Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bus Uncle and the masters of the universe!

This article appeared in today’s online Wall Street Journal. The Journal is not a place that I normally turn for stellar journalism, but this article is among the finer pieces that I have seen in a while. Technology is an international phenomenon. It isn’t everyday that you see an article that hits all the key points so perfectly. This article addresses: cell phone etiquette, confrontation, intermittent explosive disorder (i.e. road rage), the growing unrest in Hong Kong regarding the curtailing of democratic principles and a man living in a 350 square foot apartment with 5 cats. I am particularly fond of the scene of Mr. Chan’s press conference at the steakhouse!

It is standard procedure on this blog to put these articles into the blogger’s words, but I simply could not have written it any better then Mr. Fowler! Enjoy…

A Six-Minute Tirade On a Hong Kong Bus Rides Into Vernacular
Mr. Chan's Pressured Rant Turns Into Web Sensation; Ringtones and Remixes
By GEOFFREY A. FOWLERJune 7, 2006; Page A1

HONG KONG -- While riding public bus 68X on the night of April 29, Elvis Ho tapped the shoulder of a passenger sitting in front of him who was talking on a cellphone. The 23-year-old Mr. Ho asked the man to lower his voice. Mr. Ho called him "uncle," a familiar way of addressing an elder male in Cantonese.

Instead of complying, the man turned around and berated Mr. Ho for nearly six minutes, peppering his outburst with obscenities.

"I've got pressure, you've got pressure!" the older man exploded. "Why did you have to provoke me?" A nearby passenger who found the encounter interesting captured most of it on video with his own cellphone, and it was posted on the Web.

"Bus Uncle," as the older man is now known, has since become a Hong Kong sensation. The video, including subtitled versions, has been downloaded nearly five million times from, a popular Web site for video clips.

Teenagers and adults here sprinkle their conversations with phrases borrowed from Bus Uncle's rant, such as "I've got pressure!" and "It's not over!" (shouted when the young man tried to end the conversation several times by saying, "It's over"). Also, there are several insults involving mothers. Web sites peddle T-shirts with a cartoon of Bus Uncle and the famous phrases. They are also available as mobile-phone ringtones.

Fans have edited the footage into music-video versions of disco, rap and pop songs that have themselves become popular online. One video projects a slowed-down version of Bus Uncle's voice over an image of Darth Vader. Another sets Bus Uncle audio clips to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," beginning with a title that says, "All he wanted to do...was to talk on his phone and relax from his stress...but someone HAD to tap him on the back."

Jon Fong, the 21-year-old accountant and night-school psychology student who captured the bus incident on his Sony Ericsson cellphone, has become famous, too. Mr. Fong has told reporters that he often takes videos as a hobby, and had just planned to share this one with friends. "Next time, I'll put myself in the frame," he told Hong Kong's Cable TV news.

The Internet has allowed the Bus Uncle video to join a slew of other instant amateur films in attracting a global audience. Here in Hong Kong, it has a special resonance. For many, Bus Uncle personifies the stresses of life in their city.

At a recent dinner with friends, Hillman Lam asked one to pass a drink. His friend jokingly declined, and Mr. Lam, a 24-year-old ad salesman at a newspaper, said, "Hey, I've got pressure." That got a laugh from his companions, he recalls.

"When I say it, everybody knows what I am referring to," says Mr. Lam. "The video focused on what Hong Kong people are always thinking: that we have lots of pressure. It's a fast-paced society."

For 42-year-old Sherry Lee, tending a small stationery shop next door to where Mr. Ho has his own real-estate agency, Bus Uncle struck a similar chord. The fast pace of Hong Kong is so ingrained in her, she says, that "any time I visit someplace else, like Japan or Korea, I notice people are slow. I just want to kick them."

Roger Chan (a.k.a. 'Bus Uncle') confronts Elvis Ho on a Hong Kong bus.
The government plans to use Bus Uncle as a "teaching example" for a Web site on moral and civic education where the incident can be discussed "from multiple perspectives," says Cheung Wing-hung, the chief curriculum-development officer for the city's Education and Manpower Bureau.

While the event was entirely nonviolent, many agree Bus Uncle wasn't exactly a model of public etiquette. Tang Ming-wah, a security guard who lives alone in a 70-square-foot room, says Bus Uncle didn't behave according to the accepted social rules of Hong Kong. "Hong Kong people are usually quite polite and won't shout on the phone," says the 48-year-old Mr. Tang, while riding recently on the same 68X bus route used by Bus Uncle. "But unlike the kid, I would have used peer pressure" by asking other passengers to help quiet him down, he says.

In fact, Mr. Ho has drawn no small amount of flak for how he handled himself on that fateful day, particularly for not defending himself -- and his mother -- more aggressively.

"My friends wonder how I could have the patience to take his abuse," Mr. Ho says. "Some of them would have fought back." Mr. Ho says he takes inspiration from tai chi, the Chinese martial art that emphasizes slow motion and meditation.

He adds: "I am under pressure now -- from reporters. I have seen over 40 so far."
Hong Kong boasts some of the densest urban residential areas on the planet and an intensity that many people find exhausting. On some of the small buses nicknamed "flying cars of death" that many people use as public transportation, there are giant speedometers that let passengers berate the driver when he goes too fast. In interviews with the Hong Kong press, one psychologist helped popularize the term "intermittent explosive disorder," in describing a kind of road rage among people taking public transportation.

Bus Uncle's identity remained a mystery for well over a month, even as the impact of his video spread. Local reporters staked out the neighborhood at the end of the 68X bus line in search of the man. A week and a half ago, reporters from Next magazine found him: Roger Chan, 51, who lives in a 350-square-foot apartment nearby with five cats. Mr. Chan said yesterday, "Somebody knocked on my door [and said] 'Hey, are you Mr. Chan? You know that you are very popular right now? We want to have an interview with you!' "

Mr. Chan tells some lively stories. He says he once won about $2.5 million in a lottery, and then lost it all to gambling. He says he was imprisoned three times in Europe, and ended up carving fruit for Belgian royalty.

Only one part of his story was immediately verifiable. A government spokesman confirms that Mr. Chan unsuccessfully sought office as Hong Kong's chief executive in 2005.

While subject to China's sovereignty, Hong Kong, a former British colony, enjoys a separate political system, but one that many people complain is only nominally democratic.

When newspaper columnist Chip Tsao watches the Bus Uncle video, he sees a commentary on Hong Kong's struggle for democracy. "Let's not forget what this uncle said: This crisis is not resolved," Mr. Tsao said on a public-radio talk show recently. "This Bus Uncle is a good social spokesman."

Mr. Chan says all his recent success has made him interested again in being a chief executive, but of a different sort. "I don't want to be a clown of politics," he says. "Now I want to be the chief executive of Steak Expert," he says, referring to his two-day-old job as a public-relations representative for a chain of about 40 Hong Kong steakhouses. Last night, Mr. Chan held court at a branch in Hong Kong's Wan Chai neighborhood, sitting before a half-dozen flashing cameras for an interview with the Miss Hong Kong runner-up turned TV personality Queenie Chu. At the end of their interview, he sang for her in French the song "Ça Va Pas Changer Le Monde" -- "That Will Not Change the World."

Bus Uncle's final wisdom: "I feel that this is a wave I am riding. I caught the chance to ride on it and look forward to my future....This had a kind of negative beginning. Hopefully it will have a positive ending."

1 comment:

Shanti and Aimee said...

i've got pressure!- hilarious pete- i thought cats were supposed to reduce stress- but i guess it becomes an issue when they are cramed into 350 ft2 closet...and whats up with that other guy that lives in a 70 ft2 crib- kinda like veal or caged chickens.