Let compassion, not prejudice, pour out

Published on by genzme

A case of a small boy relieving himself in public has caused a massive controversy in Hong Kong and the mainland, and an inevitable outpouring of irrationality
The uproar over a mainland toddler urinating on a Hong Kong street testifies to the simmering antagonism between the two sides. Yet the incident is by no means an embodiment of the real issues that may divide us. For one thing, what really happened is much more complicated or murky and cannot and should not be readily politicized.
A mainland couple helped their two-year-old pee on a pavement and were spotted by a couple of Hong Kong youths, who tried to photograph them and stop them from leaving the scene. phone cases A crowd gathered and, as a result, there were cell-phone videos and photos galore.
Was it a simple case of mainland tourists behaving badly or a manifestation of Hong Kongers' arrogance? I believe it's neither.
Detractors on both sides tend to ignore or exaggerate certain details. Those who see the mainlanders as the bad guys say the woman slapped the face of a local youth. But the video shows she slapped him on the wrist, and it was a slap in the middle of a scuffle as she was trying to take back her stroller. Sure, video images may miss important facts, but a subsequent police report confirms there were no such acts on her part. Also, the locals wrongly claimed the kid was pooing, not peeing.
Let compassion, not prejudice, pour out
Those who see the Hong Kongers as unreasonable say it's morally wrong to photograph a little girl showing her private parts and her father was protecting her privacy by snatching the memory card from the Hong Kong photographer. As a matter of fact, the toddler was a boy, and in Chinese culture it is considered innocuous to show little boys naked in anything but sexual situations. Honestly, I don't think photos taken from the height of a regular adult are capable of capturing troubling details. And I believe the father desperately wanted to erase that digital memory for fear of being levied a penalty, not for privacy concerns.
The truth is more complicated than both sides would like to believe. The mainland couple maintained they did indeed find a public toilet, but the line was so long the boy could not wait. Besides, the mother was using a diaper to catch his pee from dripping onto the sidewalk. I wonder whether it would still be an offense if not a single drop ended on the pavement.
As a parent who has gone through similar experiences, (the father repeatedly asked the Hong Kong youths, who look like they are in their early 20s, "Are you a parent?") I sympathize with the mainland parents, but feel they should not have allowed things to get to the point of helping the boy pee on the street.
First, they could have asked those in line at the toilet if they could jump the queue. Also, since there were two of them and the women's room tends to be occupied, it might have been easier to have the husband take the boy to the men's room. Second, if those options were not available, it would have been better to let the boy pee inside the toilet building. Third, as kids of that age are unpredictable, the boy could have suppressed his urge inside the toilet then felt it again after they had left it. In that case, I feel the parents should have searched for a relatively secluded spot, such as behind a bush. Of course, with Hong Kong's population density it would be impossible to completely avoid prying eyes.
As for the Hong Kong youths who stopped and photographed them, the real problem was their communication. Since it was not practical to expect mainland tourists to speak Cantonese, they should have talked in Mandarin and explained to them that it was wrong to pee in a public space and, after hearing their explanation, asked them to wait for police arbitration.
Now I have no bias against Cantonese as a dialect. Its value in film and other popular culture, let alone in daily life, is evident. But in this situation it would have ameliorated things if the locals had shown some ability and willingness to resolve the dispute in a language the other side could understand.
Other than that, I think the Hong Kong youths showed good citizenship in trying to stop what they perceived to be an act detrimental to public hygiene.
We have to accept the possibility that well-intentioned people may get into a ruckus. Likewise, we should refrain from painting one side in such a wrangle as perfectly good and the other as evil. More importantly, we should be very careful when we extrapolate an isolated incident and make it a political spark. It would be tempting to view such stories with our pre-existing prejudices and often incomplete knowledge, but that would be unfair to both parties involved in this quite ordinary squabble.
Now, for the sake of discussion, let's remove all the complexities of the real story and imagine the tourists as litterbugs and other delinquents with wanton disregard for public cleanliness. There are such people in every society and definitely more in the mainland than in Hong Kong. This is an offshoot of economic disparity.
The level of civility goes in tandem with prosperity. Even though you can drum home certain ideals of decorum and manners, these codes of behavior do not become a natural part of oneself until one reaches middle-class respectability. When Beijingers complain of migrants' littering subway cars and Shanghainese roll their eyes at the "uncivilized" conduct of many outsiders, they are expressing the same kind of disapproval as the Hong Kongers when an inevitable minority of the massive tourist army drags their bad habits with them wherever they go.
The best way to curb such behavior is education and strict enforcement of the law. I don't think foreign tourists would litter in Singapore because everyone has heard of being fined big amounts. Also, you'll have to endure the constant nagging from public announcements about the no-nos in public spaces.
The Hong Kong story has an added element of what some mainlanders perceive as jealousy. As the mainland rises economically, Hong Kongers become less affluent in comparison. Again, this is not unique. When Americans first gained wealth, they were mocked by Europeans for their nouveau-rich vulgarity. The Americans were either oblivious or laughed at the Europeans' grandiosity.
In an era of rapid economic growth, these kinds of sentiments permeate every corner of Chinese society. At worst, they exacerbate the social and regional divides and, at best, create material for humor and satire. We have to realize that even the best economic policies will not be able to completely level the playing field and bring equal wealth.
What the government should do is to remove as many hurdles as possible to the advancement of every social stratum and ensure a basic living standard for those at the bottom of society. Upon that foundation, a set of rules for propriety can gradually be accepted and embraced by all members of society regardless of wealth and geographic origin. Ultimately, civility has to come from the heart and it has to incorporate respect for all fellow human beings who share our common environment.

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