Mongolia is a pretty safe country. Multiple times I’ve seen people walk in and out of banks with duffle bags full of cash like it’s no big deal. For the most part, bank tellers don’t have protective glass. Any car becomes a taxi when you put your hand out (the equivalent of a thumbs up) while walking down the street and everyone does this–tweens to old people.
But, we’ve been told by everyone (expats, locals, travel websites, etc.) to watch out for pick-pocketers, especially in busy areas where tourists frequent. The fact that we’re obviously foreigners makes us more likely targets. Because of this, we keep anything valuable in our PackSafe backpacks that have locking zippers and fortified mesh walls and pockets.
Still, it’s hard to believe there’s a real threat.
Until it happens to you…
(Did that sound ominous? I was trying to make it sound ominous…)
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. Our apartment walls needed some freshening up so Cory and LeYanna headed to the Hardware District to get a couple gallons of paint. The Hardware District is a few blocks of multi-story hardware shops. Some shops are smaller than your walk in closet, others are bigger, like the size of an average apartment. There are hundreds of these shops, all crammed together, selling all things home improvement.
The Hardware District is really busy and, as they were walking through a particularly crowded bus stop, Cory spotted someone acting strangely. I should tell you that male Ellisons tend to be highly perceptive and acutely aware of their surroundings at all times. It’s how Cory’s grandpa survived as a WWII Scout, Cory’s dad has survived the rattlesnake-infested wilderness of the deep south, and how Cory survived the mean streets of the Sacramento suburbs. [Editor’s note: Cory wanted me to take this sentence out because he thought it was ridiculous. I don’t disagree that it’s ridiculous, but the ridiculousness is what makes it fun].
Here’s what happened next, in Cory’s words:
I saw a guy who looked a little stumbly drunk walking on the sidewalk in the flow of traffic toward us. After he noticed us, he changed course and casually walked toward LeYanna and I.
I expected him to stop and ask for money.
Instead, he walked past us but was still walking suspiciously so I watched him out of the corner of my eye. I noticed that he had circled around and was now getting closer in the crush of people behind us.
I was holding LeYanna’s left hand with my right hand and, as I looked down, I noticed his hand carefully reaching between us into my coat pocket (which only had a pack of gum in it). Without thinking, I quickly stepped on his foot to pin him in place and surprise him* then I gave him a quick shoulder/elbow shove to knock him off balance, then released his foot and kept walking.
He stumbled backward and shouted something in Mongolian that I didn’t understand. I was walking away as if nothing had happened. Most of the people around us would have assumed that he’d simply lost his balance. LeYanna had no clue that anything had happened.
And he didn’t get my gum.
That, my friends, is how Cory thwarted a pick-pocket. I appreciate his clarity, subtlety, and effectiveness in many areas of life. Today I can add thwarting pick-pocketers to that list of areas.
Watch your pockets, people when you’re in this beautiful city. There is a good chance they will get picked.
*I was not thinking about how stepping on someone’s foot, even accidentally, is one of the rudest things you can do in this culture. But, even when Jen reminded me later, it seemed fair given the circumstances.