18.1 Staring Contest

There’s something strange and unsettling about the way some people stare.

Usually, when you catch a stranger looking at you, they look away quickly or pretend they were actually looking past you at something else more interesting behind you. Their glances may refocus on you a few moments later when they notice you are no longer accusing them of something with your eyes. But sometimes, you catch the glance of someone who will hold your stare. Catching them staring does nothing to redirect their eyes.

That’s how I ended up in a staring contest with an angry-looking old lady on the subway the other day.

Just another user of the subway, I stepped onto the awaiting train with my very foreign-looking foreign friend. We chatted light-hearted about my recent travel to Xi’an and about her upcoming exams, about this dinner we were going to and about some guys we were interested in. You know, the usual stuff. When I felt a slight shiver down my spine, as if someone was watching me.

So I did a quick swipe with my eyes to see if I’d catch the culprit. I met with a pair of intensely judgemental brown eyes, belonging to a lady with frizzy grey hair. Her eyes looked at my friend and then jumped onto me, scanning up and down, perhaps wondering what I was.

Yes, I said what because that’s how she stared at me. Her irritated expression told me everything I needed to know about what she was thinking of me.

Or perhaps she just had a rather horrible day and was hating the world at that moment.

I’ll never know.

When her brown eyes met mine, she just kept glaring and made no attempt whatsoever to feel ashamed about being caught in the act like a lot of others would.

Actually, I find myself catching these types of unashamed and unabated starers a great deal more here than I do back in Canada, France, and Japan. Is it because I get stared at more here in general so there are more possibilities of the shameless staring? Or does it reflect something about the way in which the Chinese culture tend to have very little respect or concept of individual privacy?

Who knows.

But whether that old lady was having a bad day, or just being a judgemental prick, I returned the favour double-fold. I can give a mean death glare when necessary.

She took her annoyed expression elsewhere, and I won that staring contest.

So if you find yourself under the glare of relentless staring, just be more shameless than them and stare authoritatively right back at them until they feel so uncomfortable they have no choice but to look away.

The power of the eye is within you. Use it wisely and sparingly.


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