Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Just now, in the short street that has been rather imaginatively renamed Canberra's Chinatown, (it's not a town and it's not enormously Chinese [although I have to admit that it is probably more Chinese than anywhere else in Canberra]), I was locking my bike to a bike rack when I became aware of a person standing rather close to me.

What made me become aware of this person was, I suppose, the fact that he suddenly bellowed, 'It's a pity you have to lock up your bike', right beside me, in a Scottish accent. I straightened up and looked at this person, whose voice I didn't recognise but who nonetheless appeared to be addressing me. The main thing I noticed was that he was a man who had quite a few teeth missing and that his face was rather closer to mine than I might have liked. 'It is a pity,' I agreed and bent down again, to extract my key from its padlock.

'I went to Japan once,' the man yelled down at me, as I did this. I glanced up and gave him what I thought was an unencouraging nod. 'They don't need to lock up their bikes there,' he continued, clearly too entranced by his subject - or perhaps the sound of his Scottish lilt - to notice encouragement or the lack thereof.

'Oh yes,' I said, straightening up again and putting my key away in my pocket.

'Do you know why they don't need to lock up their bikes in Japan?' he demanded, shoving his mug so forcefully into my vision that there was room for nothing else. I inched away, shaking my head. 'Is it because no-one steals bikes over there?' I ventured. 'Yes, but do you know why they don't?' he asked.

He didn't wait for my answer - which was lucky, as I didn't have one - but went straight on. 'I asked them why, you know, and they told me. They said it was respect that stopped them doing it. They have respect in Japan, you see, but we've lost it.'

Before I could argue - or agree - with this statement, he turned on his heel and marched off.

I looked after him. What he'd said was not totally uninteresting, even though he was probably fairly mad. I didn't really have any particular objection to his diagnosis - I did wonder though if the loss was entirely a bad thing. After all, could it not be argued that an excess of respect led to no-one challenging authorities with sufficient vigour to prevent the building of nuclear power plants along an earthquake fault line?

If it's a choice between the odd stolen bike or a nuclear catastrophe, I think we may have got the better part of the bargain. On the other hand, it would be nice to never lock things up.


  1. The concept of saving face also has disadvantages when it comes to times when truth is paramount.

  2. Yes, although the apparent cover up about what happened at Wivenhoe Dam suggests that similar kinds of things can happen in a society where that concept is not so well-recognised.

  3. Um, most people do in fact lock up their bikes in Japan. At least where I live.

    1. I'm not entirely surprised - that is, I wasn't convinced that that man was the most reliable source of information I've ever come across, despite, or perhaps because of, his vehemence.