Pedestrianism And The Manipulation of Space
A vivid image in my head lately is one of the first scenes in the movie Mulan. A very common reference and I’m a little ashamed to be referencing to such popular culture– I prefer to avoid it altogether– but the scene reminds me so much of myself. Mulan’s grandma tests a lucky cricket by closing her eyes and plunging into the busy traffic of the village’s main road. The following scene is a series of near-misses: people stopping just inches of her face, carts screeching to a stop to let her pass through, people crashing into each other and creating an insuing mess to allow her safe passage through the otherwise harmful activity. Mulan’s grandma uncovers her eyes, sees she’s unharmed, and proclaims the cricket to be lucky.
The implications of this scene are slapstick in nature, but they also imply that it was not luck, but the concern of society around her that does not want to see her hurt and her role as respected elderly who simply shouldn’t be injured because it would be eschewed as harming the helpless.
I admire the character for her spunk and her outspoken voice throughout the movie, but I relate to her most because of this scene. Often in big crowds, I’m on a mission and I have a goal–someone to talk to or food to eat– that is on the other side of the crowd. It entails going through the crowd, and I can’t go around; I flit through small spaces between people and in front of where people are walking. I hear yelps of protest or exclamations behind me, but they don’t register as being directed at me. Often, when I reach the end, the person I was travelling with or even someone who sees me emerge has an amused expression on their face. Sometimes, they’re shocked. I never know why and when I think to ask about their reaction, they just shake their head and dismiss it.
On a similiar note, I used to be extremely confused by pedestrian traffic. I’d be walking toward someone who was walking in the opposite direction as I and we’d do that dance between strangers. That quiet and awkward “Oh, excuse me; oh, I’m sorry” dance as we figure out how we’re going to pass one another without being physical. I used to do this several times in one walk through the halls in high school. I thought I had it figured out in the halls in college, but it turns out it was only because there’s more space on college campuses that I avoided this Stranger Dance.
But, one day, while manipulating my way through this pedestrian traffic, I realized something; people walking move the same way people driving do and the way roads are set up; they stay to the right and let the opposite traffic move to the left of them. With this interesting revelation, I manipulate through pedestrians much easier, though it makes me cringe when I think about manipulating through Europe. And I thought I felt relieved that I couldn’t drive when I learned of this difference in driving regulations.