When is helping someone wrong?
I was returning by train to Shanghai from Changzhou with a few of my business associates. We got off the train and walked down the platform to the long flight of stairs that take you down to street level. The stairs are stone, a bit slippery and there are many of them. There is no elevator at all.
I noticed two small women struggling with a suitcase that was literally almost as large as they were. It was on wheels. They were attempting to push it down step by step but not having a very successful time doing so. This was an accident waiting to happen as the crowd of primarily Chinese people pushed and shoved their way past them as is typical in China. I immediately walked over to the second step they had negotiated, grabbed their suitcase, and walked down the entire 3 flights of steps with it setting it on the ground and giving them back the handle.
All the way down these woman were saying thank you over and over to me in Chinese. At the bottom, obviously having given it some thought, they said a very proper thank you in English. I nodded in acknowledgment (one does not say “you’re welcome” typically in China) and continued walking with by business associates, one of whom is Singaporean but had lived in Shanghai for the last two years.
He said, “You don’t do that in China, that was wrong to do and risky.”
I asked him why.
He responded, "First of all, it just is not done. Second, if anything had happened to the suitcase during your helping them they would have blamed you and made you pay for something, even if it was not your fault." He added, “For example, did you notice the handle?” I said I had noticed that it was a bit ratty. He said, “If that handle had broken while you were carrying it, we would have had to negotiate a settlement with her on the street.”
He continued “You just don’t do those things here. It is not appreciated.”
I was thinking that this was probably just a bias on his part having lived his life in Singapore. I have spent a bit of time in Singapore and it is a country with a foundation of order, rules, and caring for one another. It was his reaction to now living in a country where chaos and lack of structure is a way of life. Just take a taxi across town in Shanghai. Street lights are merely a suggestion, the lines on the road provide guidance only for those that do not care about getting somewhere. He was probably just venting some frustration and being homesick.
But just then, a perfect stranger who had seen me carry the suitcase and observed my being chastised by my friend walked past and muttered something to my associate in Chinese. I asked him what he said.
“He said that you were too stupid to know any better.”