This is an exact recounting, to the best of my memory, of a confrontation that I experienced on a bus, sometime in November 2010. It was around 2pm on a weekday, and my girlfriend and I were heading home from a shopping mall in Chadstone, Victoria, Australia.
I don’t believe there are too many other places in the world where something like this would occur, hence the title of this piece.
We sat toward the back. The bus was half capacity, or thereabouts. I don’t often catch a bus, but my car was out of commission temporarily, so it was the only option. We didn’t mind tho, nothing wrong with a bus…
Directly behind us sat a man, maybe thirty years old, who was muttering to himself the whole way. He wore old dirty clothing and was generally unkempt. He was drinking a can of bourbon and coke, and nursed a plastic bag with several more bourbon cans in it. I heard him muttering angrily for several minutes before the confrontation, but just ignored it at first. The kinds of things I overheard where:
· Complaints about asylum seekers.
· Complaints about losing jobs to ethnic people.
· Racial slurs of all shapes and sizes. He just about covered all the colours of the rainbow. The man didn’t discriminate in his discrimination. If there’s one thing I can say to the man’s favour, it’s that he was thorough!
· Plenty of violently-delivered swearing.
Now let’s pause a moment and allow me to introduce my girlfriend. She is 19 and at this point in time had been living in Australia with me for about 3 months. Prior to that, I had been living in Tokyo for 6 months, and that is where I met her. She was born in Japan, to a Japanese mother, but her father is British. This makes her Eurasian; half British, half Japanese. She was raised by an English speaking parent, so speaks the language as fluently as you or I.
Now up until a certain point, the racial slurs were general. There were quite a few ethnic groups on the bus and the bourbon man was yet to choose a target. But, alas, a catalyst occurs; a phone call is received by my girlfriend, from her mother in Japan.
When she answered the phone in Japanese, the bourbon man started his engine. He took to the sky (metaphorically) and bombarded us with slurs, and frankly some of the stupidest comments I’ve ever heard. It started with the word ‘Gook’, generally applicable to Chinese people, but nonetheless offensive. He moved to ‘Fucking Nips’ and ‘Get the fuck out of my country’.
Here’s where it gets ridiculous.
‘Fucking asylum seekers, kill them I say, ruining my country.’
I turned around. ‘You alright mate?’ I ask.
The man was furious. ‘Turn the fuck around. It’s none of your business what the fuck I say. Don’t you even look at me.’
If racial slurs directed at my entirely innocent girlfriend is none of my business, then I don’t know what is my business.
I hold the eye contact. There is no reasoning with the man, I can see that as clear as day. He informs me that if I don’t turn around, he will drag me off the bus at the next stop.
The rest of the trip, until the man gets off, is him taunting me, in the form of threatening violence to me, and continuing to insult my girlfriend. The comments become more and more ridiculous. He is trying to tempt me to turn around. He wants nothing more. I don’t turn around. For a while I sit and listen to my girlfriend, she’s still on the phone and if I listen hard enough I find I can follow the conversation, although my Japanese is pretty bad. I always do this when she talks to her mother; I find it a good way to learn. When the phone call ends, she smiles at me. At the time I thought she hadn’t noticed the guy behind us at all, but now I know she was just ignoring him. We sit and chat to each other, trying hard not to feel threatened. Like a couple of mice.
Here is what I remember of what we tolerated until the man left the bus. Now some of these things are almost funny; but let me assure you; the man was not going for comedy, he was very serious. Ok:
· Plenty of racial slurs.
· Repeatedly calling her an asylum seeker.
· Saying things like ‘Pearl Harbour’, ‘World War 2’, and accusing her of being a spy.
· Saying that she was a terrorist.
· Saying that if I turn around, he will drag me off at the next stop and kill me.
· Saying he wanted to cut my throat.
· Saying that he would gladly go to jail if it meant he could watch me die.
Laughable, in hindsight, yes. But try to put yourself in my position. A man is literally, and quite seriously, threatening to kill me – on a bus home from the shopping mall.
But the real frustration is in the things he said. That’s what got to me. The naivety of the man. The blind hatred instilled in him by his family and friends, no doubt.
Let’s break a few things down:
He attributed World War 2 to her. She is 19 years old. She had as much to do with WW2 as he did. She is so far removed from WW2 that he might as well blame her for the Roman Empire falling.
He called her a terrorist. I, personally, have never been so terrified in my life. He is the closest thing I’ve ever met to a terrorist. A man who sits on public transport literally threatening to kill people for no apparent reason. She is a young lady on a working holiday visa, just trying to see a little more of this big beautiful ball we call earth. One of the most innocent, giving and caring souls you could ever meet.
He called her an asylum seeker. Now, an asylum seeker is someone who leaves their own country because of war, famine, oppression, etc – in the hopes of starting a new life somewhere more peaceful. Well let me tell you, he got that comment all backwards. Japan is a much more peaceful country than Australia. No question in my mind. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I love about Australia., I was born here and raised here, as were my parents, who are of British and Italian decent. But in all the time I’ve spent in Japan, (probably 10 months in total) I have never seen anything even close to hostility. Ever. I certainly have never felt threatened, or even seen anyone else be threatened. And that is saying something considering I rode public transport there every day. No confrontations, no hostility. Just respect, politeness. People with manners and a healthy appreciation of their place on this earth. We come to Australia – we literally receive unprovoked threats toward our lives.
And lastly, these threats. I’d have gladly had a fight with this man, but for one thing: I didn’t know what weapons he might be concealing. I’d gladly cop a few punches if it meant getting a few into this sorry excuse for a man. But not at the risk of being stabbed, which is not at all farfetched. It is entirely possible that a drunken stranger on a bus would be carrying a knife and would use it on another unarmed stranger for no apparent reason. In Australia.