Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週五, 19 十月 2007
週六, 20 十月 2007 00:49

Strange Strangers

If what I do and how I behave is normal for me and the very different behavior of strangers is normal for them, then normal is normally not normal for everyone.

In 1947 when I was 15 I traveled with some schoolmates and a teacher all the way to Chicago from California a trip that took us nearly 5000 miles. Of all the things I saw and experienced on that trip, one thing especially has stayed with me and time and time again comes to mind whenever I enter some new place I have never been before. I can still see the scene though the details are now blurred. It was a small city in the mid west, we had just crossed a bridge over a wide river, the streets of the town were lined with trees and as we drove along I saw a boy on a bicycle looking at us. Two thoughts jumped into my mind. The first was simply that this place which is so strange to me is his home. This is where he belongs. The second was the realization that to him looking at me I was the stranger, someone who didn’t belong here, someone just passing by.

Time after time through the years as I have traveled about the world these thoughts have come to me and that original scene near the river bridge flashes back on the screen of my mind.

I am also reminded of another scene many years later. It is a Sunday morning in Vienna. I am sitting in a horse and buggy being driven about in the heart of the city by an old man in uniform holding the reins of the horse. Naturally we have a camera and are taking pictures as we go along. One of those photos stands out in my mind. Among the local pedestrians on the street whose picture I was taking there was a group of tourists who were at that moment taking pictures of the carriage in which I was seated. For that one brief instant I was no longer just a visitor to Vienna, I was a part of it in the eyes of another traveler.

Every time I encounter tourists in Taipei with their cameras and maps, the thought comes to me, this is where I belong, I am not a stranger here like you are. I am not Chinese or a native, but now this is my place.

What crosses your mind when you see a stranger? A lot depends on what you see. If you only see someone like yourself whom you haven’t seen before, you might wonder for a moment who this person is, but will probably just ignore him and go about your business. To you at that time the person is not familiar, but you do not think him strange or threatening.

But suppose it is someone who is dressed very strangely or acting very bizarrely, then the strangeness attracts your attention or rouses your curiosity, unless it turns out to be someone who is frequently there, in which case you just look away or move away. But if it is truly a stranger, then you probably size the person up. Is he dangerous? Does he pose any threat to yourself or others? Is it any of your business? Should you get out of his way?

In all fairness, I should not act blindly upon my prejudices, because they can easily lead me astray. At the same time I should not simply ignore the possibility of trouble and throw all precaution to the wind. Whether I like it or not this rather ferocious looking (to me) Arab evokes in me the image of a terrorist, but this does not make him a terrorist. For all I know, he might be a gentle kind pacifist who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Although I must admit that the odds of his not being a pacifist are much higher, I should withhold my judgment until I know more.

In these troubled times, anyone who looks like what people expect a terrorist to look like or belongs to an ethnic group to which many terrorists belong almost automatically arouses suspicion and prejudicial behavior. That is a burden they have to carry and live with. Sometimes things are exactly what they appear to be. Sometimes things are not at all what they seem to be. The only way to tell the difference is to maintain an open mind and stay alert.

Fortunately, I don’t look like a dangerous terrorist, so that is something I don’t have to worry about. But I too am stuck with an appearance that stigmatizes me. As a severely disabled person in a wheelchair, I always have to contend with the stereotypes people have of the handicapped. Then I am a Caucasian in a sea of Asians, an “old man” in a world that considers me over the hill, so I have to live up to or live down all the preconceptions people have about westerners and the aged. I should always be aware of the impression I am making on others, lest they get the wrong impression about who or what I am and my intentions. It is up to me to paint the picture of myself that I want others to see. Sometimes it is not enough just to be myself. I should make sure that others know what kind of a self I am trying to be.

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