As the 13th most popular site on the Internet, with people watching more than 100 million of its videos everyday, YouTube is taking the web by storm.Photograph by Darren Braun.
On an evening in late April of this year, a Kowloon Motor Bus was going along route 68X toward Hong Kong's Yuen Long District. Property agent Elvis Ho Yui Hei shifted in his seat. He was trapped in a situation familiar to all of us, sitting one row behind an older man talking very loudly on a cell phone. The 23-year-old tapped the gentleman on the shoulder, addressed him with the respectful term "Uncle," and asked him to please speak more softly. And that's how it all began.
The older man suddenly leaned over his seat and shouted at Ho, unleashing a stream of verbal abuse, both harrowing and hilarious. For six long minutes, the quarrel continued, Ho mostly silent as the older man ranted on, demanding an apology, explaining how his life is very stressful, and spewing profanities about Ho's mother.
We've all been privy to a moment like this at one time or another - a rare window of real life that you might see and tell your friends about afterward; another little anecdote from the daily pageant of human beings trying to share space on the planet. However, this particular moment was recorded on video by a resourceful accountant/student named Jon Fong Wing Hang, who, sitting across the aisle from Ho, happened to have a cell-phone camera.
The video segment was then uploaded to a Hong Kong Internet forum and quickly reposted to YouTube, an online repository of digital videos that's based in California. Within a month, the segment, known as "Bus Uncle," became one of YouTube's most popular clips: a slice of real life on a bus, seen and enjoyed by millions of viewers.
Helpful fans translated the argument from Cantonese and provided Chinese and English subtitles. Catchphrases such as "I have pressure. You have pressure. Why did you provoke me?" circulated throughout Hong Kong culture and were even printed on T-shirts. News agencies around the world ran stories about "Bus Uncle" and sent reporters to try and identify the man. Cultural commentators debated whether the video clip represented the emotional state of Hong Kong citizens and the pressures of living in such a densely populated society.
As of this writing, nearly four million people worldwide have watched the "Bus Uncle" video on YouTube. What began as a simple, weird altercation on a Hong Kong bus has turned into a worldwide phenomenon. And all because of a small company in an office above a pizza parlor in San Mateo, California.