ROBBED ON VA­CA­TION

Robbed while on va­ca­tion alone with her six-month-old son, VIC­TO­RIA DENG re­calls her chill­ing en­counter and what she learnt from it.

Young Parents (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

A Sin­ga­pore mum re­counts her trau­matic or­deal while hol­i­day­ing alone with Baby.

In July 2015, I set off on a two-week hol­i­day with my then-six-month-old son, Owen. It was a break I was look­ing for­ward to – a free-and-easy jour­ney through the south of France by train and a few days in Paris.

My goal was to cover 14 ci­ties and towns in all. I was breast­feed­ing Owen at the time, so I had to take him along with me. My hus­band didn’t have any is­sues with me hol­i­day­ing alone with our son, and be­ing a sea­soned and savvy trav­eller, I wasn’t too wor­ried ei­ther.

My dream hol­i­day-turned- night­mare

The trip went smoothly the rst six days. Owen and I had a won­der­ful time check­ing out the laven­der elds in Haute Provence, and the stun­ning coastal views of the French Riviera and Monaco.

I also went on a few day tours, where I met fel­low trav­ellers from Asia. When they found out I was trav­el­ling alone with Owen, they were sur­prised and told me that I was brave.

I must ad­mit I was proud of my­self for hav­ing sur­vived al­most a week with­out any drama. Owen was gen­er­ally easy to look af­ter; oc­ca­sion­ally, I would need help car­ry­ing his stroller up and down the bus or onto the train, but by­s­tanders and other trav­ellers were usu­ally more than will­ing to lend a hand.

On the sev­enth day of my trip, I went sight­see­ing around Nice. I hadn’t booked a day tour, so I just took Owen for a walk along the beach. We then went for lunch and ended up in a lit­tle shop in Old Town, shop­ping for sou­venirs.

I’d run out of small notes, so I paid with a 100-euro (around S$158) ban­knote. For some rea­son, the cashier an­nounced to ev­ery­one in the store that he was re­turn­ing me over 90 eu­ros in change.

It made me self-con­scious. I quickly shoved the money into my pouch, put the pouch into my tote, zipped it and hooked it onto Owen’s stroller be­fore leav­ing the shop.

About 10 min­utes af­ter I left the shop, I no­ticed that my tote was miss­ing. I looked ev­ery­where around me to see if it had fallen and even re­traced my steps, but it was nowhere to be found.

I was shaken. Who could be so cruel as to steal from a stroller? Des­per­ate and help­less, I stood in the mid­dle of the street and asked ev­ery­one who passed if they’d seen a pur­ple tote.

No money for food

Both my pass­port and Owen’s were in that tote, along with my wal­let, which held my credit cards, my driver’s li­cence, and more than 700 eu­ros – which was all the cash I had. I was now alone with Owen in Nice, with no money even to buy food. I was go­ing to Paris the next day but, thank­fully, I’d al­ready pre-booked and paid for my train ride to the cap­i­tal.

Af­ter mak­ing a po­lice re­port, I re­turned to my ho­tel. I told one of the front-desk staff what had hap­pened, and she gave me a cou­ple of bread rolls and some fruit from the kitchen.

An­other helped me print my train tick­ets, a map to the em­bassy in Paris, the con­fir­ma­tion e-mail for the ho­tel I’d be stay­ing in in Paris, and copies of the two pass­ports that I’d e-mailed to my­self weeks be­fore. Be­yond that, there was not much else they could do.

I stayed in my room the rest of the day. All I had to eat were the rolls and fruit, and some snacks I’d packed. Luck­ily, I still had my mo­bile phone – I’d kept that, as well as my cam­era, in my jacket pocket. I con­tacted my hus­band in Sin­ga­pore and asked him to can­cel all my credit cards im­me­di­ately.

The next day, on the train on my way to Paris, I met a Chi­nese woman and her two chil­dren. We struck up a con­ver­sa­tion and I told her what had hap­pened. She felt so bad for me, she gave me a muf­fin and some fruit her daugh­ter had bought from the train’s food cart.

The ride to Paris gave me plenty of time to re­flect. Things could have been a lot worse – I could’ve been robbed at knife­point, for ex­am­ple, or some­thing could have hap­pened to Owen.

So while I was an­gry and up­set, I was also ex­tremely grate­ful. And the thieves didn’t get my cam­era – my pho­tos meant more to me than my pass­port and credit cards be­cause they held my hol­i­day mem­o­ries.

The rst thing I did when I ar­rived in Paris was go to the em­bassy to get new travel doc­u­ments. The next day, my hus­band re­mit­ted some money to me via the em­bassy, to cover my ex­penses for the rest of my trip.

The kind­ness of strangers

Over the next few days, I was ex­tremely touched by the con­cern and gen­eros­ity of to­tal strangers. I met many peo­ple along the way and, some­how, our con­ver­sa­tions al­ways ended up with me telling them what had hap­pened in Nice.

One of the em­bassy of­fi­cers, for in­stance, gave me 10 eu­ros to take new pho­tos for my travel doc­u­ments, as well as food vouch­ers worth 30 eu­ros, which could be used at any restau­rant or cafe in Paris.

At rst, I was re­luc­tant to ac­cept the money and vouch­ers, but she in­sisted. An­other staff mem­ber rushed to re­place my travel doc­u­ments, so in­stead of hav­ing to wait a few days for them, I only waited a cou­ple of hours.

The next day, while hav­ing lunch at a cafe, I met a woman who was vis­it­ing from Shang­hai. She paid for my meal af­ter hear­ing my story, even though I told her that my hus­band had al­ready sent me money and I could af­ford to pay for my own lunch.

I was not look­ing for nan­cial as­sis­tance or sym­pa­thy from any­one; I just wanted to re­mind them of the dan­gers that solo trav­ellers face, and to get some of my anger and frus­tra­tion off my chest. But they felt for me and helped me out of the good­ness of their hearts.

No re­grets

Peo­ple might think that I’m crazy or ir­re­spon­si­ble, trav­el­ling alone with a baby. What hap­pened to us was un­for­tu­nate, yes, but I never once en­dan­gered Owen or my­self. I al­ways take pre­cau­tions, espe­cially when I travel. Some­one – from a crime syn­di­cate, most likely – just jumped at the chance to take ad­van­tage of me.

While in Paris, I met an­other trav­eller from Sin­ga­pore, who told me that I was “gutsy” for stay­ing on. “Some­thing like that would have to­tally ru­ined my trip. If it were me, I’d have taken the rst ight home,” she said.

But that’s not me. I chose to stay on be­cause I didn’t know when I would get the op­por­tu­nity to visit France alone again with my baby. Even with what hap­pened, it was an amaz­ing trip and I en­joyed my­self. The bag theft caused me a lot of in­con­ve­nience, but I was able to turn the prover­bial lemons into lemon­ade.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m more op­ti­mistic and ap­pre­cia­tive af­ter the in­ci­dent. I ran into so many good-hearted and char­i­ta­ble peo­ple, I got a lot of help and sup­port, and I dis­cov­ered how strong, independent and re­source­ful I re­ally am. The trip re­stored my faith in peo­ple and in my­self.

Vic­to­ria and her son, Owen, in Provence.

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