sometimes better than normal people, and they act like tourists, shopkeepers, or locals. They often target strangers and places like hotels, airports and public places,” he said.

The police, however, didn’t have much hope that the thief(s) who stole my things would be found and said making an insurance claim would be the best bet to at least recover some of the lost money. .

Admittedly, it was a very expensive “French experience” for me. I hope this will serve as a lesson for me and an eye-opener for others.-Bernama