By now, you’d have read about – and rejoiced in, depending on whose side you’re on – how Singaporean Timothy Bon took his sweet revenge on a rude Chinese tourist by misdirecting her on a Journey to the West (i.e. Tuas Link).
On Mar 12, he tweeted that he met a Chinese lady at a train station, who asked for directions to 海湾舫 (Bayfront).
But as the self-professed “C6-in-Chinese” Timothy was not sure if that location meant Bayfront, HarbourFront or Admiralty, he attempted to clarify it with her.
Unfortunately for him, it was a case of “no good deed goes unpunished” (or “好心没好报”, if your level of proficiency in Chinese is higher than a C6 at O Levels).
According to Timothy, who was “genuinely trying to help”, the lady “got mad because [he] took too long”. She then snapped at him with a retort (translated): “Chinese, but don’t know how to speak Mandarin, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
We all know what happened next.
The hilarity of the situation – though not for the Chinese tourist, we’re certain – was not lost on other Twitter users. Timothy’s tweet received more than 5,700 retweets so far, and countless comments that delighted (schadenfreude, much?) in her misfortune.
Many others also began sharing similar experiences with impolite – dare I say it – PRC tourists and how they served their own just desserts.
But while it’s understandable that we got all riled up at the Chinese lady’s ill manners, Timothy’s response – and our reactions to it – are two wrongs that don’t make a right, either.
When did payback become de rigueur when it comes to dealing with someone who’s being rude or unreasonable?
Oh, it would suck, no doubt, as that Chinese lady will have found out if she did indeed end up at Tuas Link.
But wouldn’t it be a better lesson in humility if we could “kill ‘em with kindness” instead?
Not too long ago, I found myself in a similar position as Timothy, and had to give a visiting Chinese family directions to the airport.
As I’m just as proficient as him in Chinese, I offered to help them with their “school bags” (suitcases), and was somehow able to muddle through a broken conversation and point them in the right direction, to boot.
The family could have done to me what the tourist did to Timothy, or rolled their eyes and walked off in search of a real Singaporean Chinese to seek directions from.
Instead, they patiently engaged me in conversation while I fumbled over my words, perhaps sensing that I was genuinely trying to help them. And while it’s true that they did laugh at my atrocious Mandarin as a Singaporean, they very kindly
lied to assured me that it wasn’t that bad.
It just goes to show that not all Chinese tourists are errant – and that it is possible to overcome a language barrier with some effort and kindness.
Can we be more understanding of “misbehaving” travellers?
You might say that it was easy for me to be nice to that family of Chinese tourists because they behaved in kind.
What then if we do run into someone like Timothy’s Chinese tourist?
That’s when it’s handy to draw upon the inspirational quotes you come across on that friend’s (everybody has one) Instagram stories.
My personal favourite: “Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.”
Which, if you think about it, is on the money in this case.
The Chinese lady, who’s probably ruing the day she met Timothy, was lost in a foreign country. She needed help, and was likely getting desperate when she saw that he himself seemed unsure of how to assist her.
She was wrong to lash out at him, and as a guest in a foreign country, it’s basic respect to mind your manners – especially when you’re asking someone for a favour.
But in sending her on a wild goose chase, Timothy might have effectively contributed to her distress, especially when she realises that she’s even more lost than when she first started out.
As difficult as it would have been for him then, he could have taken the opportunity to be the shining example of self-control and graciousness among Singaporeans. He could even have called her out on her rudeness, or schooled her on how English is our lingua franca.
Then, she wouldn’t have deserved his kindness. But now, she doesn’t deserve this level of payback.
I, for one, certainly wish that the next person she met while journeying to Tuas Link tried taking the kinder, higher road, and made her realise that not all Singaporean Chinese would have reacted negatively to her poor attitude.
And hopefully, that would send her on a guilt trip – all the way to Bayfront, this time.