Pallavi Aiyar at Granta:
My European friends in China had largely been agreed in their envy of my departure to the ‘civilized’ world. When I’d expressed any apprehensions about the move they had rushed to assure me. Things would be so much easier than in China, they’d stressed. Everything worked. You flushed the toilet and watched the toilet paper disappear instead of the water rising ominously out of the bowl. You might pay more for food and clothes but what you purchased was of assured quality. People in Europe were ethical. None of that lying and cheating that went on in China with its get-rich-quick culture. The air was clean, the neighbourhoods green. People queued at bus stops and didn’t spit up foaming gobs of phlegm on the roads.
Efficiency, quality, honesty: these words echoed in my head as our plane prepared for landing in Brussels on a late April day in 2009. An hour or so later I was desperately knocking at the door of the airport police station, wild-eyed and begging for help, having been robbed of my handbag and laptop case while expertly distracted by the thief’s accomplice. ‘Is this arrivals or departures?’ the partner in crime had asked, and when I’d turned to answer, his friend had quietly made off with my belongings.