After living in the US for over 30 years, I look upon my stay in Hong Kong as a much-treasured episode in my career, which enables me to experience the Eastern life and culture once again. The radio's interview has made me pause to think as well, triggering an urge in me to write down some of my observations and reflections, which I will share with you in the following entries of my blog. Some of them are my observations during a few duty trips abroad in recent years. I hope you will like them.
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I often see the same elegantly dressed middle-aged woman at a self-service food court I frequent. Two things about this refined-looking woman make her stand out. Even though she is dining alone, she chatters away to herself non-stop, but what really sets her apart from the rest of the crowd is she always returns her tray to the appointed collection area after her meal. Each time she does it, she wins my instant admiration. It is not common in Hong Kong to see diners in self-service restaurants return their trays, making this woman's well-schooled behaviour all the more remarkable.
Some schools of thought say cleaners should be hired to do this kind of task instead of requesting diners to do it themselves, arguing that messy tables create employment opportunities. This might well be true, but the reality is other patrons either have to wait for a cleaner to come over to the table of a recently departed customer to clear up the plates and wipe down the messy surface, or do it themselves if the restaurant is particularly busy.
Of course, many restaurants offer table service, but in these establishments the diner is paying extra—a service charge—for a member of the wait staff to carry over their order and clean up afterwards. Food courts and other fast-food places make it clear from the start they are self-service. They reduce their staff costs for a specific reason: to keep the costs of the meals at a reasonable price.
In theory, self-service, especially during peak hours, allows restaurants to maintain hygienic surroundings and optimise the use of space in an efficient way. Clearing up after yourself is really not much to ask for, and the act brings about great advantages to others. It is no different to putting any form of garbage or waste in an appropriate receptacle. Why should it be any different in self-service restaurants? Littering is not such a big problem in Hong Kong these days, so why can't we improve our habits in diners?
University students are commonly seen as future society elites. As a saying goes, if you wish to go far, you should have a good starting point, near but leading far; if you wish to climb high, you should have a good starting point, low but leading upwards. Young people are expected to set an example by forming good habits so as to exert a positive influence upon those around them.
You can learn something sweet and commendable from your peers and other people around you. You don't have to be a genius to see the benefits of clearing up after yourself and it doesn't take a great deal of skill, either. It just takes the ability to learn common sense and develop thoughtful manners, something the well-dressed woman who chats away to herself knows very well.
December 10, 2012