The public bus is a popular means of transport among Vietnamese students for reasons of health, safety and cost-effectiveness. However, many have expressed concerns over growing pickpocketing.
Thu Trang, a student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanity (USSH), based in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, shares her story.
On that day, she took bus No. 19. She had a window seat, and after a while a thirty-something man boarded the bus. Sitting next to her, the man asked her to open the bus window to get some fresh air.
He got off at the next stop, after which another passenger told Thu Trang to check on her belongings. She lost her wallet and a cellphone.
"I held my backpack tight in my front. He must have done it while I was opening the window."
Undergoing a similar experience, Hong Diem, a student at the University of Economics and Law on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, says she was on bus No. 8.
It was a popular bus for students commuting from the suburbs to the inner city, and it was crowded that day.
She was surfing Facebook on her phone, and later put it carefully away in her jacket pocket.
Roughly 15 minutes later, she found out her phone had already vanished into thin air.
She asked the bus driver to provide CCTV records, but he cautioned her against filing a police report, for it would do her no good.
The driver added that he himself would turn a blind eye for fear of retaliation.
|Students waiting for their morning buses at Dorm B of the Vietnam National University neighborhood in Thu Duc District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Pickpockets on the act
Pickpockets are most active when buses are fully packed, with passengers standing by a hair's breadth next to one another, or when the buses come to a screeching halt.
They have also been known to set people up to steal from them.
In the college student hub in Thu Duc District, about 20km from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, pickpocketing is the daily norm.
In peak hours, buses No. 8, 19, 33, and others in this area are usually fully occupied with undergrads traveling to and from school, which paves the way for 'professional' pickpockets.
Having said that, it is also the bus-goers' lack of precaution that is to blame.
Yen Ngoc, another USSH student, admits she got pickpocketed two times due to carelessness.
The first time was on bus No. 33. She had the backpack behind her, and the phone got stolen while she was busy getting off.
The second time was on bus No. 52. The pickpocket managed to grope the phone out of her jacket pocket.
She eyewitnessed the act, but chose to remain silent, for she feared they might gang up against her.
She further commented that pickpockets often 'went to work' in groups of two or three, wearing caps that cover their faces, with face masks and backpacks in front for easy handling.
They would also keep a low profile by disguising themselves as college students. They often carry jackets, hanging them on their arms to better cover their acts.
While 'at work,’ they often secure the bus door area, despite all the empty seats available. Also, they would push their sitting ducks to the window seats or where lots of passengers are standing.
Though people are keyed up by the prevalence of pickpocketing, the bus still serves as a common choice for students regarding their convenience and low costs.
Kim Thanh, a student in Thu Duc District, says she has to spend only VND2,000 (9 U.S. cents) for each of her one-way trips to school, work, or friendly gatherings.
She appreciates the bus drivers for their kind reminders: passengers should take caution against pickpocketing by wearing their backpacks in front, refrain from sleeping or using earphones.
She adds that students should not carry much cash or valuable stuff, open their wallets/purses and use their phones during the rides to avoid becoming the next targets.
For her part, she equips herself with anti-pickpocketing skills by learning to identify pickpockets from tips shared on social media by past victims.