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.