more unwanted encounters

I am sat on a bench in the park near my house, in front of a little pond, reading my friend’s thesis draft on my laptop.

A man walks past, turns to me briefly and bids me good morning. I glance up briefly and return the greeting before going back to my laptop.

A few seconds later the man turns back and starts talking to me. He’s dressed casually, wearing a magenta toque and holding a plastic shopping bag.

“Are you a medical student?” he asks in German, smiling. He has a friendly face. The park is right next to the university clinic, and I look like I’m studying, so I suppose it’s a fair question.


He then rattles off something about being a law student but I don’t care and am not paying attention. Until he asks, totally non sequitur:

“Shanghai oder Korea?”

Totally unsolicited, totally without context, from a total stranger. Also, not even a full sentence. I know what he’s asking, because he is hardly the first stranger to ask me this, but he could at least have the decency to form it in a full sentence. Shanghai or Korea what? Which is bigger? Which I like more?

Instead of asking him what he means – since I know exactly what he means – I look at him for a moment and answer,

“Weder Shanghai noch Korea.” Neither.

He recovers and says, “Right, you are German – ” – as if that was the only alternative – “Could I perhaps give you my mobile number?”

I dismiss him with a wave of my hand and turn back to my laptop.

But I can’t concentrate on my friend’s thesis draft any more. I can’t stop thinking about how this scenario played out.

On the one hand, relative to other similar experiences I’ve had, I’m not rattled or offended. I felt in control of the situation. The exchange at first glance was friendly and non-aggressive – he even seemed respectful.

On the other hand, his questions tell me something disturbing: He is interested in me – and he is interested because of my Asian looks. I know this because he doesn’t know anything else about me when he offered his phone number.


As if race-based or sex-based attention isn’t unsettling enough on its own, I have to be victim to racialised sexual harrassment? In my own neighbourhood park?

Even after he’s gone I am still thinking about this, and now writing about this. I can’t help but be bothered by it because it is yet another incident in a very pervasive pattern of similar incidents that I wish didn’t exist.


2 thoughts on “more unwanted encounters

  1. How awful :/

    I had a similar experience actually in Milton Keynes. I was walking to work and a guy walking towards me stopped and just started talking to me. But the first question he asked was “Where are you from?” And then he asked for my number so we could “be friends.”

    He wasn’t as respectful as the dude in your neighbourhood. I had to quite firmly tell him a few times that I wasn’t interested.

    Sigh. Yellow fever.

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