Safe As Houses

Nury Vittachi talks about safe places to raise a family.


Five years ago I lived in a housing estate that was so safe that I didn’t even own a front door key. Our only line of defence against evil was a deeply confused dog who barked at family members and gave strangers a friendly licking.

(My wife tells me to be kind, since dogs have brains the size of walnuts, but I argue that a walnut would be cheaper and more effective, since you can throw it at people and it never needs its poop picked up. But whatever.)


Safe places to live were on my mind after a reader sent in a news report about what is being called “the safest place in the world”. Eibenthal is a village with a little church in the mountains of Romania. Inhabitants hang money in bags on lampposts. The baker passes by, takes the money and leaves food behind.


But there are super-safe places everywhere, if you know where to look. India has Shanhi Shingnapur, a famously low crime town of 3,000 people in Maharashtra where most houses don’t even have doors, let alone locks.


This columnist wrote about it a few years ago when a bank was built there. Townsfolk ordered executives at UCO Bank to follow tradition and have no locks on its doors. (I am not making this up.) The bankers thought this was a bit unusual for a bank, but were willing to co-operate. You could imagine the discussion.

TOWNSFOLK: “You must follow our tradition and not lock the doors of your bank.” BANKERS: “Well, okay. It’s your money.”

TOWNSFOLK: “Wait. Maybe we need to talk about this a bit more.”

The only grumble came from local police, but they could have taken inspiration from Sark, an island near England which maintained a tiny security presence. In 1970s it was invaded by France. The invasion fleet consisted of one Frenchman. The defending army consisted of a part-time policeman, who arrested the Frenchman without harming him. As wars go, it was rather sweet. (You can’t say that about a lot of wars.)


As for me, I like raising children in Hong Kong, which is one of the safest places in the world. One of my daughters, at the age of 16, got into the habit of going jogging after midnight by herself.

I was happy to let her go—which wouldn’t have been true in most other cities.

I mentioned this to a friend recently, and he said: “You mean, she TELLS you she is going jogging by herself after midnight.” The world is full of cynics.


Even the United States, which the media paints as a land of guns, has super-safe places. Wikipedia says top of the list is Irvine, California, which had 0.8 of a murder in the most recent year counted. How can you have 0.8 of a murder? Did the guy’s hair survive or something?


Now here’s the thing: You can create individual safe spots. Over the years, this column has received dozens of news reports about armed robbers who failed because their would-be crimes didn’t fit the ambience.

Example: In 2012, a masked man entered a bar in the Netherlands and leveled a gun at people inside. Lost in the usual fog of drink and chatter you find in European bars, they ignored him. The whole thing is on YouTube, including the deflated robber’s sad exit.

At a bank in Kowloon, Hong Kong, staff told a raider than they were far too busy to be robbed. He nodded and left the counter. The whole thing was marvelously civil.


Now I am not saying that our generation is creating a crime-free world. Given the propensity of snacks to disappear in this columnist’s house, I can’t even create a crime-free apartment. Who took my walnut?

Probably the dog.

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