Thursday, April 14, 2005

I am a Passenger

In the spirit of keeping these things short, I offer a couple of transit-related observations...

The Dictionary Guy
I rode in to work the other day and sat next to a guy who was reading the dictionary (should that be capitalised?). Now, that in and of itself is not terribly strange - Toronto is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city that draws immigrants from all corners of the globe for many of whom, the English language is a challenging obstacle. What made it strange was the fluorescent green 'Hi-Liter' pen he used to mark the book.
Picture, if you will, a twenty-something guy with blonde hair cut in a page-boy style sporting a short, neatly-trimmed beard and wire-rimmed glasses. Dressed in loose, casual clothes, he looks like he could be a university student on his way to class. Nothing out of the ordinary.
In his hands, he holds a small, pocket dictionary. It is open to a spread that begins with "Tam-O-Shanter" and he begins to slowly scan the page using his highlighter. After reading each definition, he carefully draws a single fluorescent green stroke through the lead word.
Word by word, entry by entry he works his way through the book. At his stop, he packs up and leaves and I am left to wonder why. What purpose does it serve? Does he memorise each entry as he reads it? Is it a kind of bookmark?
I will never know.

Culture Shock
I am forever convinced that there is no merit in stereotyping. It is easy for a great many - too many - people to form their perception of an entire nation based upon a foundation of popular stereotypes. My experience today is proof that this practice is fundamentally flawed. My example from today's experience is China. How can one form a preconceived notion about a country that on the one hand has produced some of the world's most graceful acrobats and on the other hand, was the birthplace of the man who sat across from me on the subway today?
Allow to paint another mental picture: Pudgy, puffy and slack-jawed, he wore sneakers, tight white pants, a grey golf shirt and a nylon windbreaker. To cap off this stunning ensemble, the forty-ish gentleman sported gold-framed aviator sunglasses (on the subway, remember) beneath his bowl-cut mop of hair.
For several stops he sat with his feet up on the seat in front of him - not just up with knees bent, but with legs splayed open. Not an attractive look for a man in tight white pants. When the train got a little more full, he was forced to put his feet on the floor (thankfully) and began a diligent excavation of first one nostril and then the next for about four stops. When his efforts yielded something of interest, he would examine it briefly before placing it in his mouth for further analysis.
This, I submit, might constitute the polar opposite of grace and dignity.
When a country, a race a culture can produce such divergent personalities, I think it follows that any kind of stereotype is impossible.
Until next time...


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