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>> Friday, March 9, 2007

Hello, where are your manners? by Hoo Ban Khee

The hand-phone is one of the most important inventions of the last century, making instant communication possible at any time and almost anywhere in the world.

Unlike the fixed line, it is mobile and convenient. It is pocket-sized, light and sleek, and comes with multiple functions and in very attractive colours.

You can dial a number anywhere in the world and get connected directly with people without the hassle of going through an operator who may not speak your language.

But the flip side is the emergence of some hand-phone users who are less than considerate and keep yakking loudly in public places, anywhere they like.

You find them chatting on the phone during a meeting, inside a lift, toilet, bus, restaurant and even the theatre and cinema.

They spoil the atmosphere and become a nuisance to the people around them. It is annoying when you are forced to listen to conversation that you are least interested in.

I also find it extremely annoying - even insulting - when people sharing a meal with you are more interested in taking a long time talking on the hand-phone than sharing your company.

That leads me to a recent advertisement by a telecommunications company to promote its services during the Chinese New Year.

It works on the tradition of the reunion dinner held on new year's eve in order to promote its special services called the “longevity calls”.

Thus, you see family members partaking in what looks like a reunion dinner but instead of enjoying the meal and fellowship, all of them are busy yakking away on the hand-phones.

With a pair of chopsticks poised over a spread of sumptuous dishes on the table and their heads bending sideways to talk into the hand-phones resting on their shoulders in unison, the scenario looks decidedly comical, even ridiculous.

What kind of image does it project? Do the Chinese partake in the reunion dinner in this way? Is yakking on the phone more important than the most meaningful meal of the year for all members of the family?

Where is the new year spirit? Where is the tradition? Where are the grandparents, the parents and the children who are supposed to share the reunion dinner and to catch up with one another at the gathering?

Many may argue that the advertisement is simply a clever and funny gimmick to draw attention and get the sales message across.

Others, especially those who stick to tradition, would find it upsetting.

It is indeed a clever attempt at capturing the occasion and giving it a twist to sell the company's services and get people talking but it certainly leaves a bad taste to people who value culture and traditions because of the wrong focus.

It may not be guilty of cultural subversion but it trivialises a long-cherished tradition.

And above all, where are the table manners?

- Ruth


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