DAY NINE: Guest Post: Sri Lan-cock: A Snag in Solo Female Travel

Originally from http://bfang.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/sri-lan-cock-a-snag-in-solo-female-travel/

It’s been a week in Sri Lanka, and it is remarkably different from Thailand or anywhere else I’ve been. I’ll have a more general post about that and some brighter details of my travels later on. For now, I’ve been dwelling on some unsavory thoughts and want to get them off my chest.

I’ve been staying in Colombo with the sister of a wonderful and talented friend from Pitt, and she has been nothing short of a spectacular host and sunburst of joy. This weekend was a long weekend because of poya, a monthly holiday celebrating the full moon, so she and a friend of hers and I went to Haputale, a quaint town in the hill county. The trains were sold out, so we took a 3:30AM bus out of Colombo on Saturday morning. The night before, a few friends came over and we lounged, chatted, and ate ice cream. One of the discussions was about gross things that can happen on crowded buses in Sri Lanka. Stories about having men rub up against girls, legs being spread unreasonably wide on seats, penises being whipped out and played with, and general commentary on the sexual repression in Sri Lankan culture were swapped. I just listened, made the proper “GROSS” exclamations when necessary, and spooned ice cream into my mouth.

I’m pretty good about sleeping on buses, and there isn’t much else to do on a 3:30AM bus. The nature of the seating and our baggage meant that the two girls sat in a 3-seater bench with their baggage between them while I sat in a cramped double-seater in fetal position with my bags beneath me. I had started dozing when I heard the girls shout my name and ask if I was okay. It would have been weird that they asked, but there was a man sitting across the aisle from me, leaning in and staring very intensely at me. He didn’t stop staring when I turned back, and when he got off the bus to return to the station, he stood directly under my window and continued staring at me. The girls said that he might be waiting for the bus to fill up more and then sit next to me. They said they were going to keep an eye on me in case anything weird happens.

The bus fills up more, and a Sri Lankan guy signals if he can sit next to me. I oblige. I don’t know what happened to Crazy Eyes, but the bus starts moving, I still have my personal space, and I fall asleep. I wake up intermittently because dude has moved significantly closer and is pressing his leg against mine, his arm into me, and he doesn’t move when I nudge him with my knuckles. When I look over, the aisle is packed with people, dude is asleep, and the bus is hugging curves mercilessly, so I think maybe this is natural. He feels weirdly warm and fleshy despite wearing trousers, and I try to see just how much of my personal space he’s occupying, but I’m too tired and it’s too dark for me to make any real judgements.

When it’s too light outside to continue sleeping, I was dazing about, still squished up against the window and this dude. It dawns on me how uncomfortable my position is, and I get more uncomfortable about how close he is. I understand cramped public transport, but this is just ridiculous. I look down at our thighs for the first time in daylight to examine the space situation, and that’s when I noticed his penis. It was out in full glory, albeit mostly hidden underneath his bag on his lap, but it was definitely out of his pants and pointed in my general direction. HIS F****** PENIS, GUYS. Easily the most horrifying thing to wake up to on a bus. HIS PENIS. I don’t know how I do it, but I curl up into an even smaller ball, press myself against the wall, stick my arm out the window to make more space. And I think he realizes that I know his d*** is out and eventually tucks it completely under his bag and continues to pretend to sleep. I look back at my friends – they’re smiling, saying good morning, savoring the Hill Country – and I’m not sure how to communicate my situation. I wrangle out my phone and text, “I JUST REALIZED THIS MAN NEXT TO ME HAS HIS PENIS OUT AND I HAVE NO IDEA FOR HOW LONG.” Jaws drop, I’m summoned to squeeze in to their three seats, and we start moving all of my shit from my tainted corner across the aisle. When it comes for the big bag under the seat, I tell dude “Hey, can you move?” He shifts his legs over, bag still firmly over his floppy d***. “No, I need you to move. Get up.” What to do now, PERVERT? I wanted him to drop the bag, tuck his d*** in, and run off the bus, but he kept the bag secure over his crotch and let me out of the sexual abuse seat. The girls and I talk very loudly about him, how disgusted I am, how he must be f****** insane, how sexually repressed Sri Lanka is, how horrifying this all is, etc. He did curl his penis back up and eventually got off the bus, even though we had been sitting at the same stop for about 10 minutes.

I want this to be a funny story. I mean, it is. It’s RIDICULOUS. WHO DOES THAT?! WHO DOES THIS SHIT HAPPEN TO?! And we did laugh about it for hours later because what is there to do after something like that happens except laugh about it? With more time, I’m struggling to find more humor than disconcertion about it. This was a freak incident (I hope), but it fits in with the general landscape of how I’ve been treated in Sri Lanka by men so far. I get stared at – a lot. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m Chinese, wearing shorts or pretty, and it’s not like I can discern that unless the men come up to me and growl “pretty lady” as I’m passing by or stop their tuk-tuks and do the exact same thing. This happens perhaps 1 out of 60 times I get stared at by men, and the rest of the time it’s just being devoured by eyes. The same thing happened in Central America, but I was less uncomfortable about it because they were at least vocal about it as well. They hissed, made kissy noises, and shouted their “chinita bonitas,” but here, they don’t make their intentions clear. They hide it. They just stare, like Crazy Eyes, or pretend they’re sleeping and the bus is just rocking them into me.

On the bus ride back to Colombo today, two different men sat next to me, and both pressed up against me again. I can’t tell if the spread of their legs or the space they had in their seat was normal or not, and that’s the guise they hide behind. I baited the first one by receding closer to the wall, and when there was no space left and he still incrementally moved closer, I “woke him up” twice and asked him to move. He barely moved both times and went straight back to leaning into me shortly thereafter while he pretended to sleep. I announced the situation loudly to my friends across the aisle, and then he moved a little more “in his sleep.” It was enough room for me to stick my book between our legs, and then he got the hint, maybe, because his arm was still flush against mine (was this just a matter of space or was he actively manufacturing this situation?). I kept the book up against the next guy, and I receded whenever our arms were touching, and receded more when his arm kept moving closer. He finally moved to another seat for the rest of the ride without ever saying a word to me or looking at me.

I don’t know if I’m just reading the wrong things into these situations because my first bus ride ever featured a guy surreptitiously rubbing his d*** all over my thigh while I was asleep (SERIOUSLY, WHO DOES THIS?!?!? WHO EVEN CONSIDERS THIS?!?!?). I don’t want to make a big deal or accuse dudes of acting ignobly when they might not be. But that’s the whole f****** ploy! They assume ladies won’t say anything, so they can get away with this subtle and cowardly sexual violation. However, I assume there must be some men who are not f****** terrible and can help me out when I’m in a pickle or really just want to have a conversation. My favorite part of traveling (besides food) is meeting people, but how can you discern good men from nefarious ones when they all act the same? Do I just assume every man is a pig? Do I refuse help from everyone? Do I ignore everyone? What’s the distinction between precaution and paranoia?

Tomorrow, I start traveling alone again. I’m genuinely nervous and a little scared, and this is the first time I’ve felt this kind of anxiety. I was a little uneasy at the beginning of Central America because I was told I would be raped, killed and drug trafficked by many Costa Ricans, but I always managed to find other backpackers to travel with until I got over the fears born from hearsay. Now, with my own consistently terrible experiences, I’m setting off in a country not designed for backpackers, during the off-season, at that. I’m also not doing the usual tourist route because I want to go scuba diving in the east and then up north, both locations being erstwhile Tamil Tiger country. It’ll to be harder to find someone to rely on if/when I’m getting harassed. I’m going to have to grow some balls, put on long pants, and plaster on my don’t-fuck-with-me face because this misogyny is bullshit and I’m not letting it bring down my travels. And yes, misogyny is a loaded word that I’m reluctant to use because blah blah cultural relativity wa-wa, but I don’t care. Pressing your dick into my thigh while I’m asleep is not a cultural thing. It’s fucking unacceptable anywhere.

Final note: I know this makes me sound like I’m shitting on Sri Lanka. I’m not. I’ve had a great (albeit EXPENSIVE) time so far, and the country is beautiful (albeit VERY HOT). I’m looking forward to my next two weeks of delicious food, ancient sites, and diving around shipwrecks. I just can’t stop thinking about how shitty men can be, here or anywhere, and it’s bringing me down. I’ll just have to rock these next two weeks to make up for some unfortunate situations.

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

From womenandmedia.org

One thought on “DAY NINE: Guest Post: Sri Lan-cock: A Snag in Solo Female Travel

  1. A French friend of mine who travels alone by bus and tuk-tuk quite a lot has had many similar experiences. The solution she finally hit upon was to loudly shame them. She points and yells “You are SICK! You are a pervert! He touched me while I was sleeping!” And takes a photo with her phone and says she is going to the police.

    Sri Lankans I know rarely let their daughters or nieces travel alone by bus or train for this very reason. Those who are not protected by a male companion seem to be thought of as fair game, especially if they are foreign, since the assumption is that all foreign women are easy.

    I’ve heard the surreptitious rubbing happens on trains in Japan too, so it’s not just here, but it isn’t right anywhere! R-E-S-P-E-C-T please!

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