A few years ago I took a holiday to Hong Kong with Lisa. It was the first time we went back following our wedding, so naturally we had a bunch of people to see. Or rather, a bunch of people that wanted to see us and meet the new husband or wife.
I thoroughly enjoyed the perks of having lots of aunties and uncles. Some of you will know what I mean by this – every meal was paid for. I loved it. Just sit, smile and nod when I don’t understand the conversations (this happened a lot), enjoy the good food, and say goodbye. Then repeat. For two weeks.
Unfortunately my conscience didn’t let me get away with it for the whole holiday, even if my wallet was more than happy to stay in my pocket. So before one meal with several relatives I committed to paying the bill beforehand. I pretended to go the bathroom and made my way to the counter to pay the bill.
I was ready for my moment of glory, I could picture it already – People’s faces lighting up with surprise and joy whilst thanking me enthusiastically and complimenting me on my foresight and kindness. “You’re all very welcome” I was going to say. Well, it didn’t quite happen like that. In fact, it was the complete and total polar opposite of that. Shock horror!
One of the relatives came up and just unleashed fury on me. With a face like anger itself, she started shouting at me, and waving her arms about in the restaurant. Strangely this didn’t draw attention – an indication of this being a far too common occurrence? I felt like I was at school again. Her eyes and ears were steaming as she bellowed at me, “What did you do that for?! Are you stupid?! How dare you?! The whole bill?! You don’t even live here?! You’d better not do anything stupid like that again”. She left the restaurant huffing and puffing. Meanwhile, I left the restaurant with my tail between my legs …”You’re all very welcome…” muttering and whimpering to myself.
They made me wish I hadn’t tried to be so generous. My wallet agreed. This phenomenon is actually not unique. Even more bizarrely than it happening to me, is that it happens in restaurants all over the world. What is going on? Is it fighting to be generous, or are we fighting for something else?
What are we really trying to do when we try to pay? On the surface it seems like an act of generosity and open handed kindness. But when the ritual descends into potential fisticuffs, it makes me question whether this action stems from the heart or somewhere else?
I believe that this tradition is rooted in a combination of status, pride, and respect. The Chinese are a very proud people. Being able to demonstrate wealth can be a way of showcasing our status to the world. Paying for others to eat is an example of that. And when the chance is taken away to promote our status and authority and to buy respect, we are not happy.
We feel under-respected, and we lose face in front of our peers and those who we think need to look up to us. Understand, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it does happen far too often.
So what’s the alternative? I have learnt to accept acts of kindness with a thankful and appreciative heart. To the point where I believe it is actually unfair to refuse or fight against someone’s act of kindness because that stems the flow of grace, of blessing, of hospitality. If someone truly wants to bless you, appreciate it and say thank you. Allow them and let them be kind to you.
The saying “be blessed to be a blessing” fits perfectly.
Pass the blessing on. Pay it forward. Carry the grace through into your own actions with others. By the way this is exactly how God’s love ought to work in our lives.
We do not follow the Bible out of compulsion but out of an overflow of His love for us. The extent to which we experience God’s love in our own lives, dictates whether our own actions are rooted in self-promotion and selfimposed obligation, or outward-facing sacrificial love.
擁有這麼多阿姨和叔叔確是有福。你們當中有些人會明白我是什麼意思 – 每一餐膳食都有人作東道 – 我也很享受。當我聽不懂談話的內容時（這情況發生了許多次），只需坐著、微笑及點頭，享受美食，然後說再見。然後再重複。兩個星期就這樣度過。