Saturday, June 25, 2005

Smiles, malls, me, Asia. Asia and I?

Not only did I find the mall, but I seem to have found all the young people. To be honest, I was beginning to worry. Outside of the train station, which had a lot of young people, but possibly because it was next to the university, I had not seen many. They were at the mall.
This place is covered in young people. The beautiful ones at that. It is like an asian Saved by the Bell. The food court even kind of looks like an updated The Max. It is cool, air conditioned, neoned, loud. It reminds me of a Japanese mall more than anything. Its got the frantic pace of such a mall, however with even more rampant youth. The adults here are few and far between. Most of them seem to work behind the counter.
I am apparently a sight here. I am getting stared at even more than normal, but to be fair, the same goes both ways. I tend to dive into eye contact, both in the US and here. Eye contact is a big deal for me. In the US, it is mostly misses. I look so goofy and awkward at times that my smile juts off of my face. The sheer absurdity of it forces many cold Americans to return it in course.
Much like I do in the US, I tend to stare right at someone, as close to eye contact as my crossed eyes will allow, and smile so broadly, that it looks like a car bumper. In the US, this is a very hit or miss enterprise. Sometimes a person will look away, sometimes they will smile, often they will do nothing. In Asia, its a near guaranteed reaction.
I, probably unfairly, tend to judge cultures based on how they react to my smiles. This culture is definitely doing very well for itself. Most people smile back. Those who do, I tend to give a quick bow too. Or those who are searching in my eyes for how they expect me to respond. Many elderly do this. They hesitate, waiting for my reaction to them responding with eye contact. I typically bow to this, and they usually smile back and bow as well.
One of my favorite responses was an old man, who was so taken by my smile and bow, that he bowed very deeply about four times; he entered into a near catatonic quadruple nod, all the while smiling. This really took me, it was clear he was very surprised and taken by me smiling. It was sort of a karmatic reward for all my smiles across town.
Some Asian cultures are not as appreciative. Japan is generally really hit, or really miss. People will either smile broadly and bow deeply and enthusiastically or they will look at me like I am neon with flaming eyes. In mainland China, it is mostly hit. Either people will bow ever so slightly with no smile, or they will bow slightly and smile slightly. Bangkok was the most difficult for me. The people there tended to respond based on what area I was exploring. If I was in a tourist area, they would often frown, somewhat disapprovingly. If I was in a non-tourist area, they would smile or bow, mostly out of surprise.
Here at the mall though, I seem like more of a star. To be honest, that is how I feel throughout much of Tokyo. Their culture has so many American rooted trends, that I am automatically "cool." I have to be wearing the coolest clothes, because I am wearing the clothes that an American would wear.
In Taiwan, older people tend to react better to me than younger people. Although I have a disproportionately larger sample size of the elderly, they seem more taken by my smiles. Young people, more often than not, have responded rather stoically, often shockingly stoically.
Here at the mall though, lots of smiles, giggling, and blushing. To be fair, I really do stand out. Every now and then I pass a mirror, and even I am taken a back. First of all, my hair stands out a mile a way, maybe even more so than my skin. Many people seem to desperately want curly hair. There seems to be a disproportionally large amount of classy beauty salons around here. I am always surprised to see very fancy looking salons catering to very elderly women, who seem to just want to curl their hair. My hair is naturally curly, and thanks to the hard water here, in a nice way.
Second of all, I am huge in comparison. I have always thought of myself as a small guy, but compared to he average person here, I feel enormous. Not just height, though I am tall in comparison; but I am very broad here, strikingly so. When I see myself in mirrors while walking around the city, I am often mystified and surprised, I look different than I have ever seen myself.
Here at the mall, I get really stared down. When I first sat down to type this, a group of six looked at me, laughing and smiling, like I was an exotic zoo creature. I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but they did some overly shocked. A little kid in a beaming red shirt came directly up to me and just stared right at me. I looked back at him and smiled, waiting for him to say something or do something. He just stood there, wide eyed and somewhat gaping. I waved at him, and he meekly waved back. I would expect this out of a child around 3 or 4, but he was at around 8 or 9. He left for a while, running around with friends, and then came back and did the same thing. This time I pulled out my camera to take a photo of him, and he just ran off.
I forgot why I wanted to find a mall, I know because my dad mentioned it, but there was another reason that I cannot remember. Maybe it was to find the young people. Speaking of which, I am going to go talk to some young people, or at least try.

No comments: