My Thug Life: Getting Shot At In China

One of the things that people wonder about when hearing that I live overseas is my safety.  It’s certainly something that my parents were concerned about when I informed them that I was returning to China for a year and would be doing so alone this time.  Despite the strides made by women in so many areas, it is thought that a woman wandering around a city or country other than her own (heck, even sometimes when it is her own) is not being sensible.

That’s why I’m always met with a certain degree of surprise when I nonchalantly talk about life here and how it’s so safe.  Because it is.


Don't worry, this guy is shorter and skinnier than I am. I could take him in a fight.

I don’t know what to chalk it up to, but I feel safer walking down the street here in my home city, or even in Beijing, than I do in some cities in Canada.

Is there crime here?  Sure.  There are pickpockets and purse-snatchers, and everyone is constantly going on about being on guard against them (knock on wood, I’ve never been a victim of this).  There are thieves (remember, someone stole my husband’s bike…wink, wink?) and burglars (that’s why the houses on the first floor have bars on them).  There are even a few violent wackos who from time to time lose their marbles and head to a school with a cleaver and harm some children.

All first floor houses have bars on the windows - depressing, but apparently necessary.

But I’ve never felt unsafe here in China.  That’s right, I said never.

There have been a couple of instances where I have felt uncomfortable, but never that my safety was being threatened.

When I leave the house to go out shopping or wandering around the city, if I’m not with my husband, most of the time I go alone (I’m perfectly happy not having to converse with someone else or stop to look at things I don’t want to look at – I know, selfish, right?!).  I walk through markets and down little alleys that look interesting.  I’ve walked home in the evening and wandered around our residential zone late at night when I can’t sleep.  I’ve even let my head get a little big and run my mouth off at some obnoxious jerks when they shove me or bump into me especially hard on the street or in the train station (for the record, my husband has told me that he will not be backing me up in a fight if one should start – thanks, honey).

If I didn't wander the seedier areas of town sometimes, how would I have discovered that sidewalk tattooing is a 'thing'??

Is it because I’m a foreigner and the penalties for a crime against a foreigner would be much higher?  Is it because I’m such a novelty that victimizing me is the last thing on people’s minds?  Is it because I strike such an intimidating figure (all 5 foot 3 inches, 115 pounds of me) that no one dares to mess with me?  Is it because even if they were to ask me to give them all my money I would just smile and keep walking because I wouldn’t understand anyway?  Who knows.

Who in their right mind would want to mess with ME?

Chinese people seem to have the same sort of attitude, especially the children.  Kids run wild in our zone (when they aren’t in class or studying, that is), skipping, riding bikes, skateboarding, and making up all sorts of games.  Many primary school kids walk or take the city bus to and from school each day, alone.  At Spring Festival, parents send kids outside with firecrackers to amuse themselves.  I’ve seen two small boys gather up dry grass and sticks and light a bonfire without any adult supervision whatsoever.

People here seem so much less concerned that significant harm will fall on their kids if they are allowed to (gasp!) go outside and play, especially as compared to the paranoia that exists in a lot of places in North America these days (not that some of it isn’t justified there).  And the kids, well, they don’t seem to be growing up with such fear of something bad happening to them as some of their North American counterparts.

Just look at the 'devil may care' attitude of that kid. Who needs clothes to rollerblade??

This might explain the response of my students to an incident in class a few days ago (forgive me, I know I don’t normally talk about my job, but for this story, I had to make an exception).

I was teaching class, as usual, on Sunday morning (yes, that’s right, class on Sunday morning at 8:30 – ugh) when we all heard a loud, sharp crack.  This particular class is notorious for their inability to sit still for even a few seconds, so I didn’t give the noise a second thought, assuming it came from one of the students’ desks.  Even the Chinese teacher in the classroom didn’t pay any attention.

It was a few moments later that our students helped us identify the problem.  Pointing towards the window and chattering away, they informed us that there was a mark.  Upon closer inspection, we discovered a tiny hole in the window, surrounded by a chip about the size of a quarter, not unlike a rock chip in your windshield.

The difference between a rock chip and this one, however, besides the small hole that went all the way through the pane of glass and the fact that our classroom is on the 5th floor, was that a couple of pieces of the glass had broken off the inside and flown into the classroom, which the students found on the floor and proudly displayed to us.  That’s right – someone shot the window.

(I will point out here, for those who are concerned, that China does not allow gun ownership, and the hole was much too small for it to have been from a real gun.  It appears as though it may have been an air-powered pellet gun…not that that makes it a whole lot better.)

As you would expect, the kids were suitably worked up by this development.  Their response, however, was what demonstrated the fearlessness I mentioned earlier.

Every one of them got up and went to peer out the window.

Class was effectively over at that point (you can’t really come back from something like that).  Was it serious?  No, not really.  But I can now tell everyone that I have been shot at…and survived!

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31 Responses to My Thug Life: Getting Shot At In China

  1. I definitely feel safer walking around the streets of my city in China (and really most of the cities & countries I’ve visited in Asia) than I would walking around the random streets of some city in North America. I realize this sense of safety might be misguided. I do have female friends who’ve been robbed or groped and one friend who was assaulted in Thailand. But I know plenty more people who’ve had those things happen to them in the States. Here, I figure I have both size and visibility on my size. Very few Chinese punks are going to mess with the big, loud, white girl. After all, I attract a crowd even when I’m doing something totally un-noteworthy like grocery shopping. I can’t imagine the kind of audience I’d get if I was being robbed or attacked!
    And I totally love the pic of the naked kid rollerblading — especially love how he’s wearing a helmet AND knee pads AND elbow pads but absolutely no clothes. Safety first — even before clothes!

    • kjsandor says:

      Absolutely, things do happen here, even to foreigners, and different countries vary in their safety, but I definitely feel safe here. At least for the time being, we’re still such a novelty that I don’t think it crosses their minds to try anything bad with us. :)

      The funniest thing for me about the rollerblade kid (and I don’t know if it is a boy or girl) is that we’ve spotted it more than once in that state!! :D

  2. T says:

    Heh, it’s kinda ironic: a Westerner from a free and democratic country feels completely safe and secure in evil communist China. Yeah, generally speaking, East Asian countries are relatively free of violent crimes, but you’re also right in suggesting that your foreign/white status may have something to do with it. Chinese people are still going through that phase in which they think foreign/white people have magical powers and thus need to be given extra respect or even deference.

    In contrast, this is what happens to Chinese people in a Western country:

    Your hubby is a gem, though. (-:

    • kjsandor says:

      My foreignness definitely helps me in this situation – I’m such a novelty that I don’t think it crosses people’s minds to try anything against me. Time and more exposure to foreigners may change this here as well.

      • LozinTransit says:

        Novelty is what usually makes you a target for some crimes/scams because your discernibility shows that your monied and probably naive to the customs and area. I’m going with the fear of magical powers :)

      • kjsandor says:

        That’s what I can’t figure out sometimes – everyone here assumes foreigners are rich and that we aren’t very smart, yet the level of crime against us is so low (not that I’m complaining!). I don’t look forward to the day when folks finally wake up and realize that we can be targets too.

  3. asdf@adf says:

    That naked rollerstating kid will be learning a new word: roadrash. LEGENDARY ROADRASH.

  4. expatlingo says:

    Hey, I just tagged you in my list of favorite funny expat blogs (or what I re-christened the “Versatile Blogger Award”: No pressure to “pass it on.”

    • kjsandor says:

      Thank you so much! I’m not gonna lie though, I’m glad there’s no pressure to pass it on, cuz I already did it once and I just am not sure I’m up to revealing 7 more obscure things about myself! I mean, you people already know I suck at card games and have freaky toes – what else is there?! ;)

  5. Kelly, just discovered your blog through your post over on ExpatEdna – loving it! I know what you mean about feeling safer. I don’t think I’ve ever felt intimidated or in danger here in Korea – well, maybe once, but that was in an area of Seoul known as “Little America” and due to a bunch of drunken, rather obnoxious GIs.

    I like to think that my rather macho figure terrifies any potential attackers and thus guarantees my safety. If a sexual predator in Korea is anything like my second grade boys, they’d just end up stroking my arm hair anyway.

    • kjsandor says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. I’ve seen the stroking here too – in the summer, the kids are always petting the male teachers!

      And yes, I definitely feel safer. As I said, once or twice I’ve felt uncomfortable, usually because a group of 2 or 3 young 20-something guys started kind of following me and shouting “Hello!” a lot…but I didn’t feel threatened by them at all (let’s face it, the guys here are mostly toothpicks and I’m pretty sure I could, blessed with the element of surprise, get a couple of good shots in at the first two and then make a break for it ;) ). Just annoyed and uncomfortable.

  6. asdf@adf says:

    I’m an Asian American, wholely brought up in the the US, and I definitely feel safer when I visit China. So it not just a white thing.

    • kjsandor says:

      Interesting. So Chinese society (whether naturally or a result of the government/laws) really IS less prone to crime, you think?

      • T says:

        I would say that East Asian societies are less prone to violent crimes. Supposedly, East Asians have a lower level of testosterone than either black or white people, so if there is a “natural” explanation for the East Asian tendency to be less violent this might be it.

        However, I’m more inclined to go with a cultural explanation and I think it’s the greater emphasis that East Asians place on conformity and social harmony that is the reason for their comparative lack of violent crimes.

      • kjsandor says:

        Ah, violent crime, good point. You might be right on either count – I really have no idea what it might be, but I’m certainly willing to enjoy the perks of it. ;)

      • asdf@adf says:

        Not crime in general. We all know there is plenty of corruption and white collar crime. By safe I mean for my personal physical well being. I think the Chinese (broad generalization here) are simply are less prone to violent actions. I don’t know what accounts for it, maybe a symptom of all those millennia of civilization and Confucius?

      • kjsandor says:

        It could be that – people don’t do well with confrontation here; they usually try to find some other way to solve their problems (which can be a good thing in this type of situation, but sometimes I wish more people would just deal openly with a problem and get it finished instead of sweeping it under the carpet for “later” and dragging it all out!).

      • Jack says:

        I think so. Let’s take partying for example…. ALL asian parties I been to never got out of hand. And I have never heard of any wild party in Asian countries that got so wild and out of hand that police has to be call in; on the other hand, parties over here (in Australia and New Zealand) regularly get completely out of control (seems to be the aim for most party goers to get it “off the hook!”) that police are expected to be call in. Same goes with bars on Friday – bar fights are the norm and expected and it gets so bad here politicians are enacting laws to mandate bars to use plastic jugs because too many young people are permanently disfigured by “glassing” (beer jug smash into face). On the other hand, I have rarely heard bar fights in asian countries.

        The only time I think its dangerous in asian country ironically is during Chinese new year! That’s the only time in the whole year thats dangerous – due to uncontrolled and unsupervised release of fireworks by children and teenagers! I don’t know how many times I have heard people (and especially children) got hurt during Chinese new year because of the fireworks they are allow to play. On the other hand… Chrismas is soooooo quiet and boring in western countries where everyone behaves!

      • kjsandor says:

        I have seen several instances of pushing, shoving, and minor fights here inside and outside bars (even one where the security guys did a real number on someone they were “escorting” out), but you’re probably right that it doesn’t happen nearly as often as in other countries. Chinese people seem to be more “loving” drunks than “pick-a-fight” drunks.

  7. Sara says:

    I also feel much safer in China than back at home. Try going to a grill at night in any city and it’s not that hard to get into something not so pleasant. The scariest thing is to walk along a dark road alone, and then there’s this guy walking behind you! In China there are usually million other walkers in the same area, so it feeld much much safer.

    • kjsandor says:

      Nice to hear I’m not alone. I think we women especially notice this, since (at least in Canada and the US) we are always hearing about how women shouldn’t go anywhere alone, etc.

  8. I do think so too that generally in a Chinese society, except in some triad areas, either by laws or just the way the culture is, you do feel safer. BTW, was it a real bullet that hit the window? If it was, you guys were real lucky!

    • kjsandor says:

      No, I’m sure it was not a real bullet. The actual hole itself was very tiny, and gun ownership is not allowed here, so we think it was an air-powered pellet gun of some kind. Still not safe and not pleasant if it were to hit someone. I’m not sure why someone thought it would be a good idea to shoot at a building…

      • Jack says:

        I will bet hundred to one its some little kid (I am thinking since it happen in a school) who got his little grubby hands on a gas-powered BB Gun (with CO2 magazines and BBs It can shoot at up to 150 metres per second) and decided to load different pellets as “experiment”…. its probably some kind of metal ball pellets (steel/zinc/copper).
        From wiki it seems these metal ball pellets are now commercially avaliable. It was not so back in my days (25 years ago) and BBs were hollow plastic pellets. I am not sure how widely avaliable those BB toy guns are in China, but it was widely avaliable back in my days.

      • kjsandor says:

        I think it was an air-powered pellet gun too, but I am not sure about it being a little kid. While I work at a school, it is not a government school, so we are located in a regular office building in the downtown area. The classroom is on the 5th floor of the building and the shot most definitely came from outside. The building (and that classroom) faces on a major 8-lane road – we think it must have come from across the street because the angle up from the sidewalk seems too sharp.

        But it doesn’t do much good to wonder about who, or what, or why, really; we’ll never find out.

  9. Pingback: Defying Death Daily | talesfromhebei

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