1. The horny hiker.
I saw him there before he noticed me, idly pacing around the entrance of the trail, lacking purpose. He made me feel uncomfortable from the start but there were plenty of people around. I sat on the bus for 20 minutes to get out of the city and I wasn’t going to let a peculiar man ruin my hike. I waited all week to come to Forest Park and I couldn’t wait to get up into the hills with all of the butterflies and winding trees.
I felt relief from the work week and the city pollution as I climbed my familiar hiking trail. I let my mind wander to the place it goes when relaxed, thinking of all my goals and the beautiful places I wanted to see, missing my family and my boyfriend who were thousands of miles away. Mostly I liked to imagine that my boyfriend was there with me, hiking by my side and seeing what China looked like through my eyes. Then my thoughts were interrupted by a voice — the voice of the strange man. I was startled and immediately felt unsafe. The people who were around before had all seemed to have disappeared and I was up in the hills alone with this man. I began to size him up; he looked about my age and, once up close, seemingly harmless. He was skinny with glasses and wore thin white socks that reached up to his calves, basketball shorts, and a t-shirt. He asked me in broken English if I would like to hike with him and I politely told him, “No thanks, I like to hike alone.”
He replied “no problem” and went on his way up the trail. Harmless, I thought, why was I even worried? But the worry returned as soon as it left as I saw him hiding in the bushes on the side of the trail, waiting for me. He approached me and began asking me questions in English about my name and age and if I always came here to hike alone. I relaxed a bit and figured he just wanted to practice his English like so many other local people I met every day. We chatted and I actually began to feel angry and disappointed in myself for assuming the worst. But the conversation became stranger as he kept asking me if I needed to use the bathroom every time we passed one on the trail.
I couldn’t understand why he was so concerned. Then we came to a lookout tower on the top of the mountain — it was abandoned but the door was left ajar. The man kept insisting that we go inside and have a look at it and then I knew that something wasn’t right. He went inside hoping I would follow but instead I kept on going along the trail. When he noticed I was leaving, he came running out after me, took a condom out of his wallet and asked me to have sex with him. Disgusted, I screamed my refusal at him and as he walked off, he turned around and asked again, just to make sure I didn’t change my mind. And with that, he did it — he stopped me from having my hike that I looked forward to all week. I ran back from the direction I came, now angry with myself for letting the situation make me cry. I wasn’t crying because I was sad or scared, I was crying for all women as a gender. I was crying because a woman can’t go on a fucking hike without being seen as just another means to satisfy a man.
2. The drive-by kisser.
There I am, map in hand, trying to find the history museum just like every other tourist on the street. Except, I’m not like every other tourist, I am a woman…alone. To me, this is liberating. I am confident, I am not afraid and I can use this goddamn map without the help of my boyfriend. However, to the drive-by kisser I am none of those things. To him, I am only my tits and my ass strutting down the street for his viewing pleasure. He whistles from his motorbike and yells “hey” to get my attention as we wait for the same traffic light. For a moment I feel tickled that the locals are so friendly — it’s sweet that they want to chat with the tourists. I turn with a misinformed grin to say hello and am met with a man licking his lips like he just finished off a double chocolate cheesecake and blowing kisses my way with such force that maybe he thought they would actually reach me. There I was, stuck at this traffic light with my confidence sinking down to a mere ache in the pit of my stomach and my braveness fluttering away with each quickened beat of my heart. My quickest reaction, a middle finger waved high, was all I had time to muster before he sped off, leaving me to spend the next few hours building back up what he tore down.
3. The apple lover.
It’s morning on the night train and I wake up to central Vietnam passing as a blur through my window. When I focus hard enough I can make out palm trees, rice paddies and the occasional ox. I want a closer look so I grab the apple I packed out of my backpack and leave my train cart for the hall window. Here the view is better and I can now see the mountains and the ocean and the people driving on their motorbikes. I take a bite into my apple and sigh at how lucky I am to be eating breakfast while taking in the beautiful sights of a country I’ve dreamed of seeing. A man is also standing in the hall but he isn’t looking out the window, he is looking at me. It may not be every day that he comes across a foreigner so I let it go and focus on my view. Eventually I notice that he goes back into his cart, has a chat, and stays inside while his friend emerges in his place. The new man looks at me and says “whoa” to get my attention. He doesn’t speak English so he is mimicking me eating my apple and miming his surprise at how big it is. I smile at him, trying to be polite and humor his humorless joke. It didn’t take long before his apple eating gesture turned into a dick sucking motion and he suggestively pointed for me to come into his cabin. Apparently my healthy breakfast and solitary status gave him the impression that I had no other purpose and nothing better to do than to satisfy him and his friend’s perverse needs. I had had it with this sort of shit and I wanted to cause him pain for even thinking for even a moment that the way he treated me was acceptable or fair. I tried to punch him but having never punched anyone before, I barely grazed his chin. Next time I am faced with a scenario like this one, which I inevitably will be, I won’t miss.
4. The forward shopper.
In China I was grocery shopping, pushing a cart looking at the produce, exhibiting the same shopping behavior as everyone else. I passed a man — a customer who looked like his day was just made significantly better when he saw me pass by in the aisle. His stare was unpleasant and I only wanted to get by to take a look at the tomatoes. He approached me as if it was his right and demanded I give him my phone number. He never asked, he never even said hello. I stared at him in confusion, trying to understand his intentions — did he want to be friends? Did he think I was a prostitute? What the hell man…I just want to buy tomatoes and be left alone. The feeling that I couldn’t even feed myself without being hassled by someone who felt entitled to my time and attention had me leaving the grocery store with my dinner while leaving my optimism for the day behind.
5. The flaccid flasher.
Shanghai is a beautiful city and I finally get the chance to visit it. I have a list of sites to see and I am making my way past the skyscrapers of the Bund to see the old town. It feels inspiring to be a tourist again and I love wandering around the city watching the other tourists and locals go about their days. The street is lined with food vendors and I stop to sample some traditional snacks to satisfy my hunger and my desire for culture. I see that a park lines the road towards the old city and I figure it would be nice to dodge the traffic and crowds by walking through it to reach my destination. It’s a lovely city park offering vibrant flowers and tall trees to block out any evidence of actually being in a major city. Kids are playing with their grandparents and students are studying on benches. I hear “hey” and look towards the voice. When my eyes meet the source I notice a man sitting alone on a bench. It took me a while to figure out what he wanted until I looked down and noticed his hand holding his penis and shaking it from side to side. He just stared at me and then stared back at it suggestively until I walked off in an outrage. I felt violated and deeply saddened that even a walk through a beautiful park had to somehow turn into an unwanted sexual experience, and a reminder of just what some men really think about my gender.