So there is this thing that happens here that I find endlessly fascinating.
It is an epidemic in Taipei City. No, I do not refer, here, to the eardrum shattering screams of the squeakiest bicycle breaks. It is not the Falun Dafa practitioners hugging trees in CKS + Da-an Park. Nor the chain-smoking-on-the-job construction workers.
It is the thing that happens whenever two foreigners pass on the streets of Taiwan.
It is a moment that I like to call the, “I see you + I know you see me but I will not look at you or make any attempt to acknowledge the fact that you are the first not-Asian person that I have seen in at least several hours,”-Moment.
I noticed this phenomena shortly after I arrived in Taiwan in December. I had hardly any friends to spend time with + would spend my days exploring Taipei City, often talking to no more than 5 people in a day.
Spotting another non-Asian person inspired (still inspires) a ton of curiosity about what this person was doing here + what their story might be. Not that I was trying to walk up to every 外國人 (waiguoren, foreigner) to strike up a conversation, or anything CRAZY like that. I just thought there might be a little more camaraderie. A passing smile, an acknowledgement of existence. Instead: a forced front of aloofness.
The thing that makes this moment so bizarre is how utterly awkward the whole situation becomes. I actually watch the person doing everything within their power to avoid looking my way. Straight up struggling to look anywhere else.
This turns into a vicious peer-pressure-propelled competition. I actually find myself thinking, “噢! There’s one. Okay. At the rate we are walking we will pass in approximately 20 seconds… I will wait till this person is 5-7 feet away + casually glance up. If we make eye contact, I might smile but will definitely casually glance away. If not, I will also play at avoiding the acknowledgement of this person’s presence.”
I’ll admit, it’s the same thing that happens when I see an old acquaintance on the subway or out + about in NYC. There is the moment of recognition + then the moment of deciding whether or not to engage. We all do it. The behavior just feels so out of place here, where most people are generous not only physical things but with their selves + their time.
Seriously, though… What IS that?! It is such a silly thing that leaves me feeling slightly stupid every time. I find myself lost in thought for blocks, fantasizing about locking onto people with a huge cheesy grin on my face until we pass each other + seeing what happens. I stop myself from actually doing so because, in the scheme of this wacky competition, that would make me instantly un-cool.
But how uncool is it to flat out refuse to acknowledge the people you are sharing space with?
If I find the courage to lose a little face + do this Cheesy-Grin-Approach experiment, I will give y’all an update. Until then, I will continue to awkwardly interact with the 外國人 in my wacky world.