Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Falling Down the Stares

Last Saturday, I had my first haircut since leaving Toronto. It cost me 30,000 VND and was done on the sidewalk. Admittedly, it is one of the worst haircuts I have ever had. But I have had good haircuts in my life. And this haircut even came with bugged-out eyes (see photo), free of charge! But I get enough bugged-out eyes from other people here in Hanoi. Yes, folks, I get stared-at. I should have known it was coming, and I did know that it was coming. What I didn't expect is the degree to which it bothers me. I don't get bothered because it's rude (staring isn't rude) - I get bothered because every time I get stared-at I feel like the starer is calling into question the validity of my existence. Their eyes ask questions like "Why are you here?" and "Why should I respect you by averting my eyes? What respect do you truly deserve?". For some reason, when I ask myself these questions, I don't get nearly as frustrated as I do when other people ask them. Maybe that is because I'm soft on myself.

When I catch someone staring at me, my first thought is "It's on, baby". I stare right back at them uninterrupted as I walk by. My next thought is "Oh my God, are they going to chase me down?". By the time I have had that second thought, I am a good distance away from the starer. I don't know what my eyes express as I return the stare, but I hope that whatever they express is fearsome. Being stared-at is really exhausting, and I hate having to do it.

For the past two days, I have tried something new: averting my eyes as soon as I catch someone staring at me. Here is why: whenever I return the stare, I get really, really, really worked-up and inclined to carry out violence. I remember hearing years and years ago (see, I'm old, see) that dogs consider being stared-at in the eyes as an act of aggression. I get the impression that being stared-at releases something in my animal nature. It feels as though a wave of anger and defensiveness courses up my spine, and I instantly get into this zone of fear and aggression. Averting my eyes keeps other people from staring into them, and thereby keeps them from sending me into the animal zone I just described. I feel much happier as I walk to and from work. My mood is spoiled much less often. Besides, the zone is a very exhausting place to be. After about five times of getting into the zone, I feel really worn-out and as though I need a vacation. I don't want to spend my placement tired and angry, so I have taken action.

I am also trying to listen to ridiculous and ridiculously joyful music. Exhibit A, Overwhelming Joy by The Inspirations: Exhibit B, Hard to Be Cool (in a Minivan) by The Oak Ridge Boys: What do both of those songs have in common? Bass singers with ludicrously-low voices. I am disproportionately in love with listening to true basses. It is true that I'm a bass, but only in a limited way. Certainly not like those guys. While I'm talking about basses, I'm going to plug this video ( which features me cranking out Eb2 for roughly five minutes. It's not the lowest of the low, but I don't give a shit, because I'm on YouTube, baby! Hahahahaha!


  1. Stick with it Josh, worst thing you could do there is be aggressive, doubt back-up would arrive :/. Stay safe - Samuel p (and the rest of the family)

  2. Yeah, acting on the aggression would be a really bad idea. People probably say all kinds of stuff about me, and I much prefer not knowing what they say over knowing what they say. I suppose that it's a virtue to be able to not be fazed by people who know nothing about me staring at me and making comments about me. Virtues are learned by practice, so I'm practicing that one a lot. Next on my list of virtues to learn is diligence.

  3. It's funny because just this morning on the way to work I was thinking about how much I dislike being stared at and then I read your blog so it's not just me. And they don't back down, you know if someone catches you staring at them normally, they avert their gaze and pretend like it didn't happen. I miss that! I also miss having a personal bubble but that's a whole 'nother issue.

    In other news, I too need a hair cut but I am deathly afraid of going into a salon.

  4. that people staring at you experience is had by many even in a multicultural city like toronto where almost half the population is an "ethnic minority." when i used to wear hijab (or when i still do), i'd get stared at a lot, and i've heard the same from other hijabis not just in toronto but other urban centres in north america.

    i have issues staring back, mainly because i've been brought up to think it's rude to look that hard at people. so much so that i often go a whole bus/subway ride without even looking at the person next to me, as i don't want to offend them. but nowadays, in a quest to be a little more assertive, i've taken to staring back at people who stare at me. because, hey, if they're going to be rude to me, i'm going to be rude right back. kind of. working on it still...

    funny how it's completely the opposite experience, right?

    also, that's a terrible haircut. :)

  5. just be thankful you don't have blond hair. not 'cause it'd make the haircut any worse, but you'd stand out more. :)

    as for the last youtube video-- hey, i believe i was there in person! still beautiful.

  6. Man, you know what people don't expect when they stare at you? Is for you to SMILE back at them. Try it and see what happens.