A Rose in Shanghai

roses in shanghai, china

Please, let me! It is my way of saying thank you for speaking to me, another English speaker, in a city with not so many.

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Arriving in Shanghai I could see the lights from my hotel room, calling me for a cold walk along the cities famous waterfront strip, The Bund.

The city lights of Shanghai, China towards the Bund

I was already scared of China, and nervous about Shanghai. Having never ventured further into China than Shen Zehn, the economic city which shares a Southern border with Hong Kong, I was most worried about all of the stories Hong Kong residents had told me about their neighbours to the North.
Stories of deceit, kidnapping, and death plagued my thoughts, but spending close to 5-hours both at airports and in transit I had to get out for a walk… and with new lenses for my camera I couldn’t help but bring them out for a test run.

Despite the near zero degree weather, there were plenty of loved-up couples wandering down the strip, where classic European-style architecture on one side of the Huangpu River, meets Pudong’s ultra-futuristic designs on the other.
Pulling my camera out of my bag I was happy to once again be invisible and doing something I loved – taking photos of beautiful things.
Well, I thought I was invisible until I straightened up and he pounced on me.

Hello, hello! You speak English?!

I cringed, checked for escape routes – there were none, as I had backed myself into a lighting pole – before nodding slowly.

Oh, good! An English speaker! What’s your name?…

His story tumbled out of his mouth and I wasn’t sure why he had pounced on me. Looking around I saw another white person he could have pounced on but he chose me; I protectively clutched my camera bag tighter at the thought of what evil reason he could be talking to me.

I am from Egypt. I am – uh… how do you say, “a marine engineer”? On exchange with my companies partner in Shanghai to make submarines. It’s such a beautiful city, too crowded but nice.

He kept talking about himself and life in Shanghai, but I was more nervous about what was going to happen. Was he a liar? Was he going to sell something to me? Was he going to ask for money? – so many questions kept pushing their way to the front of my head as I tried to use body language to indicate I wanted to leave.

As it crept towards 11 pm, the time when the lights are turned off along the Bund, I was worried I’d be left in the dark, in a strange city, with a stranger who might harm me – I began freaking out.

Which camera do you use? May I talk to you about photography? I always forget to bring my camera when I visit beautiful places like this. Can I take a photo for you?

My mind was screaming “Ah-ha!” He was going to pretend to take a photo of me and steal my camera, but that wasn’t going to happen. I politely declined and his face seemed to fall a little, but he quickly continued talking about Shanghai, and how it was too cold. He missed the desert heat of Egypt, though Shanghai fascinated him.

Promise me you will visit my favourite spot in the city?
I nodded, again worried about where this ‘favourite spot’ may be.
Lujiazui Park – say it with me ‘Lu-jia-zui’ – it is the most beautiful spot in the city.

A beggar man came up to him as he was teaching me how to pronounce the parks name. The Egyptian spoke only a few phrases of Mandarin and the man didn’t speak any English, continually gesturing at his cup. After a minute of mis-communication, he shook his head and pulled out his wallet, dropping a few Yuan in the man’s cup. The man gave us a gummy grin and began shuffling along to the next unsuspecting couple.

He’s probably going to waste it on beer,” he chuckled.

Perhaps I had misjudged him.

Only a few minutes later a woman with an armful of roses came up to us, gesturing that he should buy me one. Once again he took out his wallet, and carefully selected the three nicest roses before presenting them to me.

For you. A thank you for speaking with me tonight.

I shook my head, blushing. He was too kind but didn’t need to do this, but he held up his hand as he continued bargaining with the woman for my roses.

Please, let me! It is my way of saying thank you for speaking to me, another English speaker, in a city with not so many. Though I think I paid her too much… she kept asking for more. Tourist price. At least I know the words how to bargain or I’d always pay too much.

I really had misjudged him.

As we continued talking I learned about Egypt and his work, no longer afraid he was a scammer or going to hurt me. He was just a person amongst millions of others who wanted someone to chat to him in a language he actually spoke. I felt like a fool.

He glanced at his watch, “My ferry leaves soon. I’m living with friends and they don’t like me to be home too late; They worry. It was so nice to speak with you, enjoy your trip to Shanghai and come visit Egypt soon!

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I took the roses back to the Hilton Shanghai and put them in a glass of water on the desk, but each time I saw them I felt guilty.

I try my hardest not to judge a book by their cover, but in a new city I had freaked out thinking he was going to harm me when all he wanted was to talk. Guilt wracked me. What would have happened if the roles had been reversed and I had wanted to speak to him? Or what if it had been a girl who had approached me? Would I have been as scared?

There was so many questions surrounding my encounter with the Egyptian man but those roses sitting on the desk for the rest of the week reminded me to be open to new experiences because you never know when you’ll find another rose in Shanghai.

roses in shanghai, china

Have you ever misjudged a person while travelling?

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  • Reply
    March 20, 2013 at 10:37 am


    i met this guy when i was in munich for oktoberfest who my first impression of was, ohmygod, why did i let myself in for this? and now he is one of my best friends– even though he lives on the opposite side of the planet. its made me really careful to go into situations with a totally open mind and give everyone a chance, even more than i would at home, because you never know how amazing people can be 🙂

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 2:59 am

      That’s such a great story, Sammi!

      You definitely have to be careful but a little bit of openness can lead to some amazing friendships and opportunities! 🙂

  • Reply
    nicole @thewondernuts
    March 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

    how beautiful! It could have been bad, but it turned out so nice. Maybe that guy will read your blog and then realize it’s about him, and then that could be the way to say thank you. =)

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:00 am

      I never thought of it that way. Now that would be truly amazing!

      Thank you for commenting (continually!), Nicole. I really appreciate it! =)

  • Reply
    March 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    What a beautiful story! Though I’m bummed that I’ve lived in Shanghai for almost two years and no charming stranger has bought me roses. The only people that approach me on the Bund are Chinese tourists who want to take a photo with me (I’m blonde)!

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:55 am

      Ah!! They love taking photos of people with blonde hair. My Mum and Sister were swamped in Macau by Chinese visitors.

      Hope that you find a lovely stranger who will give you some flowers soon. =)

  • Reply
    budget jan
    March 20, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    I am visiting from Y Travel Blog after reading your Adelaide feature. I understand your reticence in Shanghai, but it all turned out well. Three roses – who would have thought.

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:17 am

      Thanks for visiting, Jan!
      Yes, I was surprised about how well my trip to Shanghai – and China – turned out. I was very lucky to receive those roses. =)

  • Reply
    The Guy
    March 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    What a great tale and lovely of him to buy you roses. I’ve been to Shanghai many a time and never quite experienced such an encounter.

    Many of the locals in Shanghai can manage a bit of English, well certainly the younger ones.

    I guess his direct and confident approach put you on the back foot, it would for me too. I’d always be thinking “What does he want?” “Does he want me to give him some money?”

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:36 am

      I do agree with your comment that the younger ones can speak a little bit of English, however I did find many were reluctant – whether it was because I didn’t try hard enough to speak Chinese first or they just didn’t understand me.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it! 🙂

  • Reply
    March 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Ohhh this made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! It’s sometimes so hard not to misjudge people, especially when you feel vulnerable in an unknown city – it’s best to be on your guard though than leave yourself susceptible xx

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:45 am

      I agree with you, Scarlett but I still feel a little bad that I didn’t give him a bit more of a chance.. or at least grabbed his email to later thank him for his kindess.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Aw that’s so sweet! I’ve met nice strangers on the road but none who have bought me roses! 🙂

    • Reply
      April 1, 2013 at 3:01 am

      One day, Edna! 🙂

      What’s your best ‘meeting nice strangers’ story?

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