6 items or less

just got back from the mall. on the way to the carpark i realised that i did not have enough change to slot into the parking machine. i retraced my steps to the food department and picked up a bag of chips just to break my notes. i headed for the express lane and a huge sign hang above the cashier saying 6 items or less. in front of me was a caucasian lady probably in her early fifties with a huge basket of grocery. the lady at the counter pointed her to the regular checkout aisles but she whined and said that the lines were too long. i glanced over to the other counters and they were relatively empty this being a working day and all.

the checkout lady gave her a pained smile and proceeded to scan all her items which were definitely more than 6. the other people in our line did not say anything including yours truly. it is just not in our genetic makeup to voice out our opinions. better to keep quiet and not draw attention to ourselves. this probably harks back to our education system which is soundly built on blind faith and the intolerance towards questions but thats another blog.

however this little seemingly mundane scene in the mall throws up some interesting questions (the nation’s educators collectively click their tongues in disapproval). if any of us oriental types were standing in line in the express lane in a mall in a predominantly caucasian country some where to the west of asia, would we have received the same treatment? of course i have never lived in any of these countries for any prolonged periods of time to say but i have had occasions to visit these places. i will go out on a limb here and hazard that the cashier would have stuck to her guns and insisted that i go to the allocated aisles. this may not be as bad as it sounds but to the westerners, right is right and there is just no two ways about it. some may even argue that they are living in the first world because of this guiding principle. on the other hand we in asia have this habit of bending the rules for convenience and again in order not to draw attention to ourselves seeing how mundane the actual event is. radiohead with their song ‘how to disappear completely’ should have been our national anthem although trying to play it in a marching band would be a bitch seeing that it largely consists of electronic bleeps and wheezes.

another thing that may have been going on in the cashier’s mind was perhaps the residual effect of colonialism. as a people we were after all displaced albeit temporarily by the british who were the generic white rulers. being ruled by foreigners can seriously fuck with your self esteem and hence the commonly held perception amongst asians that what the whites are always better and more sophiscated than our own sorry asses. coming back to our poor cashier. what is a lowly asian to do but kowtow to the mistress and ring her up?

another interesting and worthwhile (at least to this asian and therefore inferior mind) scenario to ponder would be this; say the white lady was a local. what then? would she have been shown so much kindness? again i am guessing here but my answer to that would not be yes. who do you think you are madam? the queen of london?! get back in line and please not this line! the sad truth is that it is easier to be mean to your own kind and get away with it. take the path of least resistance and go with the flow.

in case i be accused of being cynical, i will end with this scenario. a local chinese lady in her fifties approaches the express lane laden with groceries. the cashier takes one look at her and without asking starts to ring up her items for her. an irritated guy standing just behind the customer, protests. in a firm and steady tone the cashier explains that this senior citizen needs our help and it is unkind to let her walk the few extra steps to the regular lanes as she is clearly discomforted by the weight of her purchases. she goes back to working the cash machine and the lady customer throws her a smile of thanks. the world is full of ordinary heroes and there is hope for humanity yet.


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