Stamping out the tourists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 July, 1998, 12:00am

Well, really! Week Ending will have to speak to the British Consul General about this. We want to know why we are being discriminated against. How is it British citizens like us are not getting those fancy stamps in our passports too? We think everyone coming into the SAR should receive a stamp like the Taiwan compatriots get in their China travel permits, warning them not to embarrass the SAR Government.

Rumour had it last night that the Government might be planning to change the policy, possibly out of embarrassment. This would be wrong. Don't they know every experienced globe-trotter wants exotic multi-coloured stamps and stickers in his travel document? Otherwise, in these days of uniform air travel, burger palaces and shopping malls, what is there to distinguish one holiday destination from another? (Chaos at Chek Lap Kok being, one assumes, only a temporary Hong Kong attraction.) Souvenir passport stamps are just so much more hip than tacky plastic models of the Lantau Buddha or smuggled ivory chopsticks.

Yet Taiwanese officials . . . No, that's not it . . . representatives of private Taiwanese organisations, for some reason, are upset. Perhaps that is because of the activities the SAR Government says it might find embarrassing.

It seems visitors from the island are not allowed 'to represent the Taiwan area or Taiwan agencies (including the display of symbols of flags of relevant agencies, entities or organisations) nor engage in or participate in activities that embarrass the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government'.

Presumably, if the warning said visitors were not allowed to have their pockets picked, be ripped off by rogue shop-keepers in Tsim Sha Tsui, subject themselves to political harassment by the Immigration Department or otherwise embarrass the powers that be, they would be only too delighted.

The truth is we don't really see what the Taiwanese are objecting to. Here at Week Ending we think it is a good idea. There should be a similar warning for everyone, tailored separately for each country of origin.

British citizens, for instance, could be welcomed with a stern warning reminding them that the display of British or colonial flags and portraits of Chris Patten is no longer permitted in post-handover Hong Kong and that 'luggage may be searched for Union Jack underwear which might embarrass the SARG'.

Brits, other Europeans and citizens of Her Majesty's former colonies down under might also be issued with a separate warning against 'drunken and oafish behaviour, street-brawling, vomiting in public places and any activities that embarrass their sober compatriots'.

Filipinos would be warned against littering in Central on a Sunday; congregating in Central on a Sunday; speaking in groups of more than one at a time in Central on a Sunday or any other behaviour likely to embarrass ethnic Chinese or other non-Filipino residents to whom they are socially and racially inferior.

In addition they would be instructed not to take on temporary or part-time work in a manner likely to embarrass the person signing their sponsorship papers.

Women from all over Asia and the former Soviet Union would be enjoined not to 'comport or disport themselves in a manner out of keeping with their status as tourists/domestic helpers.

'Nor must they visit Mongkok, Wan Chai or Kam Tin after dark, except, in the case of a) domestic helpers, when accompanied by the children or elderly parents of their employer; or b) tourists, when the police are looking the other way.' The list could doubtless be extended. The Immigration Department could surely get a rubber stamp made for use on Nigerian passports, warning the holder against engaging in scams, confidence tricks, drug deals, preying on lonely domestic helpers and other activities which might prove embarrassing when raised in court.

The only problem with all this is that, instead of accepting the wisdom of the Government in trying to avoid embarrassment all round, recipients might be hypersensitive.

Now we know (because the Government has said so, so it must be true) that racism is not a problem in Hong Kong. The last thing the SAR needs is for some foreigner with a chip on his shoulder to start complaining to his consulate or raising the matter back home. Just think what that would do to tourism at this difficult time.

So perhaps it is best that the Government stick to its present policy of only issuing anti-embarrassment warnings to Taiwanese.

It may not do much for tourism from Taiwan. But at least the Government can claim the matter is purely political and a reflection neither of actual or likely behaviour on the part of the individuals concerned nor of locally held stereotypes and perceptions of foreigners.

A brilliant strategy.



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Stamping out the tourists

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