Sunday 7 November 2010

Ignoring strange people doesn’t make them go away

Is there ever a need to swear?

Personally, I love to swear, but only with people I know. With strangers, I usually try to be more genteel - that is, until recently.

I was riding the MRT and reading a newspaper when a boy - maybe around eight years old - boarded the train, sat next to me and started tugging at my newspaper.

He asked me in Mandarin which day’s newspaper it was. He wanted me to give it to him.

I was taken aback. Who was this strange boy? Where were his parents?

I looked around, but the boy seemed to be by himself. I could sense that the other passenger also thought he was behaving oddly, but they avoided eye contact with me. No one wanted to get involved.

I ignored the boy, hoping he would go away. It didn’t work.

He kept holding on to a corner of my paper and insisted that I gave it to him.

Finally, I spoke to him, asking him in Mandarin where his mother was.

He couldn’t understand what I was saying and asked me what language I was speaking. So now the kid was making fun of my Mandarin.

I stopped talking. I was getting mad, but I didn’t want to show it. This had become a battle of wills, which I was losing. I should’ve just given him my paper at the start, but to cave now would be to admit defeat.

So I stubbornly read my paper to the very last page and then just let go.

The boy took my paper without a word of thanks and left his seat like he was looking for someone. Just then, the train stopped at a station and he got off. As far as I could tell, he was still alone.

What the hell just happened? I couldn’t believe I let this weird little boy get the better of me.

A few days later, I was looking for something to eat in the basement of Raffles City Shopping Centre when a large Caucasian woman approached me and said: “Konichiwa, can I ask you a question?”

Apparently, I looked Japanese. I could tell she was a promoter with one of those pushcarts selling I-don’t-know-what and I didn’t want to find out.

I ignored her, hoping she would go away. It didn’t work.

She kept following me and insisted that I answer her question. She said: “I’m just a simple Israeli girl who just wants to know where you’re from.”

For a second there, I thought she was going to quote Julia Roberts in Notting Hill.

Finally, I said, “I’m from here,” and she immediately went away.

Huh? That was it? How strange.

Later that same day, I was walking along Bras Brasah Road toward the Singapore Art Museum with a cup of iced Milo in my hand when another stranger approached me.

The man said, “I’m very thirsty. Can I have some of your drink?” and pointed to my cup.

This time, I didn’t ignore the stranger. I said, "Fuck you," and continued walking without looking back.

It worked. He never bothered me again.

- Published in The New Paper, 7 November 2010