Thursday, September 10, 2009

30+ telling-off 50+ for bullying 70+

Something interesting happened at lunch today. I, a 30-something, told off 2 ladies, in their fifties, for bullying 2 ladies in their seventies.

I was at lunch at HDB Hub's basement food court. It was filled with the lunchtime crowd. I could hardly find a place for myself, a solo diner. Then I spotted a place at 2 adjoining tables. Table 1 with seats L1, L2, R1 and R2 and table 2 with seats L3, L4, R3 and R4.

L1 L2 L3 L4
R1 R2 R3 R4

R1 and R2 were taken up by 2 young ladies in office wear. The lady at R1 told me that L1 and L2 were also taken. L3, L4 and R4 were taken up by a family of 4 who were about to finish their lunch and R3 was vacated by one of their child. I asked the parents if I could occupy R3, despite the table being almost full of dirty dishes. The parents kindly shared their table with me. Soon enough the family completed their meal and left the table.

A lady, who looked like she was in her fifties and dressed in office wear, came over to asked me if seat R4 was taken. I indicated that she could have the seat. Then she went off to buy her lunch. She returned with her soupy meal, left it on the table and went off again to buy something else. Then she returned to her R4 seat. Let's call her Lady 50A.

Then 2 elderly ladies, dressed in casual, came by. They looked like they were in their seventies. One of them, facing me and Lady 50A, asked if they could occupy seats L3 and L4. I nodded that they could have the seats. Both of them sat down. Let's call the one sitting at L3 Lady 70A and the other sitting at L4 Lady 70B. Lady 50A did not make any remark.

Lady 70B decided to buy her food, leaving Lady 70A to reserve seat L4 for her with small plastic bag of things on the table. After a while, a friend of Lady 50A came by and stood next to seat L4. Let's call her Lady 50B. Lady 50B chatted briefly about the food with Lady 50A. Then Lady 50B turned to face Lady 70A, who was sitting at L3. Lady 50B pointed to seat L2 and said the following to Lady 70A.

“你坐那遍。我剛才坐那遍,你可以坐那遍。” ["You sit there. I sat there just now, you can sit there."]

To think that all 5 of us (I, Lady 50A, Lady 50B, Lady 70A and Lady 70B) are Chinese and the typical Chinese emphasis on value of respecting one's elders. I kept quiet, waiting for Lady 50A to correct her friend. Instead I was stunned by the deafening silence from Lady 50A and the "this is my seat" serious look on the face of Lady 50B.

Without complaining, Lady 70A moved over to seat L2. Lady 50B sat down on L4. Both Lady 50A and Lady 50B started eating lunch and chatting as if nothing had happened. These two 50-something professional looking ladies spoke in fluent English to each other, not Singlish. I looked at Lady 70A and gave her an apologetic smile, indicated to her with my eyes darting to Lady 50B and shook my head. Chinese body language for “那個人沒家教”。[Literary, "That person has no family upbringing."] Sometime later, Lady 70A moved further to seat L1 and her friend Lady 70B sat at another table, to the left of R1.

After a while, Lady 50B got up from her seat to get something from the stalls. To avoid Lady 50A from “丟臉” ["losing face"], I took this opportunity while her friend was not around and feedback to her,

"Next time you should have informed that you are reserving the table for 3. We are all here to find a place for lunch, we should be kind to each other."

"My friend was sitting at there (pointing vaguely to the direction of L1 and L2). When I came over, I was expecting to be sitting alone." was her lame defence. By then, her friend Lady 50B returned and indicated with her body language to Lady 50A "what's going on?"

I looked at her and repeated, "I was just telling your friend that next time she should have informed that she was reserving the table for 3. Don't demand that an elderly moves from her seat."

"But I offered my seat to her", Lady 50B retorted, raising her voice in her defence.

"You should not demand that she moves over. She an elderly. You could offer your seat, but not demand that she moves."

Lady 50B insisted that she offered her seat. Is her command of the Chinese language so poor that she doesn't know how to offer her seat to an elderly in a polite manner? Even then, is her body language so lousy that she doesn't know how to smile when making a request? Then Lady 50B sat down, ate her lunch and started talking to Lady 50A as if nothing had happened. Lady 50B decided to adopt the "ignore the nuisance" (aka me) strategy.

I turned to Lady 50A and repeated, "Next time you should inform that you are reserving the table for 3."

Lady 50A whined, "I was expecting to eat alone". I'm not convinced. If that were true, why didn't she tell her friend not to bully an elderly lady into giving up the seats? The only logical conclusion I could come to was that she did not see anything wrong with her friend's bullying and played along so as to have a nice face-to-face seating for her lunchtime chat with her friend. Anyway, after my final sentence, she became quieter and less participative in her conversation with Lady 50B.

I finished lunched quickly and left the table without further words. Fifty-somethings in Singapore often lament the lack of traditional values in the younger set. It is perhaps time for them to look into the mirror.

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