Location: Brussels/Bruxelles, Belgium
No. of days: 2
So my first trip as a Londoner was to Brussels (Belgium). This is also the place my bag got stolen with my passport, phones, wallet, credit cards, cash and camera in it. So read on for my (realistic) advice on how to cope if the unfortunate befalls on you too. I emphasize on the “realistic” because most people will tell you “you should have done this, you should have done that”, but having felt like I went through hell and back, I can safely say no amount of preparation is ever sufficient.
On happy things first, this is my second time to Belgium. The first time was to Antwerp and Ghent in 2012 and although I don’t recall much of Antwerp (but I loved Ghent – another story for another day!), I felt like Belgium has way much more old buildings that date back to the 1200s than any other country in the EU. After a while, you will realise that Europe is all about 1) Museums, 2) Churches, and/or 3) Architecture. My favourite out of the 3 is architecture, so that’s the main thing I always look out for.
Other than the architecture, the only other (few) things I took away from Belgium was the chocolate (heavenly), moules and frites (mussels and fries) and of course, Belgian waffles! By the way, Belgian waffles did originate from Belgium…
In case you find the little boy below familiar, his name is Mannekin Pis (Pis as in Piss) and he is Belgian and he resides in Brussels.
So because my camera got stolen, I only managed to salvage those pictures I uploaded into Facebook before they were gone. So I don’t have other pictures of Brussels. And neither do I have much other memory of Brussels other than I spent the worst 2 days of my life (ever!) there.
A lot of people I spoke to (whether they had lost their passports before or not, whether they were Singaporeans or otherwise) sympathised with the fact that I suffered poor service and poor attitude at the Singapore High Comm (I will not go into details) but I went as far as to complain to MFA. I know that nothing would come out of it (nothing did), but at least it gives me (and friends and those of you reading this) a sense of what to expect or what not to expect from Singapore High Comm because whatever treatment I received was “by the books” and any better treatment received by the victim is their good luck (irony).
So, here is the interesting part.
LESSON 1: THE ABSOLUTE FIRST THING THAT YOU SHOULD DO WHEN IT HAPPENS IS CALL THE LOCAL SINGAPORE EMBASSY/HIGH COMM.
Because you will need them to issue you a document called Document of Identity (DOI) that proves you are Singaporean. This document will allow you to get back to Singapore.
You will need a passport photo for this and a small amount of cash. So STUFF SOME SPARE CASH SOMEWHERE ELSE.
Oh, and make a police report. You will need it to replace your passport. Just bear in mind the language barrier…
LESSON 2: YOU WILL HAVE 3 OPTIONS AFTER COLLECTING THE DOI.
i) Stay in whatever country that you are stuck in and apply for a new passport there (this means if you are all alone and have nothing on you – in my case, alone, no phone, no cash, no credit card and literally nothing to save myself with) you’d probably end up begging. And without money, how are you going to apply for a new passport?
ii) In my case – try to return to the UK and have my passport replacement done here. Obviously this was far more palatable but this is a big risk because the UK is notorious for their strict immigration rules and it is a gamble whether they will let me in based on photocopied documents or calls to verify my background. Didn’t work for me.
iii) Go back to Singapore. Seriously??
The verdict on this point was: Singapore hasn’t realised that globalisation has taken place and the system assumes all Singaporeans who travel originate from Singapore.
LESSON 3: DON’T EXPECT THE HIGH COMM TO OFFER YOU A PHONE CALL, ZAPPING DOCUMENTS TO HELP YOU GET OUT OF YOUR SITUATION.
I literally had to argue with the handling officer why I needed to borrow a phone to call a friend to buy me a ticket to either go back to UK or Singapore. I had to repeat myself 3 times that I had no money, no phone, no credit card, no friend. So according to MFA, it was out of her kindness that she allowed ONE call in the end. Kindness much? You decide.
I also had to beg her to zap photocopies of my passport and visa to try to get back to the UK. According to the handling officer, it is taxpayer money and they are not allowed to do it. (hello, I paid Sg taxes too and I literally needed them to save my life, do I really need to argue with you over taxpayer money?) Ditto point above, I got lucky she eventually agreed to zap them.
LESSON 4: THEY WILL NOT OFFER YOU A LOAN TO BUY TRAIN/AIR TICKETS.
You have to ASK, you cannot expect them to OFFER it to you. My handling officer went as far as to “encourage” me to be a fare cheat on the local tram.
I was too distraught to think of asking, but someone told me that there are 2 ways on getting money via high comm: a) Get your family to wire you some money and b) direct loan. But a) would be challenging if you don’t even have means to contact friends and family! and b) I’ve been told what happens after you arrive home will drive you crazy…
So basically, you need to remember ask (in your tired, muddled, confused, scared mind after all that’s happened to you), not their job to offer it to you.
LESSON 5: THEY DON’T CARE IF YOU ARE FED OR HAVE A ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD. OR YOUR SAFETY.
LESSON 6: FORGET THE
SHIT ADVICE ABOUT PHOTOCOPYING YOUR CREDIT CARDS
Because the only thing useful about that action is to call the credit card company and cancel them. Obviously that means buying a train/air ticket online is therefore out of the question.
The correct thing to do, is to spread out your cards. Ditto with cash. Not in different pockets of the same bag, obviously.
But remember in most countries (especially outside of Asia), using your credit card requires photo ID so have another card (work ID?) that has your photo and name on it to use it in a physical shop.
LESSON 7: TAKE A PHOTO OF YOUR DRIVING LICENSE/ IC/ PASSPORT/ VISA ETC AND STORE THEM IN YOUR PHONE, IPAD, ONLINE EMAIL ACCOUNT, ETC.
Provided you have access to your email account.
LESSON 8: KNOW AT LEAST A CLOSE FAMILY/FRIEND’S PHONE NUMBER BY HEART =.=
Luckily for me, I had my iPad (Thank god!) and I didn’t actually have to memorise numbers but I’ve come to realise we get so reliant on phones that we would be completely lost if we didn’t know any number by heart! – some people cannot even remember their own phone numbers…
LESSON 9: BUY A TRAVEL INSURANCE
My insurance agent/friend always joked with me that this is just kopi money to him. Before this happened to me I never saw the value of why I should be buying travel insurance. I reckoned I lost at least SGD 2k replacing my passport, camera, phone, penalties for the various replacement cards etc. And that’s not including my flights and visa costs. Chinese say 不怕一萬之怕萬一 but when the 萬一 happens…
LESSON 10: PACK AN EXTRA DAY’S WORTH OF CLOTHES/TOILETRIES
You never know when your plans will get delayed.
I never came closer to the fear that I may die that day. Financial losses aside, I was still having nightmares one month after that. So, what is the verdict when all the odds are stacked against you? In all honesty, I don’t know because my silver lining was that my employer saved me (where my own government failed). So let’s hope nobody has to have literally everything stacked against them.