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 


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