Have you ever stopped to evaluate the risk we as foreign women take when we navigate public transportation alone? Maybe you haven’t because ignorance is bliss. Initially, the adventure and excitement of exploring the city with only a few Chinese phrases and a bus pass at my disposal outweighed even the thought of danger. However, the longer I lived in China, the less inviting public transportation became. I’m not trying to scare you. If you’re still in the honeymoon stage, be encouraged that I still love public transportation, however I’m a lot more cautious than I used to be.
A few incidents in my last couple of years in China gave me second thoughts about traveling alone. About a year ago, while chatting with a taxi driver, he suggested we exchange contact info. I obliged because we’ve made friends with taxi drivers before, and it’s convenient to have someone to call in a pinch. I remember thinking “Oh, he’s got a wife and kid and wants to be friends. That’s nice.”
Instead of a new friend, I got a photo of a penis as soon as I accepted his WeChat friend request. And instead of calling a creep a creep, I felt guilty for being too friendly.
I’m angry that I’m given such unwanted attention from complete strangers who think they might be able to have a little adventure because they perceive me as a “loose American woman” (North Korean classmate who made a gross hand-shake pass at me, I’m talking to you!) I’m also sad that women in the world at large are treated so badly. Stuff like this is not okay, and I’m tired of making excuses and blaming myself for the completely unacceptable behavior of others.
It’s not my fault someone sent me a sexually explicit photo, solicited me for sex as I walked down the street in broad daylight or broke the driver/passenger protocol and asked me to be their American girlfriend *wink, wink* (lost count of that one).
It’s also not my fault that a few years ago while traveling by myself with a two-month-old baby to visit a friend and attend a women’s conference, I had a run-in with a crazy stalker at the train station.
I sat in the train station McDonald’s, minding my own business and NURSING my infant when a man entered through the side door of the suddenly deserted restaurant (Where did the crowd go? They all got up at once it seemed). He began hungrily scavenging the leftovers on the un-bussed trays. Then, he came up and asked me for money. If I hadn’t had a baby attached to me at the time, I would have bought him breakfast instead of handing him cash, but I gave him a 20 and told him to go buy some food. And he left.
Five minutes later, he re-entered through the same door as before and did the whole act again, this time stopping at my table and asking for more cash to buy a ticket. Still nursing and trapped in a corner where the cashier couldn’t see us, the guy just stood there, staring at me, not moving for a long, drawn-out minute while I tensely refused to look at him and wished he would get the hint and go away. I finally found my words and said, “You need to go!” Thankfully, he turned and left.
I was so freaked out I packed up and decided to go sit at my gate to wait for my train. However, on the way down the escalator (baby strapped to me, overnight bag weighing down the other shoulder) I looked up, and passing right by me on the up escalator stood weird hungry dude from McDonald’s. My strange reaction as we accidentally locked eyes was to smile, I guess because I’m generally a friendly person (it was just a reaction and goodness why did I smile??) At that, he turned around and RAN DOWN THE UP ESCALATOR to try and engage me once more.
This completely spooked me, so I did what you see Jason Bourne do in the movies–entered a crowd and tried to blend. A tall foreign woman in a jacket with a fur-trimmed hood and a baby in a purple snowsuit–I couldn’t blend and most definitely couldn’t go to my gate and risk him knowing which train I would board.
I practically sprinted to a random line of passengers and tried to hide in the que of people, ducking and slinking until I finally found the sanctuary of a kiosk for cover. As I hid, I dared to look back and saw the stalker circling the area where I had just lined up. I’m convinced he was looking for me. I waited as long as I possibly could to go to my actual gate.
Nervous to be discovered, I sat down beside other passengers waiting to board and shrunk low, hoping the baby wouldn’t cry. When the boarding gate to my train platform finally opened, I jumped to the front of the line and high tailed it to my seat, without looking up at anyone. Thankfully, the stranger (bless the Lord it was a woman) who sat beside me on the train made up for the station incident like an angel sent by God as she enthusiastically helped with the baby the entire four-hour journey! Traveling mercies abound, especially when we most need them!
These experiences have changed me. I’m now less friendly with male taxi drivers. If I get even the slightest “weirdo” vibe from someone, I’m out. Perhaps these are valuable lessons as I’m realizing I don’t need to show God’s love to everyone, especially if that puts me in a questionable situation.
Is ignorance bliss as far as you’re concerned when it comes to public transportation?
What’s your advice for a woman embarking on a solo journey in a foreign country?
How do we travel aware but not afraid?
P.S. I came across the article about a week after I wrote this post and it turns out I’m not alone! Read about Chinese women protesting harassment on public transportation here (and I promise I used the word ‘weirdo’ before I saw this).