To ignore what is obvious


Outside my former hiding place, as I was hanging the last couple of plastic bags filled with dirty laundry on my bike, I heard a young kid from across the alley shout something. Too busy to respond, I got on the bike and shakily rode away.

At the traffic lights I thought the kid probably insulted me, because the sounds he uttered were very similar (except for one word) to the words in the Taiwanese dialect for “fat, lazy woman”. For a moment I regretted that I didn’t have anything appropriately offensive to bark back. By the time I got to the next traffic light, I had dropped my regrets in favour of the idea that I ignored him, which I regard as a greater insult.

“Why so?” I wondered.

By ignoring someone, you deprive that person of your recognition of his or her existence. And who is so sure of him- or herself that they’re not just a little uncomfortable when they are among people who do not acknowledge their existence?

You could argue that people must see that you fill a particular space in their immediate surroundings, or that they have to know you exist, even if they don’t react to your presence.

The thought that someone should know, in theory, that you exist is not good enough. Who doesn’t get annoyed, at times angry and sometimes violent when your presence, and therefore your existence is not recognised?

We all need regular confirmation from other people (even from animals such as a dog or a cat) that we exist. It could be nothing more than a smile, the nod of a head, or an “Excuse me” when someone accidentally bumps into you, albeit without making eye contact.

Intimate contact – and even better, regular intimate contact – is the ideal suppressor of the latent anxiety (or uncertainty?) about our existence. Would this be the underlying motivation behind the desire (or instinct) to pamper a baby – to give the little person who had only recently become a separate physical entity assurance of his or her existence?

Being a Westerner in some Asian countries naturally give you more visible recognition of your existence as would be the case in your own country. One example is the insolent lout who insults you in a language that he thinks you don’t understand, just because he was an eyewitness to your effort, as a highly visible outsider, to balance your bicycle with half a dozen plastic bags hanging from the handlebars. Another example is the girl who hides behind her mother in the supermarket while she points her finger at you as if you’re a distant cousin of the Elephant Man. Also people who, long after you had passed them, shout “Hello!” at you like you’re famous. All these incidents confirm your existence at that particular moment and at that specific location, and in ways that are not necessarily the good (or bad) luck of the ordinary Taiwanese (in my case) with whom you share your street or supermarket aisle.

Would this perhaps explain the desire of some people to be famous or infamous – the desire for as many people as possible to nod their heads in recognition of your existence?

Another question: Why do strangers greet each other?

One reason is mutual recognition of their existence.

Why therefore, would someone not greet you?

One possible reason is that the person does not need your recognition of his or her existence at that particular moment, or in some cases may not consider it desirable.

Reasons why someone might not need your recognition? Other people in the immediate vicinity that already acknowledge their existence, like friends, or a child who is being held by the hand?

That they fail to greet you doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as offensive; it’s just that they already have what you would have given them, namely visible acknowledgment of their existence.