In the fourth Lethal Weapon movie, Murtaugh, detective and family man extraordinaire, finds the Hong family hidden in a life boat of a ship full of illegal immigrants. They have fallen prey to human traffickers and are expected to pay off their passage from China to the US through forced labor. To keep the Hong family from being deported or falling into the hands of the bad guys, Murtaugh offers them shelter in his home.

In my favorite scene, he has a moment alone with grandpa Hong. Murtaugh and Hong talk about their children growing up and being grandparents. In this context they then say (dialogue is more or less paraphrased):

Murtaugh: Where does the time go?

Hong: Oh, don’t know. I have no watch.

Murtaugh: You have no watch? Alright, here, this is my pops’, take it.

Hong (moved): No, no. I can’t.

Murtaugh insists.

Murtaugh_Hong_the kindness of strangers

Autumn in Luxembourg

What does Murtaugh’s watch have to do with culture shock? Actually, this scene touches on a few aspects of culture shock:

  • Language issues. This is a beautiful example of a typical misunderstanding in an intercultural context! Even when we can communicate in a given language, we don’t necessarily know or understand all expressions. Culture shock is often full of those moments: misunderstandings that can turn into beautiful moments in which we learn, connect and relate. What matters is what we do with a given situation.
  • Vulnerability. Being abroad can make us feel vulnerable on multiple levels: we may not know the language, we may be worried about communication, we may not know our new surroundings, shelter and food may not be a given…all issues the movie raises. This scene also shows us that experiencing other people’s vulnerabilities as well as our own, abroad or at home, can help us become more compassionate and understanding.
  • Humanity. Murtaugh wants to help the Hongs for historical and personal reasons. When Hong says he doesn’t have a watch, Murtaugh gives him his, an item that has emotional value for him. Hong is really moved…and that’s where the connection is: on a human level. That’s what traveling teaches us too. Away from everything we know, we are just there as humans. So that’s how we can connect, human to human.
  • Generosity of spirit and the kindness of strangers. Murtaugh takes in the Hong family and gives his watch to grandpa Hong. As travelers, I think that we become witness to the kindness of strangers every day. We might even come to rely on it – for directions, information or if you’re sick for example. Experiencing this generosity and kindness can help us tap into our own kindness, compassion and generosity.

That’s why I like this scene so much. It captures the vulnerability, humanity and beauty of being abroad.