Recently after work and dinner with a friend, I returned home really late on my bicycle. Well, it isn’t exactly “my bicycle.” When I joined the current company, I was taken to an office next to the company owned by a public figure, SW, who is related to the company. There, I was issued a bicycle where I was told to use for commute and I didn’t bother to ask under whose name the bicycle was registered.
In Japan, all new bicycle purchases are registered to prevent bicycle theft. That means, police can actually use the number on the bicycle to find out who owns it. They typically check it against the identity of the person riding it to find out if it was stolen.
Some of you may know that I only work a few days a week at the company and do freelance work on other days. And that complicated, unconventional situation placed me in a predicament where I could easily have been arrested.
When I returned home late that night, I happened to pass a random roadblock and was logically stopped by the police. One policeman came up and said they are conducting random checks to prevent bicycle theft. I got off my bicycle and said alright. As the police proceeded to shine his torchlight at the sticker where the registered number is, I suddenly recalled I don’t actually own the bicycle.
“I should tell him before he finds out himself,” I thought.
And I hurriedly said, “Oh, this bicycle doesn’t belong to me.”
The police eyes went on alert mode and glanced up at me asking, “Whose is it?”
At this point in time, I realized I was in deep shit since I have no idea whose name it was registered under. I honestly told him, “I don’t know.” He started to grow suspicious. I then continued, “When I joined the company, they issued it to me, but I have no idea if it was registered under the company or SW’s office.”
“Oh, you work around here?” The police probed further.
“Yes, my office is just right down the road.” I answered half wondering if my answers might result in me spending the night at the police station.
“And you live around here too?” He continued.
“Yes,” I said and at the same time, took out my residence card to show him.
He took my card and proceeded to speak with the other two policemen who were on duty with him. Then, all three came over to me.
“Do you usually work this late?” The second policeman asked, obviously trying to get something out of me.
“No, but I’ve got another work today so…” and all three men had this confused look forming on their faces. A few moments ago, I just told them I work around here and now, I said I’ve got other work elsewhere, on a weekday nonetheless. My unconventional status placed them on high alert, which at the same time annoyed me when I realized they just cannot comprehend someone having a non-mainstream work status.
The third police spoke into his walkie-talkie to provide the number on my bicycle and I overheard him saying, “Oh, it’s registered under a company name. What company?”
He then came closer to ask me, “What’s the name of your company?” I told him the name but proceeded to explain that I don’t know if it belongs to the company or the SW’s office. “Who is SW?” They asked. I was surprised civil servants of this area don’t know this public figure in this area. I told them and the third guy deliberately let his confusion show, asking, “Hm? Does your work involve SW?” Now, this got confusing and I was palm-facing myself in my head.
I took out my phone and said, “Do you want me to call them? I can call them now if you want.”
The first policeman said, “It’s ok. There’s no need to call.”
He then took a really long time hand copying the info on my residence card while the other two try to create small talk. The third guy asked, “It’s cold in the winter, isn’t it?”
I said, “Yes, I hate winter.”
He gave a surprised look and said, “Doesn’t China also have winter?”
In my mind, I was like “Fuck, not again. Why does everyone assume a ‘Lim’ is from China?” But I calmly responded, “No, I’m not from China.” And the guy holding my residence card that has all my info on it quickly corrected him, “He’s from Singapore.” They continued making small talk about Singapore, about the languages I speak, about all kinds of unnecessary stuff until the guy copying was done copying, and they let me go.
The next morning, the police actually called my company to verify if they owned any bicycles and if I work there. My goodness, they really suspected me. But when I went through the entire conversation in my head, I realized even I would suspect me.
I am a Lim myself and have always been thought to be from China. There was one time when someone helpfully mentioned that it should be spelled as “Lin” and not “Lim”. Another time when someone corrected it to “Lin” without even checking with me. I am thankful that the residence card confirms the correct spelling of my own name. Wonder if the same thing will happen in Korea. I would be curious 🙂 Never happened to me when I was living in another Asian City. Hope that you will arrive at decision that will make you very happy.