When looking at the prompt initially, I was a little stumped. I honestly could not think of a person who was from Shanghai that I have grown to trust. There’s so many people here that I almost never see the same people twice. This initial feeling also made me sad because of the fact that I have lived here for three months, I feel like I should have someone I trust that’s a native by now right?
However, then I started to think. I thought back to earlier in the week when I ordered bubble tea from the same women for the third day in a row and she did not have to ask me if I wanted it warm or cold, she just made it warm. I thought about how the same women who I often see working at the convenience store- Family Mart automatically gave me a bag for my chips and Gatorade. I thought about my Chinese professor who always stayed after class to help me or anyone else with pronunciation of difficult words. I then realized that there are many people around me who I do trust who are also natives to China. I just initially believed that because I had no Chinese friends, I didn’t trust anyone but after reflection I believe this to be far from true.
In the book I read, China Road Rob Gifford travels all across China talking to strangers about each city and the history behind the cities. He has to trust them to even approach them. Trust that they’ll answer him honestly and will not deceive him. He always understood that he was the outsider and he needed to respect them and their boundaries.
In a sense, all communication with strangers requires a bit of trust. You trust that the bubble tea worker is going to make your order correctly, you trust that if you walked up to someone and started talking to them that they wouldn’t try to put you in danger. I think an openness to trusting others is an essential part of traveling. Sometimes you’re lost and you need to ask for directions from someone else and have to trust that they’re giving you the right ones. Also, by simply trying to communicate with the people around you, you could fundamentally shift your experience traveling.
Although we live in a world that is now filled with people being extremely cautious about strangers, I think too much caution can be extremely limiting. Safety, yes, is integral and we can always use our better judgment to determine where interaction with strangers is not okay. However, I believe it would be depriving ourselves of experience and knowledge if we did not take the time to talk to the people who actually live where we are visiting.
Next week, I hope to further my interactions with strangers for a school assignment that I’m doing. I’m going to various different galleries in Shanghai and interviewing the owners. I will have to explain who I am and what I’m doing in order for them to trust me; however, I hope that I will be able to further delve into the minds of these creative Shanghai natives.
- Shanghai Strangers: TimeOut Shanghai