Retaining Your Optimism In the Back of a Chinese Police Car
The Chinese policeman opened the door and gestured for me to get inside the vehicle. It was a chilly day in Xi’an and as I did as I was told, ducking my head and crouching into the police car. I sat on the ripped seat, squashed between two policemen. The car reminded me of the old Ford we drove when I was a kid – it reeked of cigarette smoke and had seen decades of use. All four policemen lit cigarettes, disregarded their seat belts, turned on the sirens and drove us to the station.
I hadn’t done anything illegal (this time). I had just fallen victim to the most sneaky pick-pocketing experience of my life and I was on my way to file a police report. Not long before, I had been walking through the busy marketplace of Xi’an city, tasting delicious Chinese snacks and trying on big fluffy communist military hats. The market was full of colour and the scents of traditional food, and was completely overcrowded with people, which made it a bit overwhelming.
As I attempted to make my way through the crowd, I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of stress and I felt my fists clench; something wasn’t right. My body had gone into fight mode even though nothing in the marketplace had moved out of the ordinary. I put my hand into my jacket pocket to check for my wallet and my stomach dropped when I realised that it wasn’t there. I quickly scanned the marketplace looking for a culprit, but the thief was impossible to identify.
At the police station, I sat down at a long table surrounded by policemen yelling at one another in Chinese, waving their arms around and gesturing at the papers laid out on the table in front of me. I looked up at them with confused puppy-dog-eyes and asked, “English?” in the hope that someone would be able to translate. The setting was like that scene of Adolf Hitler’s last days in the Berlin, the one that has been parodied so many times.
As the Chinese men got rowdier and louder, I should have been stressed. They were yelling a lot and I didn’t understand anything they were saying. By now it was pretty clear that I wasn’t getting my money back. But for some reason I felt myself starting to smile. The anger that I had about losing so much cash instantly faded away. The knots in my stomach disappeared and I starting feeling really damn good. In fact, I had to bite my lip because the whole situation had become a bit of a joke and I was trying not to laugh in front of the deadly serious policemen who were now just arguing amongst themselves. Anger and sadness were completely replaced with warming feelings of optimism and gratitude, maybe because the whole thing seemed so absurd.
I realised that optimism and gratitude are such powerful feelings. They can prevail over everything, and have the power to turn any frown upside down. That classic Australian phrase I heard so often growing up – “She’ll be right!” – is not just a funny phrase, it’s a life motto that can turn any situation into a good one. “She”, as in, “you”, will actually be alright. I’m not saying that getting my wallet stolen was the worst thing that could happen. It definitely could have been worse. But that’s why it is so important to remember that we are so lucky to have what we have. No matter what happens, remember that it could always be worse.
Are you dead? Then you’re lucky not to be. Do you have your health? Then don’t worry about it! Of course I could be shattered that all the money I lost could have taken me further on my travels, but every mistake we make is a lesson learned.
This attitude is so applicable to every situation. Whether you smashed your car, your phone went to toilet heaven or a fuckboy broke your heart, you’re going to get over it eventually so why not just do it now? It’s not obligatory to feel sadness or anger. You need to acknowledge that you feel shit but then you need to remember that the shit feeling is just a feeling and you can detach yourself from that. The shit feeling doesn’t have to consume you.
Being in a state of sadness over something beyond your control is unnecessary and avoidable. Learn from it, move on from it and have a sense of gratitude. At least I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the beautiful sights of the ancient city of Xi’an in the back of a cop car.
Luckily for me, there was one policewoman who spoke broken English and she assisted me in filling out a police report. Then she made the group of policemen drop me back at my hostel. As I looked out the window from the police car on the way back, I noticed the grand wall built in the 14th Century that surrounded Xi’an city, visible past a policeman’s hat to my right. To the left I could see the majestic temples once frequented by Chinese emperors. I’ll run out of money quicker than planned, but things weren’t so bad.
Cover by MTBL