Watch Out! The Banquette Seat Ride

Now You See It, Now You Don’t … from the Watch Out! Travel Series

A friend and I decided to meet up at a local fast-food outlet in the busy Chinatown area to discuss a new project. I chose this venue because it was convenient and central for us, and it offered something I was craving – fluffy mashed potatoes topped with a generous amount of gravy. The free soft drink refills were a nice bonus too. Since number-crunching – a major topic of our discussion that day – is not my strong suit, the free sugary top-ups provided extra motivation and focus. 

The best seats in this outlet, in my opinion, were the banquette ones, which were strategically placed against the large bright windows overlooking Chinatown. To my surprise, several of them were available when I walked in, so I grabbed the first empty booth I saw. I also liked the idea of sitting here because these diner seats were flush against the window, thus allowing one to work at ease without the fear of their things being snitched. 

I left my bag of books and sling bag next to me on the seat. Since our seat was at the entrance, I kept a constant eye on our belongings on the table (our laptops and handphones) as we took turns getting our orders. 

reaching delphi, coffee

We quickly finished our meal, refilled our lemon ice teas (a.k.a. ice lemon tea in Malaysia), and got cracking on business. My friend, a digital marketer, showed me some of the work he had recently completed. The overly sweet lemon iced tea was kicking in, and the complicated numbers on the laptop had my attention.

A couple of minutes into our discussion, I sensed something was amiss. Subconsciously, my hands reached out for my things on the seat. When I turned around, I noticed my sling bag wasn’t where I had left it. We frantically searched the greasy floors and the empty booth next to us. A staff member told us she noticed three ladies at the seat behind me only minutes before, and one of them was continuously stretching her hand over the back of her seat. She assumed they were playing a silly game, so naturally, she wasn’t concerned. Unfortunately, that game ended poorly for me. The restaurant manager was helpful, but his efforts, too, were futile. 

That was when I realised I had overlooked the reminders at the entrance alerting customers to be cautious of pickpockets. This was a regular occurrence, and I was not the first victim!
Following the store manager’s advice, we quickly walked to the nearest police station, less than one kilometre away, to report the incident. While filing the report, I requested CCTV footage. For this, I had to meet the police sergeant on duty to run through the sequence of events at the restaurant for a second time. The sergeant interrogated me for over an hour.  A week later, however, he recovered the CCTV footage. Though I didn’t get a chance to see the clip, the officer sent me the image of the person in the seat behind me. I had never seen that person before. The suspect nor my bag (and its contents) were never located.

reaching delphi, coffee

By the way, I visited the same outlet again recently and snapped a couple of photos of that seat. The staff member asked me why I was taking these photos! Anyway, the reminders were no longer pinned up, which made me feel safer.

A similar incident happened to Doc’s uncle and aunt who were visiting New York City years earlier. His uncle was carrying a small brown bag containing essential travel documents. They had visited several sightseeing spots in NYC and were on their way to see Times Square. Upon reaching the square, they made a pit stop at a well-known fast-food outlet. Doc went for their orders while my uncle and aunt relaxed at their window seats, watching people passing by. Before he left them, Doc reminded his uncle to watch out for his things, as they were in a heavy-traffic area. His uncle replied that he had everything under control. Orders received. They drank their hot coffee and momentarily got carried away in conversation. As they were about to leave, Doc did an inventory check. Oh heck no! The brown bag was missing. His uncle had left it on the floor, sandwiched between his feet. The next few days were spent at the police station and local embassy for travel document replacement. 

reaching delphi, coffee, chinatown

What I Learnt

  • Choose the right venue. Public workplaces need to be safe. 
  • I learnt this the hard way – don’t assume banquette seats that are flush against the wall/windows are safe from a pickpocket’s reach. 
  • Observe and take note of all public advisory notices placed on the walls for customers. 
  • Witty purloiners’ eyes are always on us in every city, no matter how many people are travelling in your group. Always be on the alert. Carry only what you need with you. If you need to carry more, distribute your essential items across your bags, or bring copies of them instead. 
  • Keep your bag close to your body. Then, if it goes missing, you will be able to feel its absence immediately. 
  • Consider wearing clothes that have pockets to distribute other essential items. For example, I always keep a couple of dollars in my pocket for emergencies. 
  • Do not rely on CCTVs. Instead,  practice preventive measures always.
  • It’s nice to people watch, but remember other people are also watching you, including more notorious folks. 

I still find it bizarre that a hand was able to just creep from over or under a seat without being noticed by the two of us at that table! 

Stay alert. Always.


reaching delphi, coffee


Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create the awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

This series is dedicated to Doc - SV Narayanan, who constantly reminded me and many others to 'Watch Out!. 

 Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.


Also in the WatchOut! series:

Watch Out! The Banquette Seat Ride 


Watch Out! Keep Your Eyes on the Passport

Watch Out! Keep Your Eyes on the Passport … from the Watch Out Travel Series

Front Desk:    Good morning, sir and madam. Welcome. How are you both today?
Doc:               Very good, thank you. How are you?
Front Desk:    Very well too, sir. May I have your passports, please?
Doc:               Sure, both?
Front Desk:    Yes, both.

travel alert, advice, reachingdelphi, coffee
Always have your travel document in sight or store it safely

Xeroxing is a standard procedure, but Doc and I have been through several incidents that made us suspicious of the staff. They are listed below for you to be aware of because some criminal organisations steal personal information or passport pages. Generally, all passports are at risk, but the ones from the West are more popular targets for theft.

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An overview

Incident 1: 

Our passports were requested at the front desk during check-in. After ensuring the faces on the documents matched the faces standing in front of him, the front desk officer handed us the room key and briefly informed us about the hotel facilities. We learnt that there were two restaurants, a swimming pool, and a gym located in this hotel. Then, he nodded at the bellboy, who quickly came to take our luggage and escort us to the room. The front desk officer smiled as he told us we were all checked in and could proceed to our rooms. So far, so good. These are pretty standard procedures at most hotels all over the world.

But hey, wait! What about our passports? 

The front desk told us not to worry as he would bring the passports over after he photocopied them. Though we were not comfortable with this arrangement, we followed the bellboy to our room anyway. After all, we were at a relatively high-end hotel, so what could go wrong?

An hour passed, but our travel checklist status was in red, as our passports were still not with us. We were getting agitated and called the front desk several times to inquire. Eventually, our travel documents were returned to us. We checked the contents. They were intact. When asked why it took so long, the officer told us the photocopier was down and that he had to get the machine fixed.

I later understood from the hotel’s online reviews that the same had happened to many other guests. The reason for the delay was the same – the photocopier was faulty. Since a photocopy is essential for their business, we found it strange that the copier hadn't been fixed despite the many online reviews.


Incident 2: 

Another variation occurred when the front desk officer “forgot” to photocopy the essential passport pages during the check-in procedure and sent a bellboy over to collect the document from our room. Based on our experience, we decided to take a walk with the bellboy and, this time, waited until our passports were photocopied and handed back to us before we returned to the room. This incident happened in a tourist-class hotel.


Incident 3

Photocopies of passports were required, but we were informed the photocopier was off the premises in another office. This is a very convenient reason for someone to separate you from your passport for a while. When we insisted that we go with them to get the documents photocopied, magically, another hotel staff informed us there was no need for that as there was a copier in the next room. He apologised for the mix-up, saying that the officer at the front desk was new.

travel alert, advice, reachingdelphi
Observe. Be safe

What I Learnt

  • Incidents such as these can happen anywhere and on any continent. Your passport is your responsibility. Always have it in sight or store it safely.
  • Keep your passport in a hotel safe or safely with you when you are on the go.
  • If a photocopy of the passport is required for security and local government requirements, that's fine, but request it to be copied within your sight. 
  • Ideally, passports should be black-and-white copied. 
  • Check your passport once it's returned to you. Make sure it's not been tampered with. Also, check that no passport pages are torn away.
  • Know that there is no reason for any hotel to hold your passport without your request. 
  • For local travellers, apply the same safety measures for local photo IDs, as they could also be stolen. Examples include National Registration Identity cards, Social Security cards, and Citizen Card Aadhar cards.

Keep your passports safe when you travel. That little book deserves more respect than it's sometimes given.

travel alert, advice, reachingdelphi
Invited for coffee, but not for trouble. Prevent!


Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create the awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

This series is dedicated to Doc - SV Narayanan, who constantly reminded me and many others to 'Watch Out!. 

 Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.


Also in the WatchOut! series:

Watch Out! The Banquette Seat Ride  



Watch Out! Watch Those Prying Eyes

Watch Out! Watch Those Prying Eyes… from the Watchout Travel Series

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

Do you remember this song? “Every Breath You Take” was the Police's Grammy Award–winning song from the eighties. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. How would you feel if a stranger was watching and following every move you make, just as Sting mentions?

coffee, travel alert
Watch over your coffee & other belongings

Doc and I were at Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre in Paris when we noticed someone following us, and the scene I am about to tell you was exactly like the lyrics of this song.

reachingdelphi,  basillica, Travel alert
Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre

See, we didn't have selfie sticks during this trip to France, nor did we want to lug around a bulky tripod. Though a relatively new model, our camera didn't have the built-in selfie feature some models do today. And by the way, these were the days when we'd ask a kind stranger to snap us a photo when we wanted a family shot. You know what? I am glad I still stop people for one! How about you?  

Although there were many visitors, the surrounding area looked very calm, as it usually is over there. We wanted to capture the serene moment, so we looked around for the right person to take a photo for us (i.e., someone who wouldn't run away with our camera). It was at this point that Doc noticed a pair of eyes on us. A tall bloke, he was. As we climbed the stairs leading to the grand basilica, he kept on following behind us. He didn't have a camera, nor did he look like a tourist. He kept his hands in his pocket most of the time. When we took five steps, the bloke would also take five. When we took three, he matched with the same number. We pretended to rest midway to appreciate the view. He also stopped, but instead of admiring the view, his eyes were on us. Though he knew that we were aware of him trailing us, he didn't give a damn and continued to follow us up the stairs leading to the basilica. 

Inside the basilica, we quickly took a seat at the prayer bench. As the bloke walked past us, we could see his head turning around as he searched for us. Since it was crowded and a dimly lit, he lost sight of us and probably found another victim to spy on. 

I was lucky Doc spotted the watchful eyes in time—otherwise, we may have gotten pickpocketed or mugged that day. Although you may say this won't happen to you today with CCTVs around, trust me; the games played today are far more sophisticated.  

reachingdelphi,  basillica, Travel alert
Tried to get a photo together, alas...

What I Learnt

  • The stranger following was not the Prince Charming of a Daniel Steel novel. Wake up! It probably would not have the joyous ending you hoped for.
  • Again, be wary of strange characters around you, especially those who try to get close to you. Observe. 
  • Walk in crowds to avoid being singled out.
  • Stay in brightly lit areas, especially if you are alone. 
  • Avoid keeping all of your important items in a single place. This way, for instance, if a bag gets nabbed, some of your other important items won’t be lost along with it. 
  • Make copies of important documents. Email a copy of these to yourself/travel group for safe-keeping.
  • CCTV cameras don’t always work. It’s always good to be a self-guard.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

reachingdelphi,  basillica, france
Inside the bag is a caricature of us by a Picasso-like artist at his eyes.

Note: The original analog photographs had been scanned for this post.


Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create the awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

This series is dedicated to Doc - SV Narayanan, who constantly reminded me and many others to 'Watch Out!. 

 Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.


Also in the WatchOut! series:

The Transformation of a Lifeless Terrace into the Gardens of Babylon

Travel in Close Quarters

In the recent lockdown months, eating at home was clearly the wiser choice for most, mainly to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But I have to admit my meal choices got a lot healthier too, and the fortnightly grocery shopping trip for cooking essentials was an opportunity to flex my rusty calves, even if just for a bit.

Gardens of Babylon, reaching delphi
Work In Progress ... the Gardens of Babylon

There was one problem with this arrangement, though. Me! My meal planning started when the greens begin to show signs of fall. That’s how I came up with a brilliant idea to try on a farmer’s hat and grow my own vegetables. This would be a start to an endless supply of handpicked, fresh capsicum, tomatoes, kale, and lettuce. Or so I thought …

Gardens of Babylon, reaching delphi
Becoming Gardens of Babylon 

Gardening was not new to me. I was 10 or 11 when I first handled a hedge shear and rake with a sun hat on. Looking back, perhaps the term “gardening” would be an exaggeration. Really, I was just trimming the overgrown fence. Was I paid? Yes, my first job was a handsomely paid one. My boss? My mom, of course. My mom’s passion is gardening, by the way. Honestly, I didn’t like gardening – it was a chore in the heat! But those few hours of roasting got me one monthly ais kacang treat (shaved ice dessert) and two Enid Blytons.

Transformation, Reaching Delphi
A potpourri of shots from Mom's patch

After a trip to Cameron Highlands and seeing acres of vegetable farms, I started imagining being a planter, stacking up plump cabbages amidst the morning fog to be sold at the local wet market for a considerable profit. My older sister would be the farm manager. I was eleven.

We moved to KL not too long after, far away from the highlands. My aunt, who lived a few miles away, had a beautiful garden of roses. I took one of her rose cuttings and planted it in ours. That cutting grew and would later produce the most beautiful and fragrant deep-pink blooms consistently for many decades. Sadly, that plant recently dried up and died. Luckily, I have pictures to remember it by. See how beautiful she is? I am in search of another beautiful rose plant again.

The lady stands elegantly

Eventually, over the years I outgrew any hope of owning a cabbage farm. However, looking at other people’s (family and friends) gardens, I could still deeply appreciate the joy flora brings to them. They have very beautiful flower and vegetable gardens. Below is a small collage I have put together of them.  

A peek view of gardens around the world

And so one day I woke up with a grand plan to transform my empty, lifeless balcony into a nurturing space ( a.k.a. a garden) just like theirs, but with a slightly different agenda – to stop eating almost rotten vegetables. 😊

Despite the travel restrictions, there was no stopping me from YouTubing into other people’s gardens for ideas. I Googled to see what I was getting myself into. [At this point I could hear Doc voice saying, “Here she goes again”]. I learned plenty of lessons and received advise from the internet and from family.  To begin, all I needed were a few pots and some good soil. I already had one massive pot in which I used to rear fish years ago. My friend, Angelina, recommended a bag of Baba’s soil that I could get easily. The idea of making fresh pasta sauce got stuck in my head while I continued with the after-office-hours research.

Pick wisely
Recognise any of these? 

Next, I needed seedling soil, fertilisers, and organic insect repellent. Online shopping, here I come!

Online Purchase
First purchase

If you, too, are considering putting your green thumb to the test, here are some beginner’s tips.

Be realistic

It’s important to grow what you enjoy watching flourish. I am hooked on the idea of vegetable planting so I can relive that eleven-year-old child’s fantasy. Will it work? I don’t know, but at least I have tried.

Speaking of being realistic, I just have a tiny balcony with a good amount of sunshine, so I must put this space to its best use.

seedling, reaching delphi
Cover me in sunshine

Know what grows well for your climate

I know for a fact that the apple tree inside my head won’t survive the tropical heat. I did a fair bit of research on what could be harvested successfully. The apple tree was not on the list! In the picture below, you can see what I have shortlisted.
flora, seedling
Hello, any apple tree here?

Plant what you enjoy looking at

I will mention this again. Plants bring out an immense amount of joy, peace, and happiness for a minimal cost. Select what you enjoy, and watch them grow. And, as crazy as it sounds, talk to your plants. They listen to your voice.
coffee, reaching delphi
Ready? Lets talk

Learn from fellow gardeners

I got overambitious and aimed to plant asparagus since they cost a lot of money at my local market. An exchange of texts with a fellow Redditor, however, proved this would not be the ideal thing to grow in my terrace. 

Did you know that the asparagus takes up to three years to harvest? Well, now you do.

Gardening gadgets

There are all sorts of inexpensive quick fixes available for our gardening needs at DIY stores, dollar shops, and online. I found some of these interesting and useful. I also came across few peculiar items but bought them anyway.

  • Sword, a.k.a. the bamboo support

Does this remind you of Yoda’s lightsaber? Well, it’s not something used ward off the evil forces of nature but is a bamboo stick to support drooping plants. You can also use strong twigs from trees as support if available.


Coffee, reaching delphi saver

  • Hair clips, a.k.a. plant clips

These are not the ordinary hair clips my nieces use to tie up their hair, but a very cool gadget to hold a plant’s stem to its (bamboo) support. Isn’t this a clever idea? Of course, the traditional way is to tie them together with a string or wire.

Coffee, Reaching Delphi
New toys

  • Racks

Check out the two racks I got. I had so much fun assembling them. But watch your fingers while you are at it, as you can easily scrape off the skin while tightening the screws like I did.

 Two-rack shelf

This looked light, but trust me, lifting it got my poor back aching for days.


I regard this tricycle rack as one of the best online purchases I have ever made. I was so happy just looking at it! This purchase also came with a free gift set that included a hand trowel, transplant trowel, and cultivator hand rake.

Tricycle, racks
Best online purchase ever - Tricycle

  • Watering can

A watering can is not the only way to water your plants with, but I found watering from a can very pleasurable (as I am sure it is for my plants!), so I don’t regret this purchase at all.

  • Automated water dispenser

There are days when I’m not home to water my plants. During these days, my automated dispensers will provide them the water they need. Dear Automated Dispensers, please keep my plants watered and alive till I am back.

  • Fence for creepers

Snow peas, cucumbers, and gourds are good climbers. If you want bountiful, healthy, and a tasty harvest, be sure to provide them suitable terrain to creep up. Look what I have for my creepers.

reachingdelphi, garden, plants

  • Starter Seeds

Frankly speaking, you don’t spend money on “magic” seeds unless it is absolutely needed. When I started, I haphazardly ordered various vegetable seeds. I was surprised to find there were only a few seeds inside these large packs, and survival is not 100% guaranteed. Other experienced gardening mates later told me that for tomato planting, even a slice of a very ripe tomato will do the trick,  which is what I used at the end. My mini garden today is cultivated from both store seeds and fresh scraps.
seedling, reachingdelphi
Who Am I?

  • Seedling containers

While you can get these relatively cheap at dollar shops, you could opt to save the environment by using paper-based egg trays and unused cups. I have.

reachingdelphi, recycle, reuse
reuse and recycle

  •  Planting Pots

It is essential to know the habitat required for your plants because, just like us, they will not grow as expected without the proper space. For example, tomatoes need deep pots, while snow peas will be happy in a shallow pan. So, order the right size.

It’s not always merrier with more

Just because plants don’t speak a human language, it doesn’t mean they should be dumped in a pot anyway we want. Respect the plants. Try not to overcrowd them into one pot. Just get another container if needed.


What I called a chore in the heat at eleven is today a pleasure and catharsis. Every morning I look out eagerly to see how many inches my crops have grown through the night. Some mornings, especially on weekends, I just sit on the floor next to my plants with my coffee. Some days I take a couple of photos, and an exchange of good morning texts with close ones starts. I don’t know if this gardening experience is a fad or something long term, but I am enjoying every moment of it right now. Being in the company of plants is therapeutic.

Therapeutic...time well spent

Special shoutout to all my fellow gardeners for all the valuable advice and for allowing me to share photos of your beautiful flora with the rest. Thank you!

For me, travel is about searching within myself, learning something new, exploring new cultures, and meeting people who will stay on in my mind. Thanks to the advances in technology, I can still do that from my living room (and balcony). I look at gardening as a sign of many more travels to come. Counting stars, Reaching Delphi … counting the days to my harvest and to more learning opportunities. Reaching Delphi is about travelling within your means.

reachingdelphi, coffee
Thank you for visiting my garden 😃