On this gorgeous morning, I was on Amtrak heading to New York from Boston when two backpackers loaded with knapsacks and duffel bags, huffing and puffing their way to an empty seat next to me in the Café car. The conductor whisked by shouting “tickets. Tickets!”
“Are you with us for the next 12 hours?” The young lady with a ponytail in sweatpants, craning her neck over her travel companion (not sure if he’s a boyfriend) to chat up with the authority.
“No. I’m only all the way to New York.” The chubby and friendly conductor replied.
“Oh.” She swiftly turned to her traveling buddy, “Let’s make sure we have our stuff close by, honey. We’re in this spot for the next 12 hours.”
Sounding like a boy scout leader or a mom, her command and tone brought to mind my own story of traveling alone as a 20 something way back then, trying to make friends along the way to create a comfort and safety zone around me whenever the journey was a long haul. Even though I’d never traveled alone or with friends on a train for 12 hours, I have racked up tens of thousands of frequent-flyer miles between the U.S., Asia and Europe over the years.
Traveling alone as a single woman (before I got married four years ago) has taught me a lot about being vigilant and relaxed at the same time. I acted as my own mom, boy scout leader and even as a cop trying to detect and prevent crime of harassment before it occurs.
Vigilance is critical because if you look like me – Asian, female, and wafer thin, you inevitably will attract attention as a target. “Oh, she is on her own.” “Oh, she is tiny.” Attention usually comes from what I call wolves or flies. Men who want to chat you up before they try to get close to make a move (wolves), or men who want to befriend you for endless conversations. (flies)
I have acted friendly and guarded with potential wolves and flies. Over time, my instincts are so developed that I almost can immediately sense who could be potentially dangerous or predatory. My guts guide me to set boundaries, back off or stay alert.
Here are some examples of questions or demeanors that have put me on red alert while traveling on the train, subway, or shopping in a supermarket!
Questions like –
a) Chinese? Japanese? Korean? (asked with a dopey face)
b) Can I buy you a drink? (asked with groggy eyes)
c) Where are you from? (asked in a territorial tone)
d) Where do you live? I overheard that you live on my street! What’s your address? (asked with neighborly pretense after eavesdropping my conversation with the pharmacist when I was giving out my personal info!)
a) Giving you an intense unblinking stare
b) Offering you a drink, a cigarette or a ride when you’re waiting in line or on the street
c) Coming up to sit next to you when the rest of the place is empty
Noticing who surrounds you is the first step towards building your own safety zone. We need to carry that circumferential awareness as if it were a travel buddy while we set out to explore and enjoy all that new adventures and exotic nature have to offer us as we travel from spot to spot.
This summer, who’s traveling with you and where?
Share with us your travel stories? Just email us at Info@Chinapersonified.com.