Cautionary Tales

In The Art of Travel Fall 2015, Shanghai, Tips by Sammy Song

To be honest I can hardly suggest any worthwhile insight for prospective Shanghai study abroad students because I can hardly be an authority on the whereby for someone else to experience their life more fully. The primary authority and the ultimate referent of any such question has always been the personal experiencer. As always the content of and the lens onto any experience abroad depends upon the sovereign decision-making of the experiencer. Here the only insight I can offer would be to take command of yourself as the sovereign decision-maker of your own experiences.

They only justifiable standpoint of authority I can stand for must be my personal experience here contrary to any anticipatory preconceptions of those without. Prior to my arrival in Shanghai I had already heard from peers and family members enough cautionary tales that I persuaded myself into anxiety far in advance about the wayward Chinese mainlanders. By no means should I keep valuables in my hind pockets lest I be a schmuck for a subway pickpocket. From my parents I heard about the practiced stealth of the pickpockets here: willing and deft enough by way of a discreet incision to rummage through the knapsack of an unsuspecting passerby. Since for thfis reason the local subwaygoers here always harness their knapsacks frontward, I have persuaded myself to never sling any such bag over my shoulders without care like I would elsewhere. If not the pickpockets the decorum I accustom myself to expect elsewhere yet lacking among subwaygoers here likewise repels me from public transportation. The mob of subwaygoers devolve into a pushy competition to be in front as soon as doors open.

Although I dismissed as mere paranoia the warnings not to wear my bandana headband here lest I be incarcerated or beaten for resembling a Hong Kong protester, I sometimes internalize a self-conscious gaze from local passersby distracted by my appearance. Although given my Chinese features I can blend into a crowd far better than my study abroad peers, I still might not pass for a local given my attire and comportment. That once I was mistaken for a Japanese student seems not much better among the Chinese. For non-Asian crusaders of political correctness to encounter giddy locals eager for selfies with the racial misfit can be shocking. As far as brutality from authority otherwise, the infamous Chinese officialdom has been hands-off as far as our portal campus here. Any prospective students here would be thrilled to hear about on-campus accessibility of frequented social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed I might dismiss most of those cautionary tales as overblown paranoia. Should an elder collapse to the sidewalk I should according to my mother continue to walk lest I be accused and sued for being responsible. I can speak from personal experience about none of the above incidents: albeit, perhaps because I observe those warnings to secure belongings to my person. Yet of course Shanghai has proven to be less treacherous than hearsay warned. For prospective students the caution necessary here should not entail paranoia.

Image source

  • Pickpocket: Pinoy Transplant