Shame on passengers for ignoring a bully on the tram

A recent incident on a tram compels me to write. A few weeks ago, I boarded a lunch-hour tram to Wan Chai, filing in behind a western man of some physical stature. He started climbing the stairs to the upper level but, on changing his mind, retracted his steps - landing one foot on my thigh. Ignoring me, he moved into the centre of the tram. Instinctively offended, I suggested he might apologise. His response? 'Why should I?'

Although his refusal annoyed me, it was his attitude that most upset me. Underlying his response was an expectation of my submission and acceptance. My guess is that he saw me as a small, local girl ... someone with little power (I am, actually, Canadian Chinese, with very little knowledge of local culture, not to mention Cantonese). As the tram began to fill up, the man in question obnoxiously stood in the centre of the tram, blocking passage. I was immediately behind him so, out of courtesy and necessity, I said, 'Excuse me', and waited. When he refused to budge I brushed past him. At that moment, I was jolted forward three feet by an open-handed push. I turned to see the man grinning menacingly. I was appalled by this blatant act of aggression, but felt helpless. It occurred to me that, although I was on a crowded tram, I was alone. What recourse did I really have? Could I have told the driver (in my broken Cantonese)?

I have resigned myself to the fact that the man was probably a cowardly bully. I remain disconcerted, disappointed and embarrassed, however, by the memory of the 30 or so silent bystanders - who chose to say nothing out of custom and convenience. Had I appealed to the mass of witnesses around me on that tram, nobody would have stood up in my support or defence.

This aversion to getting involved has become the norm in Hong Kong. It is a cause for real concern. What will it take to wake people up? Would anyone have reacted if it had happened to a pregnant woman, a senior citizen, a child, a Filipino? My story may seem petty to your readers, but it is laced with gender and racial undertones. What if the man had slapped me across the face or indecently assaulted me? Would anyone have stepped in then?

To all commuters, men and women, I ask you these three questions, as responsible members of the public: What could I have done? What should I have done? What would you do?