This picture was taken by my son-in-law who together with my daughter Monica visited Melbourne Law School recently. I hope you can read the line on the paper pasted on the wall.
Apparently, this was put up by the school’s administrators for obvious reasons. Melbourne Law School is one of the most prestigious law school in the world. Monica is an alumnus. It is now a professional graduate school, meaning, you must have an undergraduate degree to enroll.
Why did I say, “for obvious reasons”? If you visit the school now, you see Chinese students everywhere. Old habits die hard, spitting seems to be as natural as having to go to the loo.
I accompanied the founder of IMC Holdings Tan Sri Frank Tsao to visit one of the richest men in Malaysia in his hotel at Putrajaya. When we arrived, the traffic in front of the hotel was a little unruly. This tycoon, whom I happened to know since the early 1980s, when he was still up and coming, was well known for his hands-on approach. He immediately took control of the situation. He personally directed the flows to give our car a smooth. After this was done, he let go a spit right on the spot without any second thought. I must say I was taken aback.
He passed away recently, and on reflecting over this incident, I think I have reached a different understanding. He was not being crude or uncultured. I believe he was just expressing a sense of satisfaction with this act.
But that’s not the societal norm.
I remember I was a culprit of this form of crudeness or casualness as well. I was dining in a restaurant in Japan with a more worldly and refined colleague. I dropped some food on the floor and didn’t think much of it. He bent over and have it picked up. What else could I say. But from that day onwards, I would clean up everything I dirtied or messed up, including the stuff after a visit to fast foods or hawkers’ corners.
I had also never given any thought to hygiene when I shared meal with friends. We swam the dishes with our chopsticks. It was just our “culture” of sharing. Nobody complained or bothered to enlighten us. It was not until I was dining with some acquaintances in Hong Kong in the 1990s when one politely facilitated me to use the pair of common chopsticks that was placed there then I realized his intention. Now whenever I have an opportunity, I would always try to bring this food sharing practice – as subtly as I can – to friends. Some did pick up instantly, but many remained oblivious no matter how hard I tried.
Back to the Melbourne Law School incident. My son-in-law was brought up in the old-fashioned way. Chinese Indonesians are more “Confucian” than most of us in traditions. He told me that when they were going into the lift, no Chinese students there bothered to give way to the elderly, let alone guests like him and Monica. Don’t the kindergartens and junior schools in China teach such basic Confucian or “li” or manners? And these are not peasants; they are studying in a highly regarded graduate law school!
My son-in-law’s anecdote reminds me of an incident I had in Greece during my recent tour with my wife there. In Athens, we had some on-your-own time. We decided to try the city’s metro. The train was pretty packed when it pulled up. We stepped in notwithstanding. On seeing me with a walking cane, an elderly gentleman immediately stood up to offer me his seat. How could I take up his offer? He needed it more than I! I politely declined but thank him, nonetheless. No sooner, several others also offer theirs. I accepted one of the younger passengers’ offer. That’s a civilized behaviour! And it has no correlation to the ancientness of one’s civilizational claim. This is just my opinion, though.