Tuesday, January 11, 2005


The restaurant where I usually eat lunch can get very crowded. It's not unusual for seperate parties to be squeezed on to the same table - this doesn't raise eyebrows at all in Hong Kong.

I usually go for lunch after 2pm so that I can avoid the the lunch hour rush. At that time I can eat my lunch and read for a while without worrying that I'm keeping someone else from getting a seat.

When I went for lunch today the restaurant was still recovering from lunchtime busyness. I was lucky that a group of four vacated a table just as I arrived. I sat down, ordered wonton noodle soup and opened up 'Sense and Sensibility'.

After I'd been sitting for just a minute, a couple of young women came in for lunch. The waitress gestured them towards my table but they hesitated and looked uncomfortable. Finally, they moved towards another table with less space.

The waitress saw the place they were intending to sit and told them that there would not be enough room. She told them again to sit at my four person table and they eventually obeyed.

I was too wrapped up in the revelation of Lucy's engagement to Edward Ferrars to feel insulted. After a couple more minutes my food arrived and I continued to read as I ate.

Just as I bit into my first wonton, two seats became available at the next table. In a flash the two women transported themselves along with their bags, drinks, chopsticks, spoons and napkins. I noted that the table they moved to had two prior occupants. They actually had more space on my table than they did on the new one.

I continued eating and another couple were placed on my table. I think that they were a mother and son. They lasted only two minutes before a place became available at another table and they dashed across the restaurant.

When things like this happen in Hong Kong I usually console myself that it's not racism. Actually, if racism effects me in Hong Kong then it's probably only when I get better treatment for being white.

Instead, I think it's just the reaction of people who are afraid of those who are different to themselves. In either case, it helps me empathise with others, such as our clients at work, who do face real discrimination.

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