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Monkey Business

Every weekend, I take SBS Service 151 from University Town to head home.

On two or three occasions, I meet a girl whom I believe has a slight mental disorder (this observation in itself, upon second thought, is fascinating). She is always accompanied by her mother. The daughter is plugged into an old-school Walkman, making uncensored comments about the bus driver’s less-than-impressive driving or braking skills (there is, sometimes, truth in this), and articulating her random life musings aloud.

Every single time I board the bus, I feel her gaze narrow upon me. I carry two Kipling bags, each bearing a little red or black monkey. When I sit down, and after a brief exchange in Mandarin (“ask him for it, please”) between mother and daughter, one of them will – without fail – ask me: “can you give me your monkeys”, “how much, and where did you buy the monkeys”, or “can you sell me the monkeys on the bags”?

I decline the offers. There are strong expressions of disappointment.

My Mandarin is not that bad, but I often find myself stumped when replying them. I feel uncomfortable. Establishing any form of eye contact is tough for me. I am unsure.

Then I start to think: am I in a position to do anything constructive; should I give in to the appeals; could I – in any way – strike up a meaningful conversation? Holier-than-thou guanyinmiao preaches about the need for business to be more receptive to these workers, for awareness to be raised on mental disorders, and for society to be accepting or tolerant of differences and dissimilarities; yet, when confronted with a situation like this, I feel mighty uneasy. Perhaps, even more fundamentally, does it matter if someone has a psychological disorder (assuming our perceptions are even accurate)?

Last Sunday, however, the young girl was more irritated and agitated. She glared at me throughout the entire bus journey – I felt it.

It has got me thinking, because I know there are people who would have given the monkey. In all honesty, the items have no real sentimental value to me, but parting with them remains a remote, remote possibility.

How or we, or how should we, interact with people who are different – in dissimilar ways – from us? Is there a right way; and if so, what does discomfort in these situations imply? If there is something we can do to adapt, I want to know. I think I need to know.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


6 thoughts on “Monkey Business

  1. I suppose we are radically different too. haha… Try getting used to me first and you’ll be surprised that trying to dissolve the barrier between people and people can be pretty easy. Just that I have learned through very very painful experiences that once you choose to enter into another person’s world… The real problem then becomes how painful you find yourself when you’ve delved too deep but find it too hard to leave. True story. Zhao Mian here

    Posted by Zhao Mian | March 22, 2013, 10:21 am
  2. I believe there is no right or wrong way but there is a heart way when it comes to relating and communicating with people. 🙂 As it is, if I were in your shoes, there won’t be a definite ‘rule’ of what I would have done. It would have been very much down to what my heart says to me at the moment. This discourse is actually very similar to when you write about CIP – do we give our time to the community because we are touched by or feel the need to serve a particular community or do we do it because of certain extrinsic factors such as social expectations.

    It sounds like there was a hint of guilt triggered by her stares, and it’s not unusual. 🙂 If anything, she *was* taking you on a guilt trip. It’s the same effects of an emotional blackmail – and I’m not suggesting she did it intentionally as I wasn’t there to witness but *if* your judgment on her mental condition is accurate then it’s not an unusual behavior of a person with a mental condition to respond as such, as they usually lack empathy or the ability to consider how others feel (tho ironically a lot of healthy human beings struggle with this just as much. 😉 )

    In light of all these, I’ll just end off saying if we really want to master the art of communicating and relating with people, it goes down to being able to grapple with, listen to, understand our hearts – take it from there. 🙂

    Hope this helps! 😉 Great post btw.

    Posted by jn (@fivetwosix) | March 23, 2013, 3:29 am
    • Thanks! I’ve just started penning these reflective-narrative pieces, and it’s quite interesting because it brings about different types of conversations with my friends (for instance, we started to chat about the stigma of mental disorders in our society). There’s definitely no right answer: I thought it was quite cathartic to express how I felt at the moment, and the significance of my (in)action.

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | March 23, 2013, 11:09 am
  3. There is no discipline to the mind when you allow the torment to master your free will.

    What will she render if you give her your property, but an understanding that this is an appropriate manner to obtain everything she wants in life. I deem it is better for you to avoid her commonplace, so as she can better comprehend that the world is not going to just allow her.

    Posted by Renee Rodney | March 26, 2013, 1:36 am

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