Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cultural Unawareness: Just Love Hug Rally 2011

"Just Love Hug" rally September 24, 2001

Last week, for reasons that lie completely outside of my area of control, I found myself propelled into an extremely unlikely set of circumstances.  By unlikely, I don’t mean that the circumstances themselves were unlikely.  These things happen all the time.  By unlikely, I’m referring to my actual presence in the place where these circumstances existed.  My being in the same zip code with an event like I attended last week are about as likely as the spontaneous generation of cold fusion in my kitchen sink.  In fact, Evolutionary Biology playing itself out in my refrigerator is one hundred times more probable than me willingly attending something like this.  But I had no choice, well, in all actuality I guess that I could have refused to even go near the place, but it really came down to making a choice between offending people who have made it possible for me to remain in Taiwan, and me being a little uncomfortable for a few minutes. So after hours of serious deliberation, I decided that I would prefer a little discomfort to actually being on a plane headed back to California.

The Premier of Taiwan,  Wu Den Yi exhorts the crowd.
Where, you might ask, did I find myself?  At the Zhongli “Just Love Hug” rally.  I have to tell you, I like people, I love to talk to them, I like to spend time with them, I even look forward to spending time with people, I’m just not a big hugger.  I can’t help it.  It’s probably some psychological flaw, some hang-up left over from some moment of embarrassment or discomfort I experienced as a child.  Some Freudian interpreter might blame it my mother, although my mom is one of the few people that I actually don’t mind hugging.  It’s odd because I’m not a distant, cool, unapproachable type, but in reality, I only hug my immediate family and maybe my sisters, and a few close friends who expect it because of our Hippie days.  But that’s really about it.  I have always felt that hello, goodbye and a nice handshake were perfectly adequate forms of greeting and farewell.  In the late eighties I took a class where, at then end of the three day seminar, I was required to hug each of the seventy other participants in the class and about halfway through I was ready to run screaming for the door.  I was sweaty, rumpled and smelling like a combination of aftershaves, perfumes, colognes and body odor.  I was pretty well done with mass hug-a-thons at that point.  The idea of a mass hug with ten thousand strangers was more than I could bear.  But there I was with nine thousand nine hundred ninety-nine others listening to them countdown from fifty to the great hug moment. 

Counting down to the big moment
I was frantically trying to figure out how I could gracefully avoid embracing some well meaning person, intent on increasing the good feelings of mankind, bringing us all a little closer and demonstrating the love of humanity.  I mean really, I don’t want to hurt someone like that.  I really feel those are lofty and worthwhile goals, but how about looking into each other’s eyes and affirming our value as human beings, or a group smile, or maybe a little affectionate punch on the shoulder... but come on, not a hug!  Meanwhile, as I’m working all of this out in my mind, the countdown was plummeting toward the moment.  It was too late to excuse myself and go to the bathroom.  It was too late to pretend to be intent on tying my shoes.  It was too late feign a heart attack.  The count had reached zero.

Nothing happened.  Even those on stage, who were exhorting us toward this moment, were kind of shifting around uncomfortably until the moment passed.  Then it was over, I didn’t see a single hug exchanged except between lovers in the entire place.

The Hug-a-thon
Taiwanese people are warm, friendly and loving people, but they’re not real big on hugging strangers, either.  It was a little bit easier for me to identify with them, and relate to them after that moment.  I felt closer to the Taiwanese people after that then I ever had before.  In fact, I had good feelings toward mankind in general, I felt closer as a human being to others than I had before.  I even felt a deeper love of humanity.  Hey, maybe this stuff works.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Photos for the Taiwan Adventure by guest photographer, Wayne Pelren 

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