On another day, I am walking past some stores. A man comes toward me and stops me. "Are you training that dog?" he asks. He seems concerned. Still, I feel he is prying, looking into my eyes. "No, she's already trained, she's guiding me," I say, walking on.
I go home and look at myself in the bathroom mirror, staring at my eyes, trying to see what others see. Outside, I put on my dark glasses, thinking they will protect me from people seeing my eyes, noticing that they move and seem to focus, and then asking me, "Are you training that dog?"
Later, I am standing in a drugstore at a counter when a man walks up and stands beside me. "Are you training that dog?" he asks. "She's working," I tell him. He walks away from me toward a display rack, then calls back and asks again, "Are you training that dog?"
"She's working," I call back.
"You didn't answer my question," he pursues it. "But are you training her?"
I don't quite believe what I am hearing. I am aware that I don't want to say to him directly that I am blind, so I speak of the dog and say, "She's working." I leave without answering his question to his satisfaction.
Ten minutes later and farther down the street, Teela and I approach a bench in front of a bagel store where a young woman is sitting holding the leash of a puppy. Teela wants to nose forward and play with the puppy, but I won't let her. "Are you training that dog?" the woman asks. I am startled because I am now wearing my dark glasses to mask my eyes. "She's working," I say of Teela. The woman gathers up her puppy and pauses. "But are you training her for a blind person?" she asks.
It's the start of another day. I am walking down a residential street near my home, following Teela briskly along the sidewalk, trying to keep up with her fast pace. I begin to pass two men sitting on the top stairs of a house. One mumbles something in my direction. I can almost feel it coming. "Are you training that dog?" he calls out to me.
"What do you see?" I call back at him.
"I can see. I know what you're doing," he yells out. "You're training that dog!" His words follow me as I walk on not breaking stride, feeling proud of myself for talking back to him, and struck by the point that he does not see me.
Returning from an errand on another afternoon, I am walking along a quiet sidewalk. A woman coming towards me begins to cross the street in front of me. She seems to have two small dogs on leashes running around near her ankles. I begin to think about how I will keep Teela close to me when I pass her. The woman starts to cross the street, and from the middle of it calls out to me, "Are you t-"
I sense the words about to come. So I look straight ahead and focus my gaze in a fixed stare so that my eyes won't move. I am determined to "act blind," to seem unresponsive to her presence, as if I don't know she is there, which I hope will make her think I don't see her. I put my foot out and feel for the curb in front of me, exaggerating the motion, almost taking a misstep.
"Oh," the woman says as she nears me, pulling her dogs over to the side to let me pass. I feel not entirely comfortable with my charade, but I am relieved not to have the training question completed.
Traveling Blind, Susan Krieger
Halfway through this book, mostly feeling bored (Krieger's writing style doesn't appeal to me), I was struck by this passage. For the first time since I started reading the book, the author had my full attention.
You see, while I'm not blind, and I don't travel with a lovely guide doggy, I do have a question that total strangers / acquaintances seem to love to ask me - 'Are you local?' I can walk into any random shop and before I even open my mouth, out pops the question. And when I do speak, it becomes even more likely that said question will pop out. Taxi drivers, foodstall owners, shoe sellers, colleagues, taichi classmates. -_- You name it.
I apparently have a rather strange accent - from talking with people (both in person, and using apps like Ventrilo and Teamspeak), I've deduced that:
To Americans, I sound British
To Australians, I sound Australian
To Brits, I sound... unidentifiable with a hint of 'Asian', whatever that means
To my fellow countryfolk, I sound anything but local.
Accent alone doesn't explain it though, since, as I've mentioned, I sometimes get the question before I even open my mouth. Plus, I've had various people look at me and declare to me that, "You are Japanese! You are Korean! You are... well anything but local..." -_-
What struck me about that passage I quoted above though, was the last bit where Krieger pretends to be more blind than she is, just so she won't have to hear the question, "Are you training that dog?" I've been fielding the question, "Are you local?" for so many years, that by now, if the person doing the asking can't/is highly unlikely to be able to check up on me (i.e. not an employer or any professionally-related person of interest), half the time, I lie. I either say, "No, I'm not," and leave it at that, or I say, "Yes, but I only just got back." (Which is also a lie, by the way. I did not 'just get back' from anywhere.) They're happy because they were ever so observant and managed to pick out the Strange Foreign Nugget, and I'm happy because I managed to evade hearing the damn question again. And yes, like Krieger, I sometimes do pretend to be even more "foreign" than I am, because it's just easier than saying, "Yes, I'm local, and I sound the way I sound, and I look the way I look, and it's none of your damn business why I am the way I am so could you please stop freaking staring at me."
Oh and for those of you who hadn't guessed... last week's NuggetSketch was the Human Guise this nugget adopts when walking around, so as not to cause fits of spontaneous mass adoration of my golden batteredness amongst humans. And yes, I live in Asia.
So... why do people keep asking me that silly question? Beats me.