The Xinbeitou Umbrella Thief

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Yesterday was the last day of a seemingly never-ending streak of rainy days. I had a lot of time to kill before work so I decided to go to Xinbeitou to study. I got on the train to Xinbeitou which is a small branch line that connects Beitou Station (pictured above) with Xinbeitou Station. When I boarded the train at Beitou Station, I hung my umbrella on the small piece of metal which attaches the vertical handrail to the protective glass next to the door.

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There were very few people riding the train, so I believed I had the entire three-seat row (pictured above) to myself. I sat two seats from my umbrella, with my backpack occupying the middle seat. I attempted a Taiwanese Power Nap, which involves sleeping in unnatural positions for between 5-20 minutes (in my experience, these are usually accompanied by hypnagogic hallucinations or waking up having drooled all over myself).

When I opened my eyes after my failed attempt to power nap I noticed the seat closest to my umbrella was taken by a woman in her early thirties dressed like a librarian. I noticed that she hung her umbrella next to mine. I don’t know if she knew I could see her or not, but out of the corner of my eye I saw her pick up my umbrella and begin to inspect it: She was holding it up, feeling the handle, and checking the quality of the release button. Once she was done, she placed it back where it was before. No big deal, maybe she wanted one like it but was too afraid to ask where I bought it.

When we reached Xinbeitou my tired mind could hardly comprehend what had happened next: She picked up her cheap, old umbrella and mine and walked off without even looking back to perhaps see if I was the owner. I didn’t have an umbrella in my hand so the one hanging obviously belonged to me, how else would I be dry in this pouring rain? I really didn’t know how to confront her… I felt like grabbing my umbrella from her and striking her with it, but sensibility set in and I decided to follow her to see if she was going to drop it off to a station manager to put it in the lost and found. I was walking directly behind her, almost stepping on her heels, for some reason she was oblivious to a 192 cm foreigner lurking behind. When it became obvious that she was walking towards the restroom and not the station manager I spoke up very politely, “對不起!小姐!那是我的雨傘 (Excuse me! Miss! That is my umbrella).” She was slow to turn around, she very slowly extended her arm that was carrying my umbrella… she stood in silence, stared blankly, and didn’t speak a word… which is probably for the best, had she spoken I may have been forced to feed it to her.

It’s been more than 24 hours and I am having trouble erasing the giant WTF cloud that is floating in my head.

7 thoughts on “The Xinbeitou Umbrella Thief

  1. I am very sorry to hear about that and hope that won’t make you feel Taipei just like a sin city. In the MRT, people often sit at the seat next to their umbrella like the woman sat. I think she didn’t mean to steal it. She just thought that the umbrella must be left behind by someone and belongs to nobody now. I know this cannot be a excuse, but most Taiwanese won’t do things like that. They will share umbrella with you when you have no umbrella in the rain. I cannot guarantee that it won’t happen again, but I convinced that most Taiwanese are warm and human. Sorry again for what happened on you.

  2. Frank, I probably should have put a disclaimer at the start of my post, I absolutely love living here, the vast majority of my interactions with people are positive interactions. In the 13 months I have been living here, I can count my negative interactions on one hand (to put in comparison, while bartending and serving in the U.S. I could probably count more negative interactions in a single month). This experience does not make me think less of Taiwanese people as a whole. What floored me was that with so few people on the train (less than a dozen) and with me a mere one seat from her, she chose not to acknowledge my presence. I understand that she may have been nervous to ask me if it was mine because of the language barrier, but non-verbal communication, simply pointing to the umbrella, or waiting 5 seconds to see if I were to pick it up on my way out could have alleviated any confusion she may have had.

  3. Todd, thank you for giving me another interesting taiwan blog to read! i lioved in taiwan for 7 years a while ago, but still like to hear what’s happening there. i think you probably scared that woman out of her wits. maybe she was preparing for a scolding.

  4. From your story, I also get a feeling that the lady didn’t have the intention to “steal”.

    First, I’m sure that she thinks this umbrella belongs to nobody, because you are sitting two seats away from it and you are taking a nap. The way I was brought up in Taiwan, I always keep my belongings next to me, especially when I am taking a nap on a public transport. I believe most of Taiwanese still act in similar ways.

    Secondly, if she did ask you if it is yours and you say no, she might feel more shameful(不好意思) to take it because you would have known that umbrella doesn’t belong to her neither. “貪小便宜” is nothing to be proud of even in Taiwan.

    Lastly, when you told her that was your umbrella after “stalking” her , I can imagine she probably felt more surprised and shocked than you, what went on her mind might be “why didn’t you tell me on the train?!!”

    Yeah, I agree that she should have asked around first, but I would not call her “a thief”.

    Just a thought.

  5. Whatever. She totally wanted to steal it, that’s why she didn’t say anything in the first place.

    “Surprised and shocked”? No way. Hers was a look of guilt and shame.

    Glad you got it back though.

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