Personal space & “Bus Uncle”

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.

Our brief trips to Hong Kong (here and here) made Yonghe, one of the most congested parts of Taiwan, feel spacious. HK’s population density is incredible.

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.


4 thoughts on “Personal space & “Bus Uncle””

  1. Truly, this is fascinating to me. The Older Man is the ‘good guy’? Is it because his response was ‘We all have to deal with being squished like sardines, be a man and deal with it.”?

  2. His response was basically, “YOUR A BLANKETY-BLANK BLANK BLANKETY-BLANK! BACK THE BLANKETY-BLANK OFF!” He gets pretty foul during his 6-minute lecture/tirade. I don’t know what exactly they liked about him… I’m assuming it’s that he expressed their feelings rather accurately – feelings that they usually can’t/aren’t allowed to express.

    HK is cramped and dizzyingly fast-paced. Plus, the cultural heritage dictates that you should bottle up your emotions/problems anyway. We’ve read about how counselors & psychologists have a terrible time in China – people can’t/don’t want to talk about that stuff. Jessica also had a really interesting interview with Mingdaw about how the church people share (or don’t share) their personal struggles. The cultural factor plays in the countryside and the cities. I guess people are sick of it and are glad that someone let some of the steam out.

    I guess sometimes cultures desire something culturally inappropriate.

  3. the rap video? no kidding. I have no idea what they’re saying, but judging from the clips they pulled from the Bus Uncle video, I’m guessing they’re sympathetic to Bus Uncle.

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