Sunday, April 16, 2006

Racist Airline

According to the Chinese Government only 53% of the population speak Mandarin Chinese. The remainder speaking various dialects.

This morning we got up and headed to the airport. It was a lovely morning and the drive to the airport went smoothly. After the hideously cramped journey we had on the way down, I asked if we could have an exit row.

Seemed like a simple request and there was a list, in English and Chinese, of the qualifications to sit in the Exit row - usual stuff about being physically capable, able to hear, able to unsterdand (sic) instructions. We were told 'no'. When I asked (in Chinese) why not, the answer was 'Foreigners are not allowed to'. When I said this was ridiculous she said it was company policy.

Now, given that almost half of the population of China don't speak standard Chinese, and they print the instructions in English and don't mention a requirement to speak Chinese what other conclusion should I draw other than the fact that either the woman on check-in or China Southern Airlines or both are, actually, racist.

So as to avoid causing a fuss and risk embarassing E I let it lie. Clearly I'm no Rosa Parks.

Food bad. Flight bumpy including constant rolling from side-to-side during both take-off and landing. After all that the legroom was better on this plane (A320) than the way down (757).

The landing typified landings on internal flights in China. I don't know what it is but the second the plane touched the ground you could hear the rattle of seatbelts being unclicked all round the plane whilst the plane is still under reverse thrust.

Still - it's good to be home.


pete said...

We have a long way to go in our battle to be treated as human beings. I had a similar issue in a super market the other day where I asked at the check-out (in Chinese) 'how much'. The lady, rather than answer my simple question (which she had clearly understood) jabbed her finger angrily at the screen. This, of course, because her belief that out-side-people are incapable overrides the evidence in front of her eyes (that we can communicate in Mandarin).

I can’t help thinking that they are better off with out-side-people doing it (does that make me in turn a racist?). But I do think that as oddly, given recent political history, people here seem in general incapable of following instructions. As you point out instructions like don’t use the toilet when the seatbelt sign is illuminated, stay seated until the plane stops at the terminal, don’t use your mobile phone until the engine stops, etc, etc. are all routinely ignored. I’m sorry but I know who I don’t want in charge of the emergency exit…

dB said...

I was actually a bit concerned on the first flight out as the emergency exit was piled high with bags but they did actually insist on clearing it. Which is nice.

I could quote (as could pete) many occasions where people 'listen with their eyes' - i.e. it's not that they don't understand the Chinese that we're saying because it's not clear - it's because they don't believe they can understand it because we're not Chinese.

On the return flight I noticed that one cabin attendant wasn't speaking to Chinese people either as he was doing the pre-landing checks but just tapped people on the shoulder and made an aggressive 'seatbelt round waist' impression or just pressed the recline button and shoved people's seats forward.

The point about not following the signs is an interesting one. Loads of people did switch on their phones immediately after undoing their seatbelt. I have also seen people get up to go to the loo 30 seconds before landing and when we're second in the line-up to take off.

Now the racism one does seem a tricky point. I find it hard to believe that anyone from the 'west' who lives here doesn't have 'opinions' about life here and how different it is BUT I don't think that per se makes you racist.

Dictionary Definition
of Racist says:

1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination

I absolutely do not believe I am racist because:
a: Whilst many things are frustrating and unusual about living here I am happy to live with and amongst Chinese people and still find China fascinating and rewarding.
b: I do not believe, for one second, that we are superior. Whilst I get the 'receiving end' of all sorts of behaviour I don't like from individuals and that that behaviour can happen often enough that it could be perceived of as a common trait, I don't believe that 'we' are always right or better. God knows there are enough English people I can't stand.
c: There are always exceptions to every trait, which means that it's not bound by race - realistically, it's nurture, not nature, that is the more significant factor. Despite any evidence to the contrary, I don't believe that all Chinese people have a genetic lack of safety awareness any more than I would suggest that all Welsh people can sing.

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dB said...

Dear Racist Airline? Bloody spammers!

JP said...

Who is that trendy young, spiky haired motorcyclist calling himself Pete?

dB said...

Sigh - we were having a serious discussion here...