Standing Up For Ourselves

From a very early age I was taught that young people should always give up their seat on public transport so that those with a greater need – the elderly, the infirm, pregnant women, or those travelling with young children – could ride in safety.

Now that I am at the other end of the age spectrum I am happy to see that the tradition continues to be upheld by a good many ordinary Hong Kong people. Twice in the last week as I have stood quietly in the bus aisle secretly wishing there was a vacant seat, a younger person has gently touched my arm and indicated the seat from which they have just risen.

In the past few months I have seen several such incidents – a Filipina helper jumping up to assist a Chinese elder, a Chinese youth offering his seat to a pregnant Indian lady. There have been some interesting features to the episodes as well.

There is seldom any drama. It isn’t always necessary to speak when making the offer, for example. A simple gesture will do. A smile and a murmured "M Goi" is more than sufficient by way of thanks. And as the quoted incidents illustrate, ethnicity is not a factor in either direction.

Not everyone takes part in this civilised social behaviour of course. I am sure we have all seen teenagers – some even in school uniform (whatever do they teach them nowadays?) – occupying the red priority seats while playing games on their mobile phones, as passengers four times their age struggle to keep their balance alongside.

But there have been enough examples of the better kind to keep me optimistic about our future. We can learn to live together, we can make life a little easier for each other, all it takes is some goodwill and a proper upbringing.

It was while mulling over these matters that I also began to struggle to understand the conduct of some of our legislators from the pan democratic camp, especially in the context of the invitation to them to visit Shanghai to discuss political reform.

There are some that I really wouldn’t want to go to represent me. Will they shout and throw bananas at the hosts? I would curl up in embarrassment.

On the other hand, there are some who could make a strong and persuasive case on our behalf for greater democracy, in a polite but firm way, who I would be proud to see speak on my behalf. But some of these are indicating that they won't go themselves. They might instead send more junior representatives in their place. They don't want to be seen "Taking part in a show".

I cannot follow the logic of this. After all, politics is about taking part in a show. And we are paying them to be members of the cast.

And there is another element: just as the young, in my opinion, have a duty to make way for the older generation on public transport, so those who are more experienced have a duty to assist the younger generation by showing qualities of courage and leadership in the political arena.

And they won’t do that by giving up their seat on the plane to Shanghai.