Another Pickpocket

May 23, 2007

I wrote a few days ago about trying to get a security guard to call police or to help a woman who was being abused by her boyfriend.  The security guard did nothing in spite of my requests.  It puzzled me why no one would help.  Is it a Chinese thing, of not getting involved to help a stranger?  Or is it an example of "bystander apathy" (aka "Kitty Genovese Syndrome")? 

This experience, as well as stories by other expats, makes me fear, if we were in some bad situation here, would someone help us?  I think that’s the reason the expat community is pretty tight here.  We know we have to take care of each other, because none of us has the same safety net that we would have in our home countries.  It’s an interesting thing to see that expats, and not just me, extend themselves to each other in ways that would be unusual in their home countries.
Well yesterday, a bad thing happened again.  Somebody pickpocketed Sarah’s phone.  Good thing it was a cheap one.  She wondered aloud why the thief didn’t target her cash, but the fact is that statistically any given cell phone will probably be more valuable than the amount of cash a person is wearing.  She was with a friend, so it was a skillful pickpocket.  I looked on the internet, did a web search for crime, guangzhou, and found some startling statistics about crime here.  There’s opportunity, just in terms of sheer volume of numbers, because there are so many people, and there truly are relatively few police. 
In the meantime, I told Song Ying about it, and she replied that she’s been trying to warn us dummies!  THEN she tells me that her 17 year old, slender daughter was robbed in December, in what sounds like a much more invasive attack.  Two men dragged the girl by the hair to a place where there were no people, then they made her dump everything out of her bag, empty her pockets, and they even took her shoes.  She said her daughter cried for a long time after this.  She told me, "Stay where there are other people!  Don’t ever go where there are no people!"  Language is an issue, but I think Song Ying told me that we would be particularly targeted because we are westerners.  Everyone knows that foreigners carry a lot of money.  At any given moment, I probably have more than a month’s wages for an average person, in my pocket. 
I try to be careful and aware, but my fear is that you never know when it’s going to strike.  If you knew ahead of time, you would act accordingly to eliminate that risk.  All I can do is act in a way to reduce known risks.  At least, I feel, I have some awareness of the risks.  On the other hand, how do you convince a teenager or young adult who by nature thinks he is invincible? 


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