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2007-05 People watching can be an emotional experience

I think if I was asked what my favourite hobby is, I would have to say  people-watching.


Perhaps it all stems from the amount of time I spend sitting in airports, sipping my Americano-with-an-extra-shot, observing the diverse and colourful hodgepodge of international characters passing me by. I study my subjects, guess who they are, where theyve come from, and where theyre going. The actor within me observes their quirky habits, or their composed exterior, and I wonder to myself what it is that shapes their lives. Slowly but surely, I assemble in my mind their own individual histories. Needless to say, this amateur social scientist is most likely way off track in his assumptions. No, I am not some ominous stalker. People interest me, and I enjoy surveying them.

 

It is like my own little Big Brother fly-on-the-wall documentary, as I create in my mind a cast of would-be Childrens TV presenters, bored housewives, and world-renowned heart surgeons. I also monitor plastic surgery successes, and failures.

 

A perfectly-preened gent swans by in Winnipeg airport  dark glasses, cravate loosely tied, carefully coiffed hair (possibly not his own)  a stage-director I am convinced, perhaps Hollywood, though more likely a local drama group with Tinseltown aspirations. A tremendously vocal Ice-hockey team queue for fast-food on the way to an important win, or lose.

 

In Bahrain airport, I entered another world, a cultural extreme, as I sat amidst a hundred or more gentle reverend Bangladeshi pilgrims en route to Mecca. Their quasi-bedouin behaviour in an airport environment was, to me, fascinatingly incongruous. Was I as exotic to them?

 

In Atlanta airport, I was jolted upright from a semi-stupour by applause and cheering, as a group of brave young marines and soldiers, each with their own unique story, marched through the concourse en route to their flight to Iraq. But which of them would never return home?

 

When I check in for flights, I wonder why certain airline staff seem bored, aggressive even. When I rehearse with a Symphony orchestra, I identify the players for whom music has become a chore, and no longer a passion. In the past, as I rehearsed for operas, I daily observed the leading ladies, inwardly amused at their unhealthy attitudes and outlandish antics. When I worked for one year in a music shop in Londons West End, I watched the jaded faces of the London Underground, faces which became familiar as we all queued, smiled politely, commuted and shuffled at the same times every day. As I made my way from Leicester Square to work, I noticed the same homeless people every single day. I always wanted to ask them what their story was, and where it had gone wrong for them.

 

As a student, I studied my teachers. As a teacher, I revelled the people-watching-heaven in the staffroom at breaktime. When playing character roles in opera, I would draw from my years of social studies and base my characters on people I knew, or perhaps once met.

 

Yes, at times my finely honed skills of people-watching verges on voyeurism. On other occasions, I think my observations have  helped me further understand the human condition - witnessing my mothers bravery in the face of extreme pain and death, or watching a convicted prisoner through glass coping with an eleven year wait while the State decide when to kill him. People-watching in those instances is no longer a hobby, but rather a highly-emotional observation of human beings under extreme stress.

 

For me its not a recent thing : I think I have always been a people-watcher, and having people-watched the world over, I have noticed that we are all much the same really. All most of us are searching for is respect.