Every society has its own standards and norms. But regardless of cultural differences, some behaviour is universally considered uncivilised and should be avoided. Relieving oneself in a public area is a case in point. It is difficult to imagine any civilised society would approve of that, especially when it happens right in front of a crowd.
A girl of about five was seen urinating inside an MTR carriage on Hong Kong Island on Tuesday. Her Putonghua-speaking mother apparently did nothing to stop her, but dabbed the floor with tissues afterwards before alighting with her. Unsurprisingly, passengers were shocked by the scene. The report unleashed a torrent of comment on the internet.
This is not the first time misbehaviour in public premises has made headlines. A video clip showing a couple allowing their child to defecate in a train station went viral in April. That mainlanders were involved has fuelled the misconception that all Chinese nationals relieve themselves wherever they like. It also adds to the long list of unwelcome conduct associated with Chinese tourists. The truth is that these were only isolated incidents. The train incident, if it had happened on the mainland, would provoke equally.
This is not to suggest relieving oneself in public is nothing unusual and should be tolerated. It is uncivilised, illegal and unacceptable. But it would be wrong to stereotype all mainland tourists as lacking self-discipline. Like every society, there are those who do not conform. While few would go to the extreme of relieving themselves in a crowded train, it is not unusual to come across lifts, underpasses and street corners in our city that reek with the smell of urine. Elsewhere, telephone booths and underground stations are notorious for being used as public conveniences in the early hours.
We trust the train passengers' reactions have sent a clear message to the mother that what her daughter did was not acceptable in our society. Visitors should be made aware of the dos and don'ts in Hong Kong. More education is needed.