2014年7月25日
Evan Fowler 方禮倫

Evan Fowler 方禮倫

不屬單一種族、國籍,土生土長香港人。

On Urinating on the Street

2014-5-9 11:06:04

(主場編按:博客 Evan 嘗試在大街上旁若無人如廁,但他最終做不到,因為對此感到羞恥。)

Yesterday I committed an offense. I urinated on a public street in Hong Kong.

I won't say where I committed this offense, but I will say why. I was not drunk. I would like to think I am no less "civilized" than my fellow Hong Kong citizens. Neither was I making a political statement. I did it because I wanted to establish a position.

Following the recent row unfold between Hong Kong people and those from the Mainland on Mainland tourists relieving themselves in public (a row it is worth pointing out that seems barely represented in official dialogues between our governments), I began wondering what it must feel like to actually urinate and defecate in a public street. After all, at core the issue is personal: whilst hygiene and the law may provide an official framework, the severity of the outcry on both sides is principally driven by a sense of shame.

On one side, Hong Kong people are reacting, in astonishment as much as disgust, at behaviour that they see almost incomprehensibly shameful. The question being asked is not why people are defecating on public streets, but how could such people not feel shame in doing so. The action is not only inconsiderate, but to many people, unimaginable as a public action. As such people who feel this shame are left with two possible rationales: firstly, that those defecating in public understand that it is a shameful public act and that their actions are a deliberately attempt at provocation; or secondly, that they are genuinely unashamed by their action, have acted merely in character, and as thus their action is not a deliberate provocation but an illustration of a difference. Both of these conclusions are political, not because Hong Kong people have made them so by being different (or difficult), but because China refuses to acknowledge that these differences exists.

The reaction on the Mainland to Hong Kong people photographing and protesting against some Mainlanders defecating in the streets is also driven less by a sense of cultural antagonism as it is by different sense of shame. It is, to quote a multitude of Mainland bloggers, "shameful" that Hong Kong people choose to photograph a child in the process of committing "a natural act". The more moderate message from the Mainland seems to be that the greater shame lies not in the action but in the response, or the failure of Hong Kong to provide adequate facilities to cater for their high-spending tourists. In both of these cases the level of shame attached to the act itself is not only much less, but is also suggestive of a different sense of shame, and of the way shame relates both to the action and the way an act is perceived by others.

It is hard to really assess a feeling, or to empathize with the feelings that others may have, without a close reference point. We have to feel shame to understand it, and a shame that is brought about by the action in question will provide me with as close a reference as possible. It would also help me to place myself in this debate; help me establish a position on an emotive argument by experiencing my own emotion within the context of the action in question. And so, I decided I would urinate and defecate in public on a street. At least, that was the plan.

My chosen method was to spend an afternoon drinking tea and eating bananas, admittedly not the most taxing pursuit, then board a train when I felt the bowels loosen. My destination, a long journey ride, would take me to a station where I knew the station toilet is closed for repairs, and into a neighbourhood I did not know well enough to know where I might find a toilet. Of course I could ask, but to be fair I choose not to, to represent the possible language barrier that some putonghua speakers believe they face. It is an argument I believe is based more on prejudice than reality, but I wanted to experience a comparative desperation that some commentators have claimed.

When I arrived at my destination I needed the toilet, urgently. But arriving at the potential scene of a crime I found myself suddenly unable to do it. I began to realise how strongly I was resisting an action that, as a thought, seemed quite straight forward. Had I not been out and seen people urinate on the street? But what kept mattered more was the fact that whilst others may have, I did not. What about the time I was out with some friends and, having had a few too many drinks, had vomited on the side of a street in Kowloon? I desperately needed a release, as I did now, and at the very least I could find a dark corner or deserted alleyway and relieve myself. But I had done that once, and though I don't admit it in certain crowds, something inside me feels ashamed about that incident and it is an experience, now that I am a little more mature, that I do not wish to have again.

I found my objectives change as mentally I realised exactly how hard it is to actually do what I had come to do. On just seeing a street and other people walking by I found myself mentally unable to "go public". Even as I fought inside my head, my body seemed to change — suddenly, I didn't feel so desperate. On the verge of exploding my bowel and my bladder seemed to expand into hidden space. No matter what, I just couldn't face the shame of others seeing me do the deed. I began to run.

Running proved a relief. But by this time I could feel that my body could no longer hold everything in. Whilst the bowels strained the bladder, seeping, was on the verge of a critical failure. This is it, I thought. I can't find a toilet. There were no McDonalds or hotels or other public toilets in sight. The shops around here I know don't have toilets, and shop owners are, from past experience, not very generous with the keys to the building toilet. I ran on.

At the end I tucked in to a deserted alleyway and relieved myself on to a wall. Something in me made me check that no one was looking and that my discharge would find the drains, my shame carried away from the scene of my crime. Today, a day later, I still feel uncomfortable thinking about what I did. I do feel shame, but I also don't regret it. The experience, when considered, proved very revealing.

I was stunned by how much I resisted, not ideologically but on a much deeper, emotional as well as physiological level, urinating and defecating in public. In fact, I could, and only eventually, urinate. My body just clammed up. My objection to these actions being public is far more than just a cultural learned disgust.

It is extremely easy to override any concerns we have for our own health, hygiene and safety? We may reasonably ask ourselves how many of Hong Kong's most celebrated local eateries, from the Fotan dai pai dongs to the che tsai mein stall on Arran Street in Mong Kok, would really pass a thorough inspection, and yet we also love them regardless. In fact, as it is in certain spots, the very risk is what we inwardly celebrate. But it is altogether different overriding the very strong emotive response not to defecate in front of other people on a public street. It may not be instinctive in a young child, and it may be learned, but this aversion is instinctive in character.

I have, of course, urinated and defecated in nature many times before — my feces has over the years contributed to the deserts of Mauritania to the slopes of Everest. I have traveled to and lived in remote rural villages where I have urinated and defecated openly. Doing so in these environments, around hosts who had clearly indicated that it was accepted, did not leave me with a sense of discomfort. Every guest can instinctively judge what is acceptable in the eyes of the host. The streets of Hong Kong are not such a place, and the crowds of Hong Kong do nothing to suggest otherwise.

My experience yesterday has helped me establish a position on the issue. When I see the picture of a woman holding her baby away from her body so it can defecate on the street, what I find myself reacting to more strongly know than I did before was not the action itself, but that she had made no attempt to hide what was happening. I see her bother to lift the baby away from her own body, it's bottom pointed away, and not bother to notice her surroundings or the people walking close by. What I see in this woman is someone who is not just different from me, but fundamentally so. This is not to say that I have any less respect for her or her culture, but only to say that I recognize our difference.

More contemptuous are those that have tried to brush aside these difference, or to say that those who feel compelled to state them are disrespectful. No - they are disrespectful, not just of Hong Kong people, but of their own countrymen. We are not the same, and to deny this is to disrespect all.

The golden rule here does come down to respecting your host, and accepting their standard of acceptability. It is not natural, nor should you expect others to find it so. But it is equally wrong to talk of the "civilized". Civilization is defined from within, by its own standards; thus the outsider is always the uncivilized. It is a filthy argument. We would do well to drop it.

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