Walking back to the apartment, all of have our hands full with many plastic bags carrying our purchases of meat, vegetables, bread, pasta, my little yellow squeeze bottle of mustard, and a few bananas. I had decided on some fresh fruit, and pineapple was hugely expensive.

Straight up, I recommend you get a special daypack or purse that is specifically made to evade criminals. Check the prices now, and get one if you’ll be carrying items worth more than the cost. It’s like insurance, right? (And, I know your phone alone is worth more than the cost of either of these bags! Sit back for a moment and imagine losing your photos….) And, if you decide not to get one, have an employee at your accommodation check you every time you walk out. You’ll see why….

Ulaanbaatar Pickpocket Mistake No. 1

We cross the parking lot and get to the main road—there’s a stoplight and crosswalk for the pedestrians to get across the 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic. Binderya and I walk together following Dasha, her dad. Suddenly, I realize Binderya is gone. I start looking all around, not sure if I should call out to Dasha, since he’s walking fast and getting further away from me. I’m surrounded by people, in this major crosswalk. How could I have lost her?

I move forward with the flow of the crowd. Maybe she’s near me in the crowd, and I just haven’t spotted her yet. I’m on the other side of the street now, and she should be right next to me. I feel scared that I’ve suddenly lost a girl half my age, and am now alone in a crowd. I don’t understand how she could just disappear. Dasha doesn’t seem to have noticed, since now he’s too far ahead for me to see except in peeks through the crowd. Does he see her? Maybe Binderya caught up to him. She knows that I was walking with her, although we were not chatting, so I can’t imagine why she’d have left me. I finally spot Binderya 30 feet behind me with a tall older man looking right at her. I’d guess he is about 50, and he’s wearing suit pants and a dress shirt, but no tie.

Who is She Speaking With?

I stop and wait for her since something looks wrong, but maybe she knows the man. She seems to be speaking with him, and I’m not sure what to do. So, I watch her to make sure everything is alright, and also so that I don’t lose her again.

After a few seconds she catches up to me and explained through gestures that the weird guy had tried to pickpocket her cell phone right out of the front pocket of her hoodie. Whoa! He’d actually taken her phone out of her pocket. Luckily she noticed, and she made him give it back. No wonder every single person, Mongolian or not, has warned me of pickpockets in UB!!

Over the past three days, Dolgormaa’s family and Ochma have made me move my things around my pockets and backpack for walks and bus rides. I don’t think I’ve packed my own things “correctly” once. I assumed I would be more targeted than a Mongolian. It’s a good thing they take such good care of me!

I never saw Dasha look back, and even when we’re back at the apartment, he doesn’t seem concerned. I’m not sure if Binderya hasn’t told him about the pickpocket, or if the situation is simply so common that it doesn’t faze him. I bet he’s told her not to keep her phone in her pocket 1,000 times.

Actually, a guy walking towards me the other day seemed odd, but I glared at him straight in the eye, and he decided to give me space, which relieved me. I know sometimes I look like a mean tourist, but only when I’m unsure of them. I spend a lot of time in one of the more dangerous cities in the USA, so I’ve become quite good at glaring at people who look like they might cause trouble.

No photos of this trip to the market, since Dolgormaa’s family made me leave my phone and camera in the apartment for risk of pickpockets. They should have made Binderya do the same!

Be careful out there! A local store wrote about pickpockets threatening people with knives when noticed in 2012. Don’t take anything you don’t want stolen. You can read more about safety in my Comprehensive Information on Mongolia.

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