Monday, July 10, 2006

This is gonna be one of those bleating foreigner rants, so bear with me or just click the mouse 'til next time. (Assuming Andy Rooney nasal whine)..."Didja ever wonder why..." so many Hong Kong subway riders find sitting next to a foreigner seemingly offensive, uncomfortable or threatening?
I do. It happened twice today to me and it's not even 3pm yet, though in fairness sometimes I'll go almost a week before sitting down on the train only to have - even under very crowded conditions - a passenger next to me suddenly up and move and it's not because they've reached their stop. I've seen this enough to watch them pointedly move to another seat or simply stand rather than endure the terror of sitting next to an alien with hairy white arms.
I shower at least twice daily in the summer. I possess no open sores nor stigmata. I keep my mouth shut and avoid speaking in tongues. I don't poke, prod, twitch or convulse. I am larger than many of my fellow riders, but I make a point of scrunching up and pulling out a book or magazine and focusing soley on it until my stop. No communicable diseases, sexual or otherwise unless you count the twice-yearly cold sore courtesy of some sleazoid encounter circa 1973 or so.
But I am white. Or I could be black or brown. I've seen it happen to other foreigners who aren't caucasian.
I mentioned this to two Chinese coworkers today and their (separate) theories were: "People are scared you will talk to them and they don't know what to say" and simply: "People are afraid of you."
"But I don't talk to anyone," I protested. "I don't suddenly go 'BWWWAAGGH!'and lunge at them with a bloody cleaver. I just sit there quietly reading."
"It doesn't matter," one said. "They don't know. They don't follow your MTR behavior daily."
"It's not like Hong Kong has no history of foreigners," I said. "They've had plenty of time, like 140 years or more, to get bored with us."
We agreed it was not easily explainable. I suggested bigotry. No, they said. They kept citing simple fear of the unknown or the 'what if' factor as in "What if he asks me directions and I don't know what to say?"
At that point, I resisted the temptation to go into my "Why I'd rather rip my tongue out with rusty pliers than ask directions from strangers in Hong Kong" rant and changed the subject.
I can say it, "XENOPHOBIA". I've been in and out of China and HK since y2k, it never changes although for some unknown reason it is actually less prevalent in the villages.
This happens to me too. You've pretty much covered all of he bases in this post, but I would like to emphasize that Chinese people don't avoid non-Chinese people on the MTR because of body odor, which is the excuse that I've heard (followed quickly on its heels by "but you don't have any b.o. of course!").

I tell myself that it doesn't bother me much because I'd rather have an empty seat next to me than some villager woman screaming into her cellphone as though it was a tin can with a string dangling from the other end, but it does make one feel a bit self-conscious.

The funniest aspect of it, for me, is taking the train back from Central to Tsuen Wan (where the missus and I hang our hats) on a Sunday evening. The maids all make a point of sitting across from white people so that they can smile and giggle and try to make eye contact. The Chinese passengers will fill up the train until only the seats directly on either side of me are empty (or on one side if my Chinese wife is riding with me) and keep walking unless their Spidey Sense tells them that there are no other seats within several cars' walking distance.
I wish people would do the same to me here in Denmark. I often near a cramp from trying to avoid a fellow passengers too relaxed posture leaning on me as another fluffy pillow :-)
One of the great things about being back in THE U*S*A is that we don't even bother with this so-called "public transportation". Why don't you people just buy cars? What are you, poor or something?
Now look what you did Justin! :-)
Well i'm a chinese guy so I don't really have this exact problem. But having been raised in Australia, I prefer to read in English.

One time I was on the KCR, sitting and reading a rather thick english book. The man on the opposite seat starts talking about me to his girlfriend in loud cantonese. Several comments were exchanged including the phrase: "I bet he doesn't understand a word I'm saying!" Being in a good mood, I decided to let him keep his bet.
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I admire your restraint, Chris. It's more than I would've done. On the flip side of that, I have an ABC friend (third generation) who speaks no Chinese, of course, and who was visiting Hong Kong on business for the first time.
She was in line to clear customs and an elderly Cantonese woman began babbling at her in Cantonese. My friend just smiled and shrugged and someone who spoke Cantonese who was with her told the crone that she didn't speak Chinese.
The old woman then got pissed at my friend and began scolding her, telling her that she should be ashamed to have a Chinese face but not be able to speak Chinese
"On the flip side of that, I have an ABC friend (third generation) who speaks no Chinese, of course"

Well, that probably makes her an AMERICAN. But that's for another story.

I would be self concious about being avoided on the subway, but go to Shanghai or Beijing and experience people literally jumping into seats, practically sitting on your lap, then exhaling air from a mouth with bad oral hygiene.
nanheyangrouchuan, I'll concede that it's probably much worse in BJ and Shanghai (and everywhere else on the mainland generally), but people in HK (especially once you get out in the NT on the Red, Green, and Purple lines) often do bolt onto trains like bats out of hell to grab seats (or, worse, shove their narrower-framed children through the just-opened doors so that the kids can nail down a swath of seats).

Halotosis isn't exclusive to the Mainland either (plenty of mouths full of blackened, rotting stumps) but, in the summer, it's the lack of deoderant uptake of HK guys that really gets me down.

I also, pretty much on a daily basis, have to elbow my way through crowds of people who simply cannot wait for passengers to exit before boarding the train.

My wife's acquaintances insist that a lot of the people exhibiting this sort of behavior are actually mainlanders (illegal immigrants, minibus drivers' wives who they've brought over, etc.), but it doesn't seem possible.
"My wife's acquaintances insist that a lot of the people exhibiting this sort of behavior are actually mainlanders.."
Yeah...goddamn mainlanders! Heh. As a frequent cross-border kinda guy, I am always amused and occasionally appalled at the stereotypes that Chinese on both sides have of each other. Hong Kongers are rich boorish, crusty snobs; mainlanders are crude, can barely use chopsticks and are lucky to have opposable thumbs ... etc.
Then in my darker, less humane reptile brain moments I also recall lines from John Lennon's Working Class Hero: "You think you're all so clever and classless and free, but you're still just fucking peasants as far as I can see."
I'm not disputing what you say, but I spent a week in HK after a year on the mainland and I thought I'd woken up from a weird dream.

Clean air, no queue jumping, clean air, no hotel staff trying to shake me down, no staring and no pushing, staring, spitting, peeing, puking (yes, that happens on mainland subways), begging or other such behavior on the MTR. Maybe it was an off week?

The only people I did get harassed by were southern asians near the subway exit before the one you get off of to go to the Metropole Hotel.

I was even there for the June 9, 2003 democracy rally and everything was cool.

Has stuff gotten worse or always been this way? People in Beijing and Shanghai are really jealous of HK and its international, well behaved reputation.

I'd lean towards blaming mainland visitors and migrants as well.

I'll always remember my nice hike up the island.
... and they allll moved away from me on the Group W bench, givin' me the hairy eyeball, and all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly horrible crime-fightin' things
Arlo! Good to see you, man.
My mainland Chinese (Beijing born) wife looks down on Cantonese speaking southerners, she thinks they are all short uncouth peasants with flat round faces, bad skin and flat chests!
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