Try to imagine living in a city where the thickest areas are 51 people per square metre. Could you ever feel like this guy if someone pushed your buttons on the wrong day?
“I want you to apologize!”
“Sorry. … You want to save face. Sorry, Uncle” (a respectful address to an elder).
“I don’t want to save face! Hey! I didn’t disturb your conversation. Why did you blame me for talking too loudly? … I face pressure! You face pressure! Why did you provoke me?! … This is not resolved! This is not resolved!”
And it’s all way downhill from there.
Normally someone freaking out on someone else in public isn’t news. But this particular incident tapped a culturally significant nerve in HK’s general population and mainstream media. People in cramped Asian cities face pressures to degrees that we (Westerners) usually can’t understand.
In May on HK public transit, a younger guy tapped a middle-aged guy on the shoulder and respectfully asked him not speak so loud on his cell phone (we’ve witnessed the full-volume cell phone talking in HK – it’s obnoxious). The older guy blew a gasket! He chewed/cussed the younger guy out for a full six minutes. Another passenger recorded the whole thing on his cell phone and put the video on the internet. It quickly gathered an internet cult following, and now the guy has pseudo-celebrity status in the mainstream media. He’s a household name in HK. Chinese rap and pop artists even made music videos about it. “I face pressure! You face pressure!” and “This is not resolved!” are catch-phrases now.
From a various news articles (CNN, South China Morning Post (HK)):
“Bus Uncle” is also seen as real, strong and honest, using language close to the heart of Hong Kong people and catching the collective emotional pulse in a city where people live cheek to jowl, and don’t generally socialize with strangers or say how they feel, local experts say.
“He is not pretending to be someone great,” says Fung, who says Hong Kong’s youth can’t find heroes in the textbooks they read. “But he is expressing the true feelings of ordinary people.”
Chan’s phrases reflect the pressure that comes from living in a city where 6.9 million people are squeezed into 1,104 square kilometers (426 square miles) of land. In its most densely populated parts — like the old airport area of Kwun Tong — as many as 50,820 live in one square kilometer.
When I first heard that there was a ‘hero’ I thought they meant the young guy who finally said something about the obnoxious cell phone behaviour (personal pet-peeve of mine on any continent). But no – the general population likes the guy that freaks out, violates all sorts of cultural standards, and genuinely expresses how they feel in the process.
And how did it end? From The Washington Post:
Like all great films, this one has a perfect conclusion. Just when you start to think there’s no way the encounter can end without an actual fight, Bus Uncle’s cellphone rings. He curses and abruptly turns away to answer it.