吃一堑长一智 – lessons from being robbed

Yesterday, while waiting for my rice to be weighed at the Coastal City Jusco, my purse was robbed. The thief made off with cash, a camera, my keys, bankcard, and Shenzhen metro pass. Unexpected and disquieting. What did I learn?

First of all, I learned the proverb, 吃一堑长一智 (chī yī qiàn zhǎng yī zhì), which literally means in taking a moat, you gain knowledge. A bit of wisdom a la trench warfare, where for the military to take a city, they lost a lot crossing the moat. It seems to be used, however, in the way I might say “live and learn” or Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes”. Anyway, this proverb was the Chief of Security’s response when I reported the theft. I made a scene claiming that the robbery was not my fault. In order to calm me down, the Chief called the local police precinct to have my loss formally reported. Side benefit of learning this proverb? I was reminded that 吃 (chī) doesn’t simply mean “to eat”, but also to eradicate and to destroy, which is why it frequently appears in analysis of weiqigo chess in Japanese) and The Art of War (孙子兵法) by Sun Zi.

Second, I learned that 好人总比坏人多 (hǎo rén zǒng bǐ huài rén duō), which means there are always more good people than bad. As the responding officer drove me to the Haiyue Precinct Office, he commiserated with my loss, encouraging me to keep my spirits up by remembering that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the harvest, or something. It reminded me of my mother’s thoughts on the Catholic Church, “You don’t throw out an entire loaf of bread just because one piece is a little moldy. Trim the mold and eat what’s nourishing.” I also remembered that strangers as well as friends have reminded me to be careful with my belongings because Shenzhen public safety isn’t ideal. More importantly, I learned that many people care for me – I received sympathetic text messages, emails, and phone calls. YQ provided me with a new phone, keys, and spending money.

Third, I learned that Chinese and American bureaucrats use computers in the same way, producing the need for similar sets of lies to make the system function. When YQ last crossed the US border, his statement was taken by an officer who cut and pasted questions and answers into a document, rather than doing word for word dictation of his responses. Thus, at the end, said officer needed YQ to sign off that this document was exactly what had transpired between him and the officer. Likewise, when I gave my statement yesterday, the recording officer (like his American counterpart) also cut and pasted questions and answers into the standard form. Indeed, when I re-read it, I discovered that I had stated I had only a high school level of education. This I changed, but the fact that this is the police officer’s default answer was somewhat disturbing; are they only arresting migrant workers? Anyway, back to me, as with YQ at the US border, I was asked to sign off that the resultant document was a true recording of everything that had occurred. When I laughed, the responding officer acknowledged that the process was “comical (滑 huá)”. Indeed, that moment of laughter was the first time he addressed me directly. Previously, he had been interested in finishing the report so he could go to dinner. (YQ’s officer wanted to go to lunch!) So I learned I need to find ways to reach across bureaucratic regulations to touch an officer’s humanity and thereby improve the situation.

Fourth, I learned that my memory needs help because I’m not as aware of my environment as I might be. During my statement, I remembered making a phone call at the dry foods section and put the phone back in my bag. However, until prompted by another officer to go step by step through what had happened between the phone call and noticing that my bag was missing, I also remembered having been jostled at the fruit weigh station. Indeed, I realized that I had dismissed the jostling as another instance of fighting to get to the front the line and not as an attempt to steal my purse.

Finally, I learned that reflecting on the process has made me feel better. I’m still not happy about my losses, but having gone over what I learned yesterday, I realized the truth of another of my mother’s favorite proverbs, “education is expensive”.

3 thoughts on “吃一堑长一智 – lessons from being robbed

  1. That’s a shame about the purse, however it was wonderful to hear someone learning from a real life event that seems tragically rare. There certainly aren’t as many blogs where people are talking about thinking critically and learning from their mistakes as I would like anyway. I’m sure this can go into your research too.

    As for the next time you get robbed, my advice is to get a decoy purse and fill it with anthrax and a note that says, “Later.”

  2. Pingback: chinese food culture | Shenzhen Noted

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