Airing her grievances

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2005, 12:00am


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Ah, the sounds of dining out in Beijing: the 'clink' of cup after cup of baijiu; the raised voices; the spitting out of bones, saliva and more; the shouting matches and near fights over who pays the bill. Above it all, however, are the shouts of xiao jie! ('waitress!') that echo throughout the room.

I admit that I have picked up most of those habits, which for the most part, I keep in check when I go abroad. Except, that is, for shouting for the server. In a country where 'serve the people' is supposed to be a national mantra, the service industry has an enormous weight on its shoulders. The burden is made even heavier with the harassment servers regularly receive at the hands of customers. I watch diner after diner snap their fingers to get the attention of the staff, berating them for daring to take so long with their food. Part of this behaviour is, once again, chalked up to that catch-all concept of 'face': that an individual's importance is inversely proportional to how low one is able to make others feel.

This is shocking to those of us familiar with restaurants overseas. Not so in the Beijing restaurant world, however, where, with heads bowed, waitresses stand and take the (often-drunken) scathing diatribes of their customers.

But one woman has stood up. Currently doing the rounds on the internet is a song called Passengers Aren't Gods. It is a homage, in style, to Eminem, performed by someone known as Lilyining. The online word - derived partly from the song itself - is that she is a China Eastern Airlines stewardess.

Chinese stewardesses might just have it worse than waitresses. On top of the culture of the treatment of service staff, as anyone who has taken a domestic flight can tell you, is the average person's ignorance of the rules of the air. You can certainly sympathise with the stewardesses when you witness the frequency with which the call button is employed, the shouts and snaps of fingers that supplement the ringing, and the rush for the door as the landing gear meets the runway. Then there was the first-time flier who tried, mid-flight, to open the plane's door to spit.

Our heroine's lyrics include the lines: You think just cuz you've bough a ticket, you're The Man?

Remember whose turf you're on...On the plane, I'm The Man.

That comes right after she threatens to 'smack you twice upside the head' if you cause trouble.

It is an amazing amalgam of humour, anger, real life and music. And who knows, she may inspire others to find musical outlets for their frustrations. Not everyone has access to a studio, but, at the very least, most have access to a karaoke machine.