As I was watching from the window I realized that this was the limit of what I would be able to say: “You’re a man, right?” “Then why did you hit her?” “Real men don’t hit women.” and “Come to our apartment for a break, you and my wife can drink tea and chat.” Even in your home culture and language it’s not always easy to sort out exactly how to get involved (or not) in these situations. You can imagine how much more complicated it is when you can’t understand what’s being said, don’t know the cultural norms for handling such situations, and your presence as a foreigner would likely cause things to escalate. But still, in certain situations a person should be willing act regardless.
They told us in orientation that one unfortunate side-effect of living in small apartments with thin walls is that when there’s a domestic conflict, all the neighbours know because everyone can hear what’s being said. I almost got involved in the one about an hour or so ago.
Obviously, clueless foreigners getting involved in anything like that is to be avoided as much as possible. Even if we understand what’s being said, we don’t understand the situation and all the various dynamics at play. Where I draw the line is witnessing physical abuse. That might one day get us into trouble. Fine.
It’s still raining outside in the “back yard.” I went and looked out the window around lunch time because I heard a male yelling and screaming and sounding potentially out of control. There were two couples about our age on the bike bunker where the old ladies exercise in the mornings; the whole neighbourhood had front row seats. The two young women were sitting in the rain on the wet pavement, just beside the dry pavement under an undercover area, their faces buried in their arms, which were wrapped around their knees. One man was just standing in the dry space, doing nothing. Another was irate, yelling and gesturing at both women from the dry space. The women didn’t move, or look up, or say anything. Jessica was in the other room, so I opened the window and the screen wide, leaned out, and started describing the scene to her (in English) so the guy would see and hear me watching.
He would yell for a bit, take a break for a minute or two, have a smoke, and then start yelling again. He gave one girl a little shove, yelled some more, and then grabbed them both by the arm and made them stand up (they were totally passive about it, not resisting much, but limp). Then he yelled and gestured some more. I have no clue what he was saying, or how these things work. Why did the women just sit there in the rain? Why not leave? Why was the other guy totally passive? Eventually the angry “man” grabbed the arm of the girl who was bearing the brunt of his tirade and pulled her down the stairs off the bike bunker into the trees where I couldn’t see. The others followed. The yelling increased, the women started yelling back, and eventually the fight turned the corner out of the trees into the lane that passes our gate.
My view was partially blocked by the yellow heating pipes, but when I saw him shove her down onto the street and kick her I ran down our six flights of stairs. When I got to the bottom, other neighbours had also come out. She was still laying curled up on the wet road in the rain, but some older people were there and one older man with a cane was herding the angry guy off. I was standing a little further away next to the guy who works in the bike bunker. I tried to ask him what was going on and told him real men don’t hit women (in Chinese, he agreed). We watched for a bit, but the others had it under control. The girls went one direction and the angry guy was herded off in another. It was over. I headed back up the stairs out of the rain, just in time to receive a Skype call from home (we’re arranging for some of our Taiwan students to stay with my parents in Canada this summer).