David Jaffee, like me, spent time as a Fulbright scholar in Hong Kong. A sociologist, he spent the year observing street life and informal rules of interaction. As he states: “From a sociological perspective, what I found most fascinating were the forms of public behavior of the native population… I was afforded many hours of natural and unobtrusive observation of social life in a wide range of settings.“
Being an outsider, but not a tourist or visitor, is an interesting position to be in. One of the public behaviors that Jaffee experienced was that the entire time he was there (10 months), not once did someone come to his assistance when he stood at a crowded street-corner looking at his Hong Kong map. In fact, people seemed to avoid his gaze.
When I returned to Hong Kong this time, I purposefully tested Jaffee’s findings. I remembered from last time that I had in fact had someone come help my daughter and me when I was lost in Sham Shui Po, totally disoriented after coming out of the subway. But that was only one instance. I wanted to be more scientific in my analysis! The first several weeks I found myself lost at least three times, standing outside a subway system or on a street corner, trying to get oriented. Every single time someone stopped and helped me. One time someone even walked me to within sight of my destination! Was it the fact I was a woman and was with another woman? Was it our age? But Jaffee is about the same age with even more gray hair! I cannot explain the difference in our experiences. But I do appreciate Jaffee’s qualifying in drawing his conclusions:
“From my analyses I would arrive at various interpretations and conclusions, some of which may prove to be quite erroneous.”
If only all of us would be more careful at drawing cross-cultural conclusions!