Newsletter (13) – Changing the Channel

It wasn’t funny at that time.

It was May 1996, and my whole family was in America for my sister’s convocation. It was a jam-packed trip with lots of places to go and even distant relatives in the States to meet up with. Being a total music nut at that time (with a Yamaha electone competition waiting for me when I came back to Singapore) I spent my days there thinking more about music, checking out really cool jazz instructional materials and looking for electones to practice on for my competition.

But one day in particular stands out. It was a day when I was out with my mum and sis, and we were in Los Angeles. I don’t know how it happened, but we somehow or other wandered into downtown Los Angeles. I was caught up and absorbed in my thoughts, but gradually I realized that all the windows we walked past with fitted with external security bars. Then I noticed that there was no one else on the streets except us.

My mind fully woke up when my sis gleefully pointed out a large sign on the wall. It said “No Sleeping On the Streets Between —-” As she ran forward to the sign and started posing with it, saying “Ma! Take picture! Take picture!” I suddenly realized that

  1. we were in the part of the city where the poor people lived;
  2. we were total sitting ducks to any muggers or gang members who wanted to add us to American crime statistics; AND
  3. my mum and my sis were totally oblivious to the danger!

Now my spoken Chinese standard was only marginally higher than my written Chinese standard (almost totally non-existent) but suddenly I found myself able to speak to my mum and sis in fluent Chinese, telling them with a forced smile on my face (no point alerting any muggers that I, at least, was on to them – they might just decide to shoot me first) that we were in danger and ought to just get out of there. But my mum and sis insisted on taking their tourist kind of pictures before starting to walk out of there.

Problem was, we were lost, or how else would we have ended up in the wrong part of L.A.? So as we walked down the streets (with windows that were either seriously barred or already broken), my darling sis proceeded to take out a MAP, spread it open WIDE and start pointing and staring at it. I thought I would faint. We were already doing a very good job of hanging a sign on our backs, saying “We are blur tourists from Singapore, with a lot more money than good sense. Please rob us!” But the map really took the cake!

“Don’t look at the map, if we keep walking straight we’d get somewhere! Try to look like we know where we’re going and what we are here for…” I spoke to my sis in Chinese again. And again she happily answered in English “How can we not use the map? I don’t know where we are!” I honestly could imagine all the hordes of muggers, swarming behind us, just out of sight, licking their lips and rubbing their hands in glee…


As you can guess, I didn’t die that day.

I’ll not give you a story of how I overcame numerous knife-and-gun-wielding assailants with my super-human martial arts skills, since no one is paying me to write a TV or movie script. Since in the end nothing happened, my mum and sis probably thought I was paranoid that afternoon; I prefer to think of it as being able to change channels when necessary!

For most of us in Singapore, violent crime is something that happens on a TV screen, in a movie theatre or to other people. Someone else (the police, bouncers at nightclubs, security guards, etc) has to handle all the nasty people. If we live in a well-ordered environment (like most of Singapore) don’t even notice them doing their job unless things go drastically wrong.

In my talks I explain about Bad People, people we ought to avoid if we want to stay out of trouble. But two problems arise. First, Bad People may pretend not to be Bad People, so that we would let down our guard around them. Second, even if we know they are Bad People, we may HAVE to associate with them anyway. For example, if you are a school teacher and the Bad People are students in your class, or if the Bad People are your relatives and your parents don’t recognize them as problems and let them into your house.

If you want to keep these two problems from making you vulnerable to violent crime, you need to be able to change the channel quickly. By that I mean being mentally ready to defend yourself, knowing when you stop thinking of someone as an office colleague, misunderstood teenager with serious family issues or weird uncle who always made you feel uncomfortable, and start assessing them as a potential threat to your physical safety.

Going back to my L.A. experience, if anyone approached us in the streets, my guard would already be up. It was the middle of the day, why was there no one else around? Did the locals know something we didn’t? The whole street fit in my criteria of a Bad Place, we were more than 30 seconds away from viable help.

And when that happens, that’s when you have to change channels. A teacher alone in a class, surrounded by 3 burly teenage students who seem to be upset or just don’t have a good reason to be there at that time ought to be wary. Another time you ought to be wary when someone is upset and shouting away in public, like if you accidentally hit his car. If you are a civilized person, you won’t resort to violence that easily. But just because you are civilized doesn’t mean that the other person is too. While the two of you are yelling at each other and commenting on each other’s parents, grandparents and other ancestors, don’t be surprised if the other person suddenly launches a punch at you!

What keeps people from being mentally prepared to defend themselves when it is necessary?

  • Unawareness – that was how I ended up in the wrong part of L.A. before I knew it. Don’t let your mind be occupied by music (like me), work or any distraction Bad People may use to catch you off guard.
  • Denial – “This can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me, this can’t be happening to me…”
  • Anger – if you are too outraged by the other person’s comments on your ancestry or some other offence and your mind is frantically trying to come up with insults to throw back, you may not notice him or her winding up to clout you in the face.

So give these factors a look-over. First ask yourself if you are prone to any of them (unawareness, denial and anger), then, to be doubly sure, go ask your spouse and promise you won’t lose your temper, whatever they say. If you are prone to them, then make it a resolution to remove them from your life.
That way you are better able to change channels when necessary!


I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!


About Junjie
Musician, Martial Artist and father of two boys. Rambler, thinker and compulsive teacher.

3 Responses to Newsletter (13) – Changing the Channel

  1. eastpaw says:

    That story never fails to make my hair stand, lol!

  2. Brenda says:

    I like this article!

  3. Pingback: Newsletter (14) – 6 Tips for Preventing Kidnapping | Walk in Safety

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