• Mon
  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 2:14pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 2014, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 April, 2014, 9:18am

Protect Hong Kong tourism from the stigma of bad manners

Kelly Yang's mainland holiday convinced her of the need to keep tourism in HK civilised - and that means no peeing in public, for a start

When the story of a mainland toddler urinating in a Hong Kong street went viral online, I was on a flight back to the city from a holiday in Hainan.

My first reaction was relief; it was a pleasant reminder that I was heading home. In other parts of China, a toddler urinating in the street is nothing; here, it's front-page news.

I read with great interest the many facets of the story - the young mother wandering the busy streets of Mong Kok and her crying two-year-old shrieking that he might burst. All this culminated in his mother's decision to let him drop his trousers on the street.

As he peed, a Hong Kong crowd gathered, who alternatively filmed and gasped. It was like a scene in a movie. Except that it was reality, and it had been my reality, too, for my holiday on the mainland.

While I did not see any children pee in the street on my trip, I saw plenty of children - and adults - peeing in the pool

While I did not see any children pee in the street on my trip, I saw plenty of children - and adults - peeing in the pool. In fact, I felt them pee. I was sitting beside them in the pool and I felt a warm gush of liquid ripple my way.

One man, who had had too much to drink the night before, took it up a notch and threw up in the pool. Another used the pool as an ashtray, happily tossing his cigarettes in the water.

At breakfast the next day, a man carrying a plateful of food from the buffet came over and plopped himself down at our table. "Excuse me, sir, what are you doing?" I asked him. "I'm eating," he said, his mouth full of dried apricots.

"I know, but why are you eating here?"

"What do you mean?" he asked me. He looked genuinely confused. I pointed to a free table just next to us. "Look, there's a free table right there!"

He shook his head and turned his attention back to his plate. I thought about giving up. I was on vacation and didn't want to argue. But it was a very small table and not including this man in conversation seemed impossible. So I tried again.

"Excuse me, sir, but it would really mean a lot to me if you sat somewhere else," I said. "I mean, I'd move myself but we have five people and all this food. And you're just one person."

He glanced at the nearby table and then at me.

"But why? What's your problem? Why can't I sit here? Why can't we just sit together!"

"Because! We're not part of the same family! That's why!" I practically shrieked in Putonghua.

Sulking, he took his pyramid of food and with one last, lingering look at our table, got up and left.

Years of travelling to China have made me accept comical situations like this one. They've become a part of the China experience. You know when you book that flight to Beijing or Shanghai that you're going to see a spitting hawker or two.

Yet, a holiday in Hong Kong is not supposed to be filled with such inappropriate moments. We pride ourselves on our clean streets, orderly conduct, and ample rubbish bins, street lights and toilets.

And herein lies the real reason why we're so angry over the urinating toddler. We like tourism. We want to protect it. We don't want urinating toddlers to get woven into the fabric of Hong Kong tourism.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.edu.hk


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This article is now closed to comments

miss yang, most of your columns are pretty elitist but this one especially so. i'm all for encouraging cleaner tourism and obviously no one wants to see little kids defecating in the streets, but basically everything you said reeks of the false sense of entitlement and sophistication that many hongkongers think they deserve.
the mainland and its people, for all their faults, are simply not as caught up on public manners as hongkongers, who had multiple decades under the british to assimilate a higher standard of cleanliness. it's perfectly normal to correct the poor habits of tourists and hope that they will rise to a higher standard when travelling abroad, but this is an issue that can only be resolved through patience, communication and understanding - qualities that most hongkongers notoriously lack. just scolding from your high horse and expecting all of the mainland to conform to your standards instantaneously is useless and condescending.
A somewhat educated person seldom uses personal anecdotes to generalize. Are you really an educator?
I have visited China off and on for almost 3 decades, but have yet to experience anything in China remotely like what you described. However, I had a similar experience in a Wanchai restaurant in the 60s. I was alone at a table waiting for my party to arrive. Two GIs plopped down at my table. When asked to leave, they stared at me and laughed. This upstate New York college kid was a lot smaller than the bullies. He took another table without cursing or shrieking.
About people doing their thing when nature calls, I am afraid Chinese children aren't the only offenders. Truck drivers plying the US Interstate relief themselves into plastic bags and toss the payload through the window. Imagine if you are the lucky driver right behind on the passing lane.
In Tokyo during the 60s, I saw men micturating on a few occasions in alleys off the main road. Once I did my thing at the urinal, I was discomfited by women walking behind me into the next toilet marked 婦人入用.
Walking back to my hotel after a fun night at Munich's Oktoberfest, I saw a young man peeing at someone's front door.
If you care to traipse down the steps in Paris to the banks of River Seine, your olfactory lobe will likely be temporarily disabled by the overwhelming stench of dog pee.
I don't use my anecdotes to discredit the Yanks, Japanese, French or German.
Just remember, China has 1.3 billion people.
This is an article whereby "the pot calls the kettle black" and makes such sweeping generalizations against mainlanders whilst adopting a "superior" attitude of being Hong Kong chinese.
A lot of the mainlanders are first time travelers abroad and although some of their behaviour is not acceptable and definitely shocking, lets not forget that a large proportion of the population are peasants. They need to be educated not vilified.
The article suggests that Hong Kong people are all sophisticated travelers. Let me assure you that they are not. You can travel to Malaysia and Thailand, and at the airport there can be 50 people sitting quietly at the gate waiting to board the plane. Then out of nowhere there is an eruption of decibels that breaks the quiet chattering. Everyone turns around and lo and behold, it is a group of may be only 3 or 4 people from Hong Kong. I have lost count the number of times this has happened. Or the HK tourists who decide to stand at the top of the escalator endangering everyone else, or stand in front of entrances forming a human blockade.

In Hong Kong, people clip their nails on the bus which is hardly civilized behaviour.
In HK, there are many restaurants/cha chan teng where where people "dap toy" or share tables so I suggest the author open her eyes, and perhaps wander around poorer areas of HK where she can see the rubbish, or even the country parks where the "sophisticated mob" leave behind their pink bags of trash.
You don't need to go to the mainland to see hawkers and other citizens spitting in the street. Maybe you don't see this in mid-levels but its a common sight elsewhere in HK. As to your experiences on the mainland couldn't you perhaps conform to the behaviourial norms of the people who reside there? Perhaps its normal for people to sit with strangers at meal time? When in Rome do as the Romans do. You demand this of people who are not from Hong Kong, shouldn't you also make the effort when you travel elsewhere?
It seems she wants to holiday in China but without the Chinese.
Finally a columnist in SCMP who is talking SENSE, instead of kissing mainlanders' ****!
... real reason why we're so angry.... blah blah blah.... actually, the real real reason is that too many people here are just miserable gits. grow a life, when a kid has to go the kid has to go.
"Because! We're not part of the same family! That's why!" I practically shrieked in Putonghua.
says the article.
That is hardly civilized behaviour for an educator.
Do not shriek.
I was in China twice during the last month, and never met any of the situations the writer described. Public toilets are available, even in little rural places, and well sign-posted, and nobody shared our table at restaurants, nor behaved improperly. I believe that over 100,000 HK holiday-makers crossed over to China on the first day of the Easter holidays. I don't hear any of them complaining, so the writer must have dreamt it up. Otherwise why are HK people still going?
The HK incident could be so easily resolved by the Govt installing more public toilets and obvious road signs indicating where they are. I am sure nobody chooses to pee in the streets.
Useless article.




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