“I think a gentleman is someone who holds the comfort of other people above their own. The instinct to do that is inside every good man, I believe.” Anna Kendrick
I spent slightly more than three years in the States pursuing a degree. OK, well, let’s admit it; I didn’t just study over there. I also had tonnes of fun making new friends, danced like I had never danced before, exploring the new culture and the best bit was I got to travel around some of the great cities in the US on a shoestring budget — a wee bit of hard earned money from washing dishes at the campus cafeteria, summer work scholarships and while babysitting as well as teaching Chinese lessons to a few American pre-schoolers.
This was the circa of the late 1990s and when one grooves, one sways to the beat of Wannabe (Yo, I tell you what I want, what I really, really want… ) and move to the beat in sync with the entire dance floor on Getting’ Jiggy With It. Ahhh… Those were the days.
I even remember the first time I ever saw a real snowflake on board the Boeing 747. After travelling what seemed like an eternity half way round the globe for more than 20 hours to a place I have only got to know from textbooks as a much celebrated land of freedom, of Hollywood, striking landscape and a rich frontier history, I woke up to the captain’s rather sprightly announcement that the plane would land shortly.
Still steeped in homesickness having to leave my family and boyfriend (aka Daddy Joe) behind to pursue a journey that would span over three years, I was devastated cocooned in the thick layer of blanket on my seat indulging in some self-pitifulness.
This was when I noticed a tiny white speck of dust landing gently on the outer edge of my window. I looked at it closely, and then leapt for joy when I realised that the white dust was not a dust after all! It was a SNOWFLAKE! It was a magical spectacle of the most extraordinary shape as if God and His angels have spent hours carving it into its beautiful hexagonal branches of pure crystal white light. Before long, my window sill was full of snowflakes like hundreds of dancing stars have all descended gently to say hi to me.
It was a big deal for someone living in a tropical country who has ever only seen fake rounded snow made of Styrofoam during Christmas time and who grew up with Coconut and Rambutan trees instead of Oaks and Hickories. I remember gently whispering back hi to them and feeling my distress melt away as I gazed out of the window over the whole new world ahead of me.
Along with snow and Oaks, I continued to be in awe over many new discoveries that came my way, from the gorgeous campus to the meals, the transportation system, to the people and their culture, the freedom of speech, to freely be who you are, and especially the good manners that seem to permeate the little town I lived in.
Courteous and polite expressions, and countless hi, how are you, good to see you, you are most welcome were exchanged everywhere and every time as people queued up, shopped, met each other, even when they crossed each other’s path. For the first time I witnessed men and even women, young and old held out the door if someone else was following closely behind to enter a lecture hall or Walmart. Older gentlemen or college guys rushed ahead to open the door with a polite, “After you” even though I was the most unsophisticated international student from a third world country which to them was vaguely “somewhere near Vietnam” or at best, “Singapore’s neighbour country”. Still, they extended their good manners!
Those were the days when mail catalogues ruled and when I saw how my mail package from phone orders had arrived untouched for hours left at the door of the apartment I was sharing with others, so was our neighbour’s grocery, I was bowled over by this simple, charming act of civilization.
Not that KL is an uncivilized place, but it sure seems that chivalry is a dead business in this age. Not that we don’t say our thank you, excuse me and please. However, when this busy mama is making her stride across a mall, armed with two shopping bags full of milk, eggs, rice, celery, apples and chicken on one hand and a baby bag on the other hand, all while strapping a toddler who is struggling to gain freedom on her back, not holding the door out for a poor woman who was all huffing and puffing such as yours truly is making her dumbfounded as to where have all the gentlemen gone to.
Then there are the urbane working folks who blatantly ignore the No-Smoking signs posted along the walkway to a baby nursery and puff away merrily in groups, subjecting all the babies, kids, parents and other heading to the nursery to passive smoking of all the nicotine and toxic substances through second-hand smoke — these are just really senseless and inconsiderate.
Another pet peeve of mine is in seeing some shoppers in front of me hiding artfully all her extra five items including her packet of D24 Durian under her maximum eight grocery items in the basket at the Express Checkout Counter, which has a signage displayed prominently that only eight items are allowed per customer, and then convincing the cashier to allow her to checkout all her goods during her turn anyway otherwise she would have held up the queue. Truly unbelievable! Makes you wanna scream, “Can you read, ma’am?”
Be considerate and courteous to others because it makes the world a better place to live. If it could make the winter chill so much lovelier and adoring to a person who hailed from a hot and sunny place, then surely it can make even Durian, which may be offensive to some, smells like a fragrant essential oil at the checkout counter.
Good manners must start from here at our home and our land and above all, our heart. On that note, thank you for the wonderful lesson in courtesy, America.