Mr. Zheng and Cookie

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 12. Strangers, Shanghai by Yuka Niwa1 Comment

There are approximately six security guards that are in charge of who is allowed to come and go, which cars are allowed to enter and leave, and to overall protect my apartment compound. They take their shifts at the two posts, two shacks’ made of glass and steel, located in front of the driveways to my apartment building. Although all of the guards are extremely friendly, I have never had conversations beyond the usual ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ with most of them. However, there is one particular guard, Mr. Zheng who, even though our conversations are short, take the time to ask about my day and even noticed when my dog got a haircut. Considering the number of people that come and go from my compound, I was surprised that he recognized me and by his memory for details.

I live in an apartment complex that is considered to be a ‘corporate/business apartment complex’ which means that some floors of the building are used as offices for local companies. There are only two buildings in the compound, one of which is in the midst of the last stages of construction and renovations. I live in building 1, where the 2nd to 4th floors are used as offices for everything from retail to consulting firms, while the 5th to 28th floor is for residential purposes only. Every morning at 9 am, I exit the elevator with Cookie (my year old Lhasa Apso) and am met with large groups of young businessmen and women, generally under 30, wearing business attire, waiting for the elevators to take them up to start their workday. Similarly, when I return home from classes around 5-6pm each weekday, I see the same groups of young business people happily chatting as they leave to return home after a long day. Hundreds of sedans, construction vehicles, and delivery trucks enter and exit the compound each day. All of these operations are managed by the security guards who control the electric gates and receive packages for those who are not home when they are delivered. Therefore it is always a pleasant surprise when one of the guards recognizes me and calls me by my first name to let me know I got a package.

Dressed in the standard guard uniform, Mr. Zheng is a stout Chinese man in his early 60’s, with balding blackish grey hair and always has a smile on his face when he sees me out on a walk with Cookie. His appearance resembles one of those “cute” grandparents and his shifts normally take place before noon or after 8 pm. The first time I spoke with him was during my first month at the apartment. Before, when I saw Mr.Zheng, he was always polite but very quiet. On a rather late night walk one day, Cookie ran up to him to say ‘hello’ as he had been whistling. The minute he saw Cookie, his eyes lit up and as he said “why hello there, chubby little dog. We have a similar body type and should get more exercise” (Cookie is slightly overweight and super fluffy). Since then, every time I see Mr. Zheng, he would ask about Cookie and likewise, Cookie would run up to greet Mr. Zheng whenever he is on duty. Although Mr. Zheng and I are not considered “close”, there is a mutual friendliness and trust between us and he is a friendly face among all the people in the busy city of Shanghai.


  1. Hey there! I absolutely loved your article, it’s super cute! I wonder if you’ve observed people who don’t interact with their security guards. I’ve found that they establish a sense of place for you, another character to the story that is personal for each and everyone. It is important to feel grateful for all the people surrounding your life, and this story was such a testament to the kinds of interactions you specifically have with your environment, even when studying abroad. Also, I think what he said about being like your dog is so funny haha!

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