IT was a typical workday afternoon and I was in a bookstore, browsing through the aisles of the "Health and Wellness" section.
It has become a weekly routine of mine to pop into a bookstore as the weekend approaches.
I love the feeling that soon I will not have to be in the office for two days and can spend the whole day reading on my couch, if I want to.
I feel excited walking through the bookshelves with their oh-so-sweet smell of paperbacks and seeing people lost in their own worlds as they read one synopsis after another.
On this particular day, I was minding my own business at a bookshelf that was slightly isolated at the back of the shop. A man approached me from behind, and he came so unusually close that I was immediately taken aback.
"We know each other," he said in a foreign accent, and I noticed he was a middle-aged man without a face mask, wearing a sleeveless orange shirt and a pair of shorts. I told him that I didn't know him and walked away. He began to follow me, asking for my phone number.
I tried to stay calm and told him no. This seemed to encourage him, and he began pestering me. "Can I have your phone number? Can we meet outside?", he asked repeatedly.
At this point I was absolutely uncomfortable (and a bit scared), and a Good Samaritan, who was browsing at a nearby aisle, began to notice. As he approached to help, the man immediately fled the scene.
I reported the incident to security, and left the store unharmed. For the rest of the day I was angered that the bookstore, my once happy place, had been tainted by an uncomfortable incident.
DRAWING THE LINE
There was an online poll done on Twitter to analyse gender disparity with regards to fear. When asked "what scares you the most?", the most popular answer among men was "being humiliated or "laughed at". For women? It was "getting raped or assaulted".
Safety for women is an age-old subject, one that's relevant in any part of the world. If I could be harassed in a public place like a bookstore in broad daylight with so many people around, one can only imagine the horror of women who are cornered in dark alleys or lonely places.
When talking to colleagues about the incident, one of them posed a question. "What if he was just flirting? Would you have minded if the man was, say, very good looking?"
I thought about this and as I analysed it further, I realised that what frightened me was not the fact that a guy had asked for my number, but the way he did it. Domineering and being too physically close for comfort. Insisting that we knew each other when we didn't. Not backing off even when I made it clear I was not interested.
Having travelled alone and lived alone, I often get asked for tips on staying safe.
I wish I could say I have all the answers, but the truth is that I am as vulnerable to danger as the next girl. I am a tiny Asian woman, which means I am physically easy to take down. I like to take walks alone, and have been targeted by a strange guy on a motorcycle and I get inappropriate DMs from men I don't know. It saddens me that a lot of women find this almost normal these days.
Does this mean we should stop living the way we do? I certainly don't think so, although it seems for women, we are doomed to always be burdened by fears over personal safety.
A male friend told me he loves going for a run at the park in the rain, because it is such a lovely time with not a single person around. Alas, as much as I love the idea, I could never do that.
My worry is that some guy could assault me at an empty park and most women would feel the same.
Even if I were to attempt it, I would be constantly looking over my shoulder.
What I do know is that being observant of your surroundings and trusting your gut instinct is important. Being informed about crime rates in a certain place also helps.
And while I can't quite explain it, in many instances, people give off a vibe that lets you know their intentions.
If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, step away.
If a situation feels fishy, it's best to assume that it is. If you're unsure, then be cautious with your next step. When it comes to safety, it really is best to be safe than sorry.