I’m an Rule-Breakaholic
Emily Post is a Fulbright teaching assistant living in Hong Kong. She is also Gradspot.com's new Asia correspondent.
An old, wise, bearded Chinese man named Mr. Confucius once came up with a simple philosophy: there are a bunch of moral rules of conduct that all persons must learn and follow, and then they will know exactly how to behave in society. Yay for harmony and order!
We lads and lasses of the Catholic Church, too, learned there were moral and ethical rules that “thou shall not break,” but if per chance you do (and everyone does), there are a few simple steps you could take to redeem yourself. Yay for sinning and (sometimes) repenting!
Though I came to Asia expecting certain “cultural differences,” I was completely unprepared for the effect that living in such a by-the-books, rule-based society would have on me.
Like a werewolf living trapped in a land where the sun don’t shine and full moons glow year round, I’ve become a rule-breaking beast.
Hong Kong is a city 7 million strong, 2.2 million of whom rely on the SAR’s complex system of trains, boats, and buses to get around each day. So it’s no wonder that my rule-breaking streak is best exemplified (and at its very worst) in the public transport scene. Witness:
* This classy scenario: Spotting my date for dinner toward the front of the campus shuttle bus line, I sashay past over a hundred sorry souls, waltz right up and drop my bag, staring gratefully back toward the end of the tortuous line that I had just cut, elementary-school style. “Ah, excuse me,” a conservative 40-something Chinese woman signals to me in thick Cantonese-English, “This is a line.” Um, duh. “Ya, I knowm” I smile. “There is a loooong line of colleagues waiting,” she repeats, pointing behind her. “Ya, I see,” I agree vigorously. “I’m SO glad my friend Laurie here held my place,” I continue gladly, staring the woman right in the eyes. I then turn to Laurie to launch into my most obnoxious storytelling voice. The woman stares incredulously, and then begins to visibly shake with anger. “Oh, so confident, so proud… crazy American girl… she think she can break all the rules…” she rants in an angry hiss to nobody in particular. Who’s the crazy one now, lady? Victory is mine!
* There is a strict no eating, no drinking policy on the public train system (MTR), which I strictly observe by buying a big bottle of water or Coke Light (way better than Diet Coke) at the 7-Eleven outside every station and blatantly chugging once on board.
* “Mind the gap when alighting. Please let passengers exit first,” is the cheesy British-accented recording you hear upon every stop the train makes, which I respond to by pushing my way right to the front of the door and entering first before letting them off, often with the intention of hip-checking some grandma in the fight for the only open seat.
And there are other silly, mundane scenes where I find myself searching for a rule, just so I can break it.
* No drinks in the library? I’ll purposely get a coffee before I browse the magazine racks and place it boldly on the counter while checking out my books. I dare you to take it away, Ms. Timid Bespectacled Librarian.
* You have to sign out a card and fill out TWO stickers upon every visit to the gym? I sneak in the back way and walk straight past the front desk and into the fitness room, chin up and guns out.
* Appropriate athletic wear required for the lap swimming only? Lather me up in SPF and tie my bikini, sister, ‘cause I’m a goin’ sun-tannin’!
What’s that Mom, you’re horrified of the ethnocentric, rule-breaking witch that you must call daughter? Fear not, for it’s my American duty. I do it all in the name of authentic cultural exchange, darling.