20 August 2010

To give or not to give, that's the question.



One of my most stressful moments in a working day is my morning trip to the office. I take the bus from the Western district to Central (I have a secret belief that if I don’t know how to drive and don’t have a car, I will meet someone who’s more than willing to give me a ride. Wink*) and I especially dread sitting on the lower deck. The lower deck is more crowded. People are allowed to stand with their begging/hateful/impatient/blank stare at their sitting counterparts. I am in constant agony of checking which person on board deserves my seat.

My neurosis all began with one commute where a standing woman kept hitting my back with her heavy bag. At that time I was lost in the morning rain outside, wondering why a guy texted me for a drink but then disappeared. I ignored her for a while until I really felt the pain. Only when I looked back at her did I discover she was pregnant! I jumped up to give her my seat, apologised but it was too late. All passengers were staring at me with their despising look. I felt innocent and guilty at the same time.

Since then I decided to be as chivalrous as I can on public transport but I am still plagued by indecision and fear of offending someone. To realise the ideal of equality and anti-discrimination can be as confusing as a guy who promised to call.

Once I gave up my seat to a crippled man but he rejected my offer. His dignified gesture told people to treat him as an equal. But how can I measure someone’s ego to see if he/she needs a seat? If I don’t give, I’m a jerk. If I do, I may be a fool.

I always have problems with the elders. If it’s an old lady who’s fragile, pale, skinny, shaking and walking with a stick, of course I won’t hesitate. But how about a silver-haired woman who’s bigger and looks strong and not very wrinkled? Her hair may look older than she is and her red-hot lipstick colour may hint that she’s not ready to be a senior citizen yet. I dare not take the risk.

I’m also not sure about adults with children. If it’s a local or Western woman carrying a child with heavy belongings, of course I will stand up for her. But how about a foreign domestic helper or a banker in a nice suit carrying children? I observed that people tend to do nothing for both.

Not to mention suspected pregnant women. Is she pregnant, fat or just embracing the trend of baggy baby-doll dress? Judging from the overwhelming slimming ads across the streets, it’s not hard to imagine how offended a woman will feel if she’s mistaken as carrying a bump.

By the way, how do I know the timing is right? Should I give my seat immediately if a needy someone walks by, or should I wait until all seats are occupied? I feel silly to scan my surroundings all the time. So readers, any advice on etiquette is welcome. Pretending to be asleep or reading the Libertines Pub on mobile is the last thing I want to do.

23 comments:

  1. I find it quite distasteful that you judge whether to give your seat to a woman carrying a child based on the race of the woman. You seem to feel that because other people are racist in their behaviour then it is OK for you to be too? Shame on you.

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  2. Did I say I didn't give my seat? I was just saying people can be racist in their behaviour without themselves knowing.

    It's this awareness which makes me either stand up or hide on the upper deck.

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  3. A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.

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  4. Best advice, is not to think about it, if you feel like giving your seat then give it - there's no point in pretending to be genuine about it. If you really want to give your seat, and they don't accept your offer, just shout 'Ng sai har hai!'

    If someone looks weak or about to pass out from standing up, trust me, trust your subconscious eye for detail to be able to detect it. Most people are not on for many stops, some are just on for one stop, if you're travelling the entire line, then you'll be the one who'll be suffering by offering your seat at the beginning of the journey.

    If you have trouble with your conscience, then just think about how much YOU need the seat because you didn't get enough sleep last night or because you feel a bit weak. Then when an old person boards, look for a kid who's occupying a seat, and shout, 'hey kid, give up your seat!'

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  5. My advice is to stop worrying about how you're perceived and base your decisions on genuine concern for others. If someone looks like they really need a seat, give it to them. Under this standard, the distinction between a Filipina with someone else's kids and a Chinese woman with her own kids stops being something to agonize over.

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  6. thanks! now i know i overthink about the matter.

    also discover a bit about cultural difference. gweilos tend to embrace chivalry without much thinking while villagers like me unnecessarily worry about looking foolish and different from the nerd.

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  7. "gweilos tend to embrace chivalry" - someone tell the girl to stop weighing everything in terms of race!

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  8. Well, we can't all be "race-blind" like Stephen Colbert. I thought the US was crazy race-conscious, until I came here. But I don't see any way to avoid it here: people here need to assess race just to decide which language to speak. This works out just fine for me, since my face causes them to speak my language without me asking. It can make things difficult for my Asian-American friends who don't speak Canto though...

    That said, gweilo is not purely a racial term, as I experience it. I'm willing to give Bambi the benefit of the doubt in this case and assume that she is highlighting a cultural difference, not a racial difference here. That seems like the most logical interpretation in this case.

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  9. There are so many cynics in this world. Why did the crippled man have to assume you were "discriminating" him? It was just an act of kindness.

    And Bambi, perhaps you should stop being so politically correct. Since when helping others has become a vice? You just give up your seat whenever you want to, regardless of whether they are young or old. If they refuse the offer, they are probably just stupid.

    W

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  10. @ wesmcl, even so, qualities such as chivalry are not culturally specific.

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  11. @Zombie: I'm not sure what you mean by "culturally specific" but I think what qualifies as chivalry definitely differs between cultures. Even within the US, what is considered chivalrous in the South could be considered sexist in the North. The differences between the US and HK are even greater.

    That's why I advocate empathy (which is not culturally specific) rather than etiquette (which surely is culturally specific). But I think we agree on that. This difference is probably more semantic than anything else.

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  12. @ wesmcl, yes I agree, it comes down to semantics, and words like chivalry, and patriotism are often used to persuade men to go to war; The Crusades were considered chivalrous.

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  13. @ wesmcl, we can probably agree that there is nothing chivalrous about murdering another human being

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  14. oops. just a tea break and i missed a vigorous conversation here.

    living in a city mixed with mainly two cultures and having friends from both backgrounds, i can't help being culturally sensitive/specific to blend in. for example, i have to let a gweilo walk after me because it's their habit to let ladies walk first. but with a local guy, we walk in the same speed. i don't place any value judgement on both practices. it's terrible to be viewed as racist when i mention slightly about how different the cultures are (and use one word "chivalry" to conclude it)

    will, i can handle rejections. my biggest fear is of offending someone, especially female strangers.

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  15. Answer to these all: learn to doze off immediately after you sit down in public transport.

    I am serious.

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  16. there was one time that i was sitting and actually fell asleep in MRT. A middle-age woman woke me up and asked me to give my seat to a very old lady.I'm young by the way. I ppped up as soon as I openned my eyes, even before I really understand what's going on, i was slepping like a dog two second ago. Everybody there were looking at me. So embarrassed. Like I was pretending sleeping but she found out my trick.

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  17. I can't remember where I read it, but there was a study done about prejudice, and where the population was most dense as in cities, people tend to rely on stereotypes more to make judgements about others - the theory suggests that because there is so much information to deal with, that naturally we 'thin slice' and condense that information so that it's easier to access and organize in our heads.

    I wasn't accusing you of being racist Bambi, but you should be careful of the words you use. Believe it or not, from my observation, I've found Chinese men in the west, whether born or migrated there from Hong Kong tend to be of the most polite and kindest in the society, and many Caucasian women I've known can attest to that, not only polite, but a gentlemen and reliable in relationships.

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  18. I dont offer my seat 2 niggers, chinks or pakis

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  19. On preggos, v. easy to tell, 99% accurate. Check if they're on heels. Those who aren't wearing heels in baggy loose fitting dress are pregnant.

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  20. @zombiehellmonkey that's very familiar. from the book "blink" perhaps?

    i think i get your point. prejudice is inevitable in society but when it comes to writing, one gotta be cautious when mentioning anything concerning race. this is a new thing i learn from writing for this pub.

    @ the last mr. anon im not sure if you're being sarcastic. why i wrote this post is that, i found out people can get away with not doing a little kind gesture in their daily lives and brag about their sense of justice on the Internet. you would be completely fine if you "stick to your words", but the omission of such gestures actually reveals the evils of the human kind. (in witchy tone)

    @aulina sensible advice :)

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  21. @ Bambi

    I hope you would offer your seat to me, even though I don't look fragile, I sometimes get muscle spasm pains from a slipped disc in my back :)

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  22. only if your heels are higher than my 120mm Christian Louboutin.

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