Don’t just criticise Hong Kong youth, the elderly can be worse

Yonden Lhatoo complains that while we chastise the city’s junior residents for bad behaviour, we give a free pass to miscreant senior citizens for no good reason

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 5:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 6:03pm

Stuck in a traffic jam on a crowded cross-harbour bus to Causeway Bay recently, I watched a local senior citizen berate an elderly South Asian man over a seating dispute.

After all these years in this city, I still find myself shaking my head in wonder at the life-and-death intensity with which Hong Kong commuters approach the daily task of securing an all-important seat on public transport that is clearly designed to provide comfortable standing as well as sitting room, but I digress.

Watch: Hongkongers pushing and squeezing onto a bus

Back to my bus story, in which the enraged Chinese man was bludgeoning the subject of his ire with the choicest abuse the Cantonese language has to offer, punctuated with racist epithets against “Indians”. The target in this case could have been of any ethnicity, from Pakistani to Maldivian, but who am I to question the accuracy of the race-sniffing, built-in radar that xenophobes come equipped with in this town?

Angry Man’s one-sided shouting was so loud and obnoxious that I took it upon myself to feel embarrassed on behalf of all the seemingly unaffected silent spectators on the bus and offered “Indian” Man my standing spot by the door. He grabbed it without a word, looking frail and disoriented.

It should have ended there. But the expletive-ridden tirade went on and on, forcing me to yell back at Angry Man – who was by now comfortably seated, yet somehow dissatisfied – to cease and desist. That prompted a commuter rubbing shoulders with us to suggest that I should not be too harsh on an elderly man, even if he was clearly a jerk begging for a beating.

That really sums it up, doesn’t it? How we compensate for senior citizens behaving badly. Somehow, because of their age, it’s acceptable for them to be rude, racist and abusive.

We regularly lambast our disgruntled and alienated youth for every infraction, criticising their snowflake sensitivities and entitled expectations, but elderly people can be far worse and still wave their get-out-of-jail-free card citing age exemption.

How barcodes are helping elderly patients exercise correctly in Hong Kong

You try to help senior citizens dragging leaden trolleys up and down subway stairs and they bite your head off because their immediate reaction is the suspicion that you’re out to rob them. I find myself more concerned these days about the well-being of the stairs they’re systematically destroying, one thumping step after another.

Whether they’re jumping queues, spitting in the street, littering, jaywalking, shouting abuse or even brawling in public, they have somehow earned the right to not give a damn by virtue of the sheer number of years they’ve been around.

“They’ve been through a lot, you know,” is the ready excuse I hear. “They’ve been through wars, they’ve paid their dues.”

Really? So have my elderly parents, and yet they haven’t forgotten their basic manners and rudimentary social skills.

If I’m coming across as rather heartless, I must point out in my defence that I’ve written my share of articles sympathising with the plight of elderly people in a city without a proper pension or welfare system, for all its success and prosperity.

Our rapidly greying population and the scant attention we pay to its seriously worrying implications has been debated ad nauseam but, to quote an old cliché, it has always been NATO – no action, talk only.

Anyway, that’s a separate discussion. Today I’m talking about youngsters getting the bad rap while senior citizens behaving like troglodytes get away with relative murder.

Spare the rod and spoil the child, the saying goes, and many parents embrace this philosophy to ensure their children behave. Too bad there’s no one to spank our naughty senior citizens into shape.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post