Close encounters with Confucian values

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 May, 2012, 12:00am


A holiday is an opportunity to take a break from the daily routine and nurture family relationships. At Easter, I went to Thailand with my husband, to give our children a break from our supervision, as well as to enjoy each other's company. To save time and energy, we joined a tour group of 19 people.

This group was different from previous ones, which had mostly consisted of nuclear families with parents and their children. The diverse make-up of this tour group really amused me.

Among the holidaymakers, there was a young couple travelling with the wife's nephew, as well as a mother and her 14-year-old daughter. There were also two sisters, both working mothers in their 30s. There was also a large extended family: a grandmother, her two sons, a daughter, her two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and her two grandchildren.

These various groupings reflect the diversified values of family relationships. The extended group represented the continuity of filial piety in Hong Kong families. I'm a parent of two adolescents, but my training in social work had taught me about the importance of marital enrichment, as well as good parental involvement.

The mother/daughter duo was a compromise to the work demands of the husband and father. He was fully occupied by his work, even during holidays. The father's need to work was accepted, and the mother and daughter took the opportunity to enjoy each other's company. This reflects the flexibility of family units and the widely accepted work ethic in Hong Kong that sees working hard as a virtue that should always receive support.

The sisters had made an effort to cherish their sisterhood. Living apart since their marriages, they had both made time for this trip. The elder sister joined our tour after completing another trip with her husband and son. She worked to accommodate the schedules of both parties. Finding time to spend with the family is not easy. But many evidently make the effort.

I heard a touching story from the young couple travelling with the nephew. The boy's mother had left when he was four months old. His father was deeply hurt and became preoccupied with his own search for 'love'. The boy was left in the care of his grandparents. The aunt took the parenting role to relieve her parents of the responsibilities of cross-generational caregiving.

Her focus was on the well-being of her parents and the healthy development of her nephew, who she treated as if he was her own son. This lovely family again reflected the values of filial piety as well as the flexibility and resilience of the Chinese family.

These encounters with my tour group members impressed me much more than the sunny beaches and delicious food of Thailand.

Dr Lau Yuk-king is a consultant with the department of social work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong