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Good Samaritans in China: A bystander’s perspective

– October 31, 2011; Jenn Ng, Howl Staff

There has been an immense amount of press surrounding a tragic accident in China concerning a toddler being run over with little regard from witnesses.  Every author, his dog and his mother has analyzed to no end Good Samaritan laws, effective parenting and plain old cruelty.  Everyone wants to know how and why.

I think I was nine years old. My family was in Hong Kong for Christmas and hurrying to finish some last-minute Christmas shopping. On our way out of a store, an older woman walking in front of me dropped a small zippered pouch—an entirely unassuming, threadbare package in its own right. As I walked by, I leaned down to pick it up.  Next thing I knew, individual hairs were being torn from my scalp as my mother yanked me backwards by the scruff of my neck. This is fairly normal when it comes to Asian child-parent interaction, but even I was confused.

I grew up in Canada, as one of the many children who were relocated here by anxious parents trying to avoid scary political fallout from the 1997 Hong Kong British-Chinese transfer.  As a kid growing up in Toronto, there aren’t too many rules your parents hold you to.  Look both ways before crossing the street; don’t run with scissors; treat others how you want to be treated.

This manhandling incident taught me my first lesson in shrewdness.  I always knew things were different for me, being an Asian kid in a predominantly Caucasian school.  I knew there had to be a reason for not being allowed to go to sleepovers or why my parents flipped out when I borrowed other girls’ clothes.  But in that moment, on that sidewalk in Kowloon, I didn’t understand what I’d done that was so wrong that I was to be harangued in ear-splitting Cantonese.

I learned one thing that day:  don’t help people. My mom seemed absolutely convinced the following scenario would have taken place.

Me: Hi, you dropped this!
Kindly Old Woman: ...I had ten grand in here, what’d you do with it?
Me: ...I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Me: ...I’m nine years old.
*Passers-by slowly gather*
KOW:  This girl stole money from me! 
Me: can’t prove anything!  I’m Canadian!
KOW’sPartnerinCrime: I saw her take it!  She has it!  She must have handed it off to someone, get her!

And we’d be forever-more chased by Triad gang members until we’d paid off the sum at a ridiculous 88% interest rate.

In case you can’t tell from the previous exchange, we suffer from mild paranoia, but I’m not so sure it’s undeserved.  In a society where you are guilty until proven innocent (and really, how do you prove you didn’t do something?), can you blame people for not wanting to put themselves in that position?  In Canada, good Samaritans exist.  In China, those who try to be Samaritans are charged twice as much if they accidentally injure you, but slightly less if they accidentally kill you.

We’re lucky to live where we live.


One thought on “Good Samaritans in China: A bystander’s perspective

  1. ahaha, “ridiculous 88% interest rate”

    Posted by Anonymous | November 4, 2011, 4:34 PM

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