by Hoang Anh
A story shared by Huyen, a young woman who took the Ha Noi-Vinh train last week, went viral online. Opinion was divided over whether she should have offered her bed to a senior when asked to do so.
Huyen purchased a low-level bunk, which was about 25 per cent more expensive than an upper-level one, as all the others in her cabin were taken.
After she entered the cabin, a senior person sitting on her own bed, asked Huyento move to an upper bunk. She said Huyen was young and it was easier for her to climb up and down the ladder to her bunk.
Huyen replied that she would have agreed if she had been offered the difference in ticket prices. However, the senior ignored the fact even though she was told several times the lower bunk was more expensive.
"The 300km trip to Vinh took about seven hours. It was not a 15-20 minutes bus ride," the young lady said "It wasn't right what they did, trying to pressure me into giving up my bunk for free just because I was younger."
Their attitude reinforced Huyen's determination not to give up her bunk. She then shared her story on social networking sites, where her decision polarised netizens.
Several of them immediately condemned her, saying that she should offer her bunk unconditionally when asked by a senior. "It is hazardous for a senior to have to climb up and down on a moving train. As young people, I think we should give more to others," said Chi, a young netizen.
However, many others had different ideas, saying that kindness should not be forced. They said that offering your bunk or your seat on a train or bus to seniors was a choice, not an obligation.
"Besides, if they really cared about their safety, they should have purchased low-level bunks in the first place," said Pham Trang, "It is one thing to be courteous but it is another thing to be bullied into doing something you don't want to do."
Khanh, another youngster, said he was also against giving up his bunk for free. "If I paid more for a better bunk I am entitled to at least the choice of keeping it or giving it up. It is not acceptable for people to expect others to shoulder their hardship just because they don't want to pay more," he said.
Pham Le Duy, a netizen who often travels by train, said that he would make a decision on a case-by-case basis. "If the person asking was genuine, I'd give them my bunk free of charge," he said.
Duy added that attitude counted for a lot. He said no one liked their kindness being taken for granted, especially those who did not even say thanks.
This writer would not hesitate to offer his seat to a senior, a pregnant woman or a mother with child, but I think the gesture counts a lot more if it comes straight from the heart, not because someone demands it.
When younger, I was given dirty looks on several occasions when I failed to give up my seat on a train. What people did not know was that I had just finished a 12-hour shift working in a kitchen and was completely worn out.
In some cultures, such as Japanese, it is regarded as inconsiderate to insist that a senior take your seat. The reason being that some elderly people do not like being reminded they are old or are a burden to others.
In that country, those who want to give their seats up to the elderly quietly stand up and pretend they are about to get off the vehicle. If they really needed to sit down then they will. It is not polite to tell seniors they need the seat more than you do.
BBC, the British news channel, reported last September on a youngster in Wuhan, China who was beaten up by a group of seniors on a bus after he refused to offer his seat to one of them.
"If they had the energy to beat him up, I'm sure they did not need to sit down that badly," said a netizen on Weibo, the Chinese counterpart of Twitter.
Don't get me wrong, it gets under my skin to see young Vietnamese looking the other way so they don't have to offer their seats to a senior or someone who is in need.
But perhaps we could all learn a thing or two about dignity from the Japanese. After all, being old is not a card to use to get whatever you want at the expense of others. — VNS