Monday, February 4, 2013

An Attack in Melaka

Late last night while sitting on a 2nd story porch overlooking the Melaka River, I heard a woman scream something. For a brief moment, I was uncertain what to make of it. But her screams quickly increased in both frequency and volume. So I rushed to the edge of the porch. Roughly about 150 feet away on the dimly lit walkway next to the river I saw a woman crouched down and a person, apparently a male, physically harassing her. There was no quick and easy way for me to get down to the walkway, so I belted out a loud "HEY!" The man froze and then took off running to disappear down a alley. The woman quickly got up and ran into one of the nearby buildings.

A minute or so later I was able to make my way to where the woman had been. Several other people who had heard the screaming were also there. None had seen the struggle, but one person had seen the man running away. I saw what appeared to be the man's sandals and one of the woman's sandals. There were also a couple of potted plants in the area that had been knocked over. We were not able to sort out which building the woman had fled into, and we learned little more. Given some warnings I've seen posted in Melaka, I suspect what I saw was an attempted purse snatching. But I don't know. All I know is that the woman got away.

The End. Kind of...

Normally, I probably wouldn't have thought of sharing this story here. Sadly, it is not particularly remarkable for many places in the world. And while it is good to take some precautions, Melaka feels much safer to me than many cities in the U.S. But the experience touched on another topic I've discussed here before.

Prior to hearing the woman's screams, I had been speaking with a man I had just met. He is from Chongqing, China, and we had been discussing topics such as Chinese politics and censorship. After I returned to the porch, he praised me for scaring off the attacker, who he had seen as well. I explained that no praise was necessary. All it took was yelling. It is just what you should do.

But he shook his head slowly and said, "People in China would not have done what you did. They would not want to get involved." He later added, "I did not think to yell like you."

His words brought to my mind the incident in Foshan, China, where many people ignored a severely injured little girl who had been hit by a truck. None of them even yelled for someone to get help. I still have no sure and complete answer to what that tragedy says about China or about human psychology. But even in that case, one person finally did try to help the little girl. I know not everyone in China refuses to get involved when strangers need help.

And I think... I think if the man from Chongqing ever again experiences something like what he saw in Melaka there is a better chance he too will get involved, even if it is just by yelling.

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