July 1st, 2010
People have set ideas. They see the world through the goggles of what they have already decided they are going to see. And everything that doesn’t fit that image is conveniently ignored.
I’ve befriended an English teacher from Montreal here in Wuhan. We go to pubs and fight in French in front of the Americans about separatism and politics. He talks about how everyone perceives Canada in a light that is better than it deserves. But for me, through my goggles, being here in China I am daily amazed by the developed world. It is a miracle that we have managed to achieve what we have. That we live in relative peace, calm and secure in the system. Only recently have I started to realize how much time and effort went into creating the level of justice, consideration and kindness that exist in our society. And as such, I fear how quickly that could all fall apart.
The other day, Anney and I were buying pirated dvds from the shack down the street. As we were walking home we heard the crashing of glass and turned to see a crowd forming across the street. They were surrounding a woman hurling beer bottles against the pavement. The woman looked as if she was in her late forties, and she was screaming wildly at a man at the next shop over. The next thing we knew the man picked up a plastic chair and slammed it against the woman’s back. A crowd had begun to form around the commotion. And a barely teenage girl yanked and pulled the fighters apart. But the man was not ready to give up. He was young and brawny and full of rage. He too started picking up beer bottles but was whipping them at the older woman. The man and woman both started a beer bottle war, but the man quickly tired of this and he then launched for her. He grabbed the older woman by the arm. Twisted her arm behind her back and forced her into the glass. (Note: It’s summer she has shorts and a t-shirt on leaving nothing to protect the skin on her bare legs.) People on bicycles had now stopped and a whole crowd was assembled watching the fight. No one seemed to think it necessary to intervene. They seemed to think there was nothing that appalling about watching a fit young man drag a woman nearly fifteen years his senior through the glass in public. Anney and I looked at each other wondering how we could stop it. In that moment, I wished that I’d been born a man. The woman did manage to get herself off the pavement. And as she did, she continued screaming at the man. She was seemingly unfazed by the glass, swearing more insults at the man and clearly not ready to give up. But I’d had enough. Anney and I quickly left, each of us feeling a little sick by what we’d seen.
How could all those people, including fit young men, just idly watch and not feel the need to stop the man from beating a woman? It was disgusting. I have a vivid memory of watching my dad split up a fight between two homeless men at the church when we were volunteering at “Out of the Cold.” I don’t think he thought for a second about it, he just reacted. And he and another volunteer stopped the fight. And this was a fight between two men, not one where one clearly had the advantage over the other.
So today, on Canada’s birthday, I just want to say, thank you Canada, for being a country where a woman will not be beaten in public without someone feeling obliged to stop it.