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Looking for Scam

Amy Dewitt

Hong Kong Horizon

I got scammed.  In Hong Kong I viewed a form of intercultural communication of deviance that proved to translate loud and clear between all cultures. As a lone college student staggering along the main street of Kowloon Island, I was a clear target for a quick swindle.  I am the type of tourist/traveler that crooks her neck with wide eyes and gaping mouth at all sights and all passers-by in absolute knock-my-socks-off excitement.  Yet another red bulls-eye painted right on my back.  It was the first day in Hong Kong; I had a slight destination – the post office, but in between points I was open for flexibility.  Clearly this man’s idea of “flexible” did no match with mine.  As I waltzed by the guilty bystander, he grabbed my swinging arm.  Panic inflicted.  He touched the middle of my forehead and told me, “You have a lucky face.”  Likely story.  Holding my hand, he continued telling me how I could trust him, “I’m an Indian student, no tricks.  I’m studying astrology, you can trust me.”  I kept telling myself – this is what they warn us about.  I need to get away from this man – and continued repeating it until he finally passed me a slip of paper with my fortune written on it.  I managed to steal my hand back and reiterated to him how pressing it was for me to continue on with my wanderings.  I pulled away and scampered on down the road, feeling his eyes until I turned the corner.

That is the story I’ve been telling of my “First Hong Kong Experience,” but was that really the case?  How harmful are misconceptions?  In my mind, I barely escaped having my pockets emptied, but what if he really was an Indian student studying astrology?  In past traveling experiences I have welcomed such innocent situations simply by wearing a wide smile and welcoming demeanor.  But in this case, I was certain I was his next victim.  Why?  What was the difference?  Intercultural communication is always a variable to a never ending equation; it will not be the same between two countries or even two people for that matter.  My “scam” turned into a “scam” in my mind because I was by myself on my first day in a new country carrying predetermined fears of the “dangers of Hong Kong.”  Imposed fear is only a hindrance, and does nothing for actual safety.  As an anthropologist, Monique Skidmore faced the looming presence of fear while researching in Burma.  The fear that the government attempts to impose on its people succeeded in slowing down her study which she illustrates in her article, “Darker than Midnight: Fear, Vulnerability, and Terror in Urban Burma (Myanmar).”  If faithfulness in the integrity of human nature had overruled assumptive fear, perhaps I would have made a friend – another connection made on the other side of the world.  But instead, I scurried off, and produced a juiced up, exaggerated version of what really happened to spill out as my intercultural experience.

“Better safe than sorry” is people’s usual response to my conundrumous whinings.  They see no reason to risk my personal safety for the sake of saving face.  And they are right.  Maybe that is the better – smarter, logical, safer – path to take, but too often fear blinds our ability to communicate.  I choose to be naïve; I choose to be aware; I choose to be safe, but I will not take a blinded path.

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