13 May began like any other day for Xiaoniu Huang, a third-year PhD student in pathology. She went into the kitchen, just steps from her room, for a snack and a chat with a friend. She was gone no more than 15 minutes. ‘When I came back to my room, I saw my cell phone and laptop were missing! Oh my god, I can’t find my laptop! I thought I had put it somewhere else. I looked everywhere; I even checked in the toilets.’
Huang could not understand how someone managed to enter her room and steal her wallet, mobile phone, laptop, and her flatmate’s laptop in such a short time. ‘It was just a couple of minutes. How is it possible?’, her voice trembles. ‘The police came after 20 minutes. They told me that the windows and the door were not broken. I asked them if they could search the rooms of the other people on the floor, but they said that was not allowed because they did not have proof any of them had done it.’
But the police did say the burglar most likely lives on her floor.
Who is the burglar?
Huang also doubts that the perpetrator is an outsider. ‘My room is far from the main entrance – if they want to go to my room, they have to pass so many other rooms. If the person came from outside, he would choose the nearest one.’
At the same time, Huang can’t believe that any of the 20 or 30 people on her floor, who are mostly PhD students, would do something so terrible. ‘I don’t know if this is the first time; I had just gotten used to life here and this happened.’
Huang has no idea what she will do now. The laptop is an old, second-hand MacBook. It will have no value on the market, she says, but it is extremely valuable to her. It stores much of the data she gathered during two years of research in China. The data is not saved anywhere else. Without it, Huang won’t be able to defend her PhD.
‘I should start gathering the data again. If I need to do it all over again, it will take me over a year. But I did the research back in China and I can’t go there now.’
Huang wrote an email to the SSH manager after the burglary, but the manager was on holiday. ‘She came to the student house several days later, and told me the SSH insurance couldn’t cover the costs because I hadn’t locked the door.’
But who locks their doors when they go to the kitchen? ‘We all know one another’, Xiaoniu says. ‘No one locks their doors even when we have a shower.’ She adds: ‘I always thought it is so safe here; I never thought this would happen.’
‘Just give me my data back’
Xiaoniu hopes to appeal to the burglars’ conscience with a heartfelt plea that she has posted to several facebook groups:
‘Probably you don’t know, if l lost my data, the whole of my work will be destroyed. It will destroy my future. I don’t care that if you would like to keep the money and phone, because you may need this, but for the laptop … it really means so much for me. And I believe that you must have your own difficulties, and I can also understand that you don’t mean to do that. I won’t blame you for this. Could you please return back the laptop or data to me, I will appreciate it very much, and I believe that the gods will bless you and your family for your kind heart.’