After a month in China, I’ve come to realize that North Americans live in a bubble wrapped world.
In the ‘Western’ world we walk around oblivious to our surroundings, going about our business feeling safe and secure. I don’t mean safe in the sense of being cautious of others, since in actual fact, I have always felt safe in China (other than in the occasional taxi), and in fact Dalian feels safer than downtown Vancouver or Toronto when I’m out late at night. I mean safe, in the West, in the sense that there are laws and bylaws and rules in place to make sure that we are ‘protected’ from unexpected harm: Guardrails and warning sign and lit-up crosswalks with pedestrian controlled lighting abound.
In the bubble wrap West we occasionally read or hear about someone who slips right next to a ‘wet floor’ sign or trips on an uneven curb and they end up blaming and suing others: “It wasn’t safe”, “It was faulty”, “The step was too high” or “The railing was too low”. Our day-to-day environment is safe, secure, sheltered… and sterile.
In China, things are different. Pedestrian walkways are a suggested crossing location and give no rights to the pedestrian. White and yellow lines on the roads are mere suggestions for where a pedestrian should stand as cars zip by at speeds up to 60km/hr, the occasional horn blast reminds you not to make any unexpected moves.
Here, doorways have immediate steps going up or down as you cross the threshold. You must walk with your eyes on the curb as a missing tile, or a sudden step may appear, unexpected by Western terms but fully expected here.
At the far end of Xinghai Square there is a structure I’ve only ever heard called ‘The Open Book’. The book opens up with concrete slabs raised to more than 6 meters on the sides, with no rails and a simple yellow line painted to suggest a caution. Nearby a beautiful walkway has a single chain fence that sits gently near the path, supported by short concrete posts- on the other side of the rail, a two+ meter drop onto rocks. Two examples of things that just wouldn’t exist in the west… there just isn’t enough bubble wrap present to permit them.
I think schools have become a bit too bubble wrapped too. We protect the kids from impending harm, bubble wrapping their learning. However I think sometimes we harm them in our attempt to keep them safe. Here are a few digital examples:
1) Instead of teaching them intelligent searching, we filter websites.
2) Instead of teaching them online safety we stop them from creating online profiles.
3) Instead of letting them connect and learn socially, we ban them from social networks where there is potential for bullying.
4) Instead of letting them seek out experts, we hand pick the guest lecturer.
What we are doing is creating a facade of security, nothing more than an illusion of bubble wrap.
1) Filters prevent teachers from knowing what a search will show students at home.
2) Students create online profiles behind teachers and (more specifically) parents backs and put personal information on the profiles since they have not had any adult advice about how to protect their identity.
3) Social websites like Facebook, unsupervised, becomes a playground where the bully tends to ‘win’.
4) Students have no idea how to ‘talk to strangers’ online, but they don’t have their parents or teachers advice when (not if, when) that happens.
Well now it is time to pop some of the bubble wrap. It’s time to remove some railings and teach kids to be careful. There is a whole world ‘out there’ to explore! Yet, I’m not saying be reckless.
My daughters have experienced freedom here like they have never had before, ‘Go play outside and be back by dinner.’ – something I got to do at their age, but my kids didn’t really get in Canada. But, I’m not letting them cross a busy street on their own yet, (the overprotective dad in me says they won’t cross a street alone in Dalian until they are in their 20′s), because they are still at a stage where, if scared they might do something a driver won’t expect, and human/car mistakes aren’t ones I want my daughters to learn the hard way. My point: we will all have different comfort zones, but if we don’t start popping some bubble wrap, we are not really protecting our kids like we think we are.