I'm not a fan of public transport here in Hong Kong, especially in winter. There are times, like when visiting Discovery Bay that I don't have a choice, and that's just where I was headed on Friday morning. Friday's bus ride reminded me why I have avoided public transport as often as possible. Firstly I have to state, for the record, I would take public transport in HK over public transport in Sydney any day. Sydney's buses and trains can often resemble some of the worst I've seen in 3rd world countries, and run on some kind of system that holds no resemblance to a schedule. My main issue with transport in HK is generally my fellow commuters and their bodily fluids full of airborne diseases, and their tendency to pick their noses, cut their nails and, I kid you not, floss their teeth. I'm all for multi-tasking but there are limits people!
As I creep into my 3rd trimester of pregnancy I am becoming ever more aware of something that frustrates many expats here - local tunnel vision, and it's never more obvious than when you're pregnant or somehow incapacitated and reliant on others to notice you and open doors/give up their seats/generally be helpful when needed. This tunnel vision, I believe has evolved in the local population after decades of living in a very small area with millions of others, in a dog-eat-dog society, where competition for everything is fierce and crowds are commonplace. It's purely a survival, self-preservation tactic but can also lead to an inability to recognise the needs of others. It's not a deliberate thing, I think it's just a result of living amongst so many others, this inward focus. In my experience there are many people here who are really friendly and really helpful, but there's no middle ground, and many others are really unfriendly and really unhelpful. So on Friday morning when I clambered onto the bus, at the last minute as always, and found myself having to stand, I did what I always do - I tried to catch the eye of someone who might, by the remotest chance, offer me their seat. All of the men appeared deeply engrossed in the day's papers, while the women guiltily looked away, pretended to be asleep or turned to their mobile phones as if just receiving an urgent message. If they can't see the pregnant lady, they can't feel bad for not getting up.
Now, I'm not hugely pregnant yet, but I am very obviously pregnant, it's kinda hard to miss. I could understand in the early days when I was just a little round in the middle and I could have been mistaken for being a tad overweight. Anyone offering me a seat in those days was taking a risk, as the chances of offending me were high and losing face over a fatal error in judgement such as that would be far worse than the guilt over not offering a pregnant lady a seat. But on a crowded bus, on a cold winter's morning, when a woman's belly is so close to your cheek you can practically hear her unborn baby's heartbeat, you've really got no excuse. I'm not saying at this point in my pregnancy I really need to sit down, I feel pretty good, and at that time of the morning I wasn't yet completely knackered - it's the principle of the thing, and the lack of common decency.
It reminded me of a time I caught a bus with a colleague after work one day. I was still sporting a mini-did-she-just-have-a-big-lunch kind of bump but K was heavily pregnant at 36 weeks. The bus was full of schoolkids, parents and helpers, all sitting down, while the 2 of us stood and blocked the aisle with our bumps. I definitely did not need a seat (although it would have been nice) but I could not believe no one got up for K. The number of mothers who sat there and let their kids clamber over the seats while a pregnant lady stood, wobbling in the aisle, bump dangerously close to sharp little elbows and errant schoolbags, was appalling. So, it's not a recent phenomenon and this particular gripe has been a long time in the making. When I was pregnant with J I was pushed, literally shoved out of the way by a man trying to board the MTR as I was getting off. No excuses for that kind of behaviour, none whatsoever.
I took the same trip this morning for my weekly physio appointment and the same thing happened. There was another passenger on the bus who caught my eye. She was also standing and looking at me with that "I can't believe no one is giving you a seat" look. She turned out to be a new nurse at the clinic I go to and as she was giving me my flu shot we talked about the bus ride. She was equally appalled, and being new to Hong Kong was quite surprised. It made me realise that being forced to stand on the bus has become so common now that it no longer surprises me. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not...
I'm a firm believer in karma and I keep hoping that if I always open doors for people with strollers or the elderly and infirm, or give up my seat on the bus, someday it'll pay off and I'll get the same treatment. But for the time being I'm going to stick with the Airport Express or the comfort of my own car, where I'm always guaranteed a seat (unless I have to go to DB again, in which case I'll just have to suck it up!).
Stay tuned next week for my rant on public toilets, titled "Seats are for bums not feet."