Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chased Out of Wah Fu

I try hard not to succumb to the dark side and simply use this blog to vent the usual frustrations that stem from a displaced existence in Hong Kong. I understand HK is its own place with its own culture and to fault it for not being something else is about as useful as faulting a dog for not being a cat.

That said, I still need to gripe a bit. About what?

I bring my camcorder to the wet market today, thinking innocently that maybe I can tape some footage or maybe even interview some people in my limited Cantonese.

But, when I get there, the moment I take out my camera and fiddle around with the buttons, two shopkeepers descend on me, demanding to know who I am and what I am doing and what I have taped. I have not yet pointed the camera at a single soul or taped anything. (I always ask people for their okay before pointing the camera at them, unless it's just random street footage of crowds.)

I tell them that I've taped nothing, and then in my stilted Cantonese, provide an explanation for myself--I'm a Korean person studying Cantonese. I want to take some shots to show my friends Hong Kong life and culture.

This doesn't fly. Finally, the question-and-answer turns into a mini argument, with me repeating I have taken no video and even offering to let them examine the camera and the tape so that they can see for themselves.

Eventually, the scene peters out. The two shopkeepers mosey away and I'm left standing there like some lunatic foreigner, which I guess I am.

Then, another shopkeeper, a calmer one who's witnessed the blow-up, calls me over to lecture me (though in a calm and gentle manner) in Cantonese about the dangers of taking videos at wet markets. She says the others are afraid that I might be someone sent by the newspapers or the government. (And what if I was? What's there to hide? After all, the wet market at Wah Fu looks like every other one in Hong Kong. What am I not seeing?) She then tells me the other shopkeers might even call the police so I better be careful.

I know there are people everywhere who are wary of strangers taking photos or videos of them, and I can't do that good a job of explaining myself in Cantonese to assuage people's suspicions. But what would prompt anyone to go through the trouble of calling the police because someone was taking pictures?

Sure, in NY, after 9-11, the city banned photo-taking in the subway system and people taking photos of trains, bridges and such were nabbed and questioned. But, taking videos of vegetable stalls?

I understand the above incident is an isolated one and most likely can best be explained as being the result of chance that put two nosey and meddlesome people in my path.

Be that as it may, I asked a Chinese student, with whom I do language exchange, about local people seeming to be distrustful of outsiders. He thinks this is because there are many conmen and crooks in Hong Kong and because Chinese people are taught by the family not to trust outsiders. He said that since he was a kid, his grandmother has told him over and over that only the family can be trusted. He then said that this was also because of her experience of having lived through the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong.

That sort of makes sense, and sort of doesn't. After all, does that mean that Chinese people trusted outsiders and non-family members before the Japanese Occupation? And then only grew distrusting because of the Japanese?

What am I not getting here?


Winifred said...

I think it may be that it was unexpected (the wet-market at Wah Fu Estate is not a usual venue for video-taping) and there may be a fear of what you may do w/ it (Tabloid? Inspector?).

Or, it could be something as mild as "I hate being filmed". I often try to scuttle out of the way if relatives are making videos at a family birthday party.

One thing you could try in the future is to ask the stall-holders if they mind if you do a little filming.

Or, you can ask a friend to come in and you can try to film him or her and capture other images "incidentally"

mao365 said...

I think you're right. Wah Fu Estate isn't exactly brimming with foreigners.

In fact, except for the handful of Filipino amahs and the Thai ladyboys who used to make an appearance, I've never seen any other foreigner there.

I always do ask before filming, but from now on, I may ask before taking the camera out of the bag.