• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 12:47am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 2:34am

Anti-mainlander whingers miss the point of big city living

Peter Kammerer says Hongkongers need to stop whingeing about mainland tourists and learn to adapt to changing city life

BIO

Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  
 

Once upon a time, back when Hong Kong had five million people and a fraction of the tourists it does now and mainland China was a poor, barely developed place, I used to shop in Causeway Bay. My every trip was by taxi and there was nothing I liked more than hanging out in music and video shops in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. If I was hungry, I simply walked into the nearest restaurant of my choice, sat down and ordered - there was never any waiting for tables or finding that menu items had been sold out.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century and I no longer do any of that; this city has changed and I've been forced to do the same.

It's been the same wherever in the world I've lived, whether it was London, Manila, Sydney or Melbourne. Bohemian becomes trendy, a part of town that was run down turns fashionable, or a favourite shop becomes popular; the crowds move in and I either have to tolerate them or find somewhere else to get what I want. This is how economies work and always will. Given Hong Kong's proud adherence to free market principles, I therefore simply don't understand Hong Kong residents who complain about mainland tourists crowding them out.

The fundamentals haven't changed, after all: our shopping districts have always been busy places, the MTR at peak hours is a crush and what's popular sells fast. I appreciate that the rapid increase in tourist numbers over the past decade - to 54 million last year from 48 million the previous - makes those waits for a cross-harbour train at Admiralty after offices close even longer. But where we live, work and shop are our choices and if the queues become unbearable, we always have the option of going elsewhere. That's the beauty of free markets and big city living - you can always get what you want or something similar somewhere else.

Despite that, the howls from the anti-mainland brigade just get louder. They cry that the tourists are making our train carriages too crowded, are making off with our favourite brand of shampoo, are deterring us from shopping at Sogo and are forcing us to wait to get into our favourite restaurant. When a new iPhone comes out, we have to queue with them, there's never a taxi available because they're grabbing them first, and watch when you cross the street or try to get on a bus because of their wretched suitcases. Wah, wah, wah - it's like hearing the tantrums of a spoiled child.

I barely notice the tourist hoards. It's not because I can't see - simply that I avoid going to places that I know are crowded. If I have to go there, I try to do so at off-peak times. In the most public transport-friendly city in the world, there's more often than not an alternative way of getting around. If there's something you want to buy and it's unavailable - well, have you heard of internet shopping?

Those people who have been taking to the streets to protest that Hong Kong is being overrun by mainland tourists have lost the plot. City living is about change, competition, sharing and adaptability. Complaining about crowds is one thing; bleating that the people who are causing them should go elsewhere speaks of someone who hasn't yet learned how to be a good citizen.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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This article is now closed to comments

don67
Hong Kong is indeed a free economy. But sometimes, "market failures" occur and when it does, it is up to the government to correct the problem (which it so far has not done). I don't think you can really blame HK people for being whingers when the problems that this mainland influx causes are so clear. The fact is that despite the very rapid development of the mainland in recent years, it is still behind HK in many ways which means that the two are still very different places. When the border between two very different places which are so geographically close is not strictly controlled, there is bound to be people swarming from one side to the other. The problem which makes our problem somewhat unique is the physical size difference of the two regions. Mainland China is a large place with an even larger population while Hong Kong is a small place which, as you say, is already crowded. Some argue that Hong Kong should not restrict mainland visitors because the mainland never imposed anything similar on Hongkongers traveling to the mainland. But why would they have ever needed to do so when, for arguments sake, even the entire 7 million Hong Kong population going to the mainland would only be a drop in the ocean relative to China's population? As a worst case scenario, let's say the7 million are concentrated within Guangdong province. That is still only 7% of the existing 100 million people there. Contrast that with HK which accepts over 40 million visitors annually!
impala
Sheer ignorance. Mr Kammerer has no idea what he is talking about.

He seems to think that the annoyances caused by 50m mainland tourists a year are limited to a little over-crowding in Causeway Bay and TST. We should just not go there, and all will be fine. If only it were true.

I don't suppose Mr Kammerer has been Yuen Long, Sheung Shui, Fanling, Shatin Town Centre, Festival Walk, Kowloon Station, Tung Chung, Tuen Mun or anywhere else outside of his little expat bubble much recently?

This is NOT about a couple more people in always busy Mongkok Mr Kammerer, nor is it about waiting one train more or less at Admiralty.

This is about going to your local pharmacy in Sheung Shui and finding out that you can't even get inside because there is a long queue of 'tourists' waiting to buy infant formula, diapers and Ferrero Rocher, all to be dragged north.

This is about going to New Town Plaza on the East Rail Line, and after you have fought your way through a mountain of suitcases on the MTR, finding that what once was a solid middle-class shopping mall bang in the middle of an ordinary middle class neighbourhood is now taken over by Prada, Chow Tai Tai Chow **** Sang Sang jewellery stores and many, many banks offering Renminbi services.

And it is the same everywhere. This is a city-wide phenomenon, and some of the worst of it is occurring in ordinary residential areas. Should we all go elsewhere (Shenzhen?) or stay inside and do everything online?
Dai Muff
We pay the taxes. And, as much as some of you try to recast it, it would not matter if the visitors were Inuit or Sioux. The "patriots" like you would always be the first to complain if they were Japanese. And in exactly the same numbers. It is THE NUMBERS. And our government's incessant willingness to kowtow.
The fact is the government is letting us, our resources, our facilities, be swamped. Of course there are those who will always be happy to see prices go up on daily necessities. They profiteer anyway. They are not the ordinary people.
I don't approve of insulting individual tourists. I actually have no objection to many of the poorer people genuinely coming here as tourists, wandering around with their tea in glass jars and often help them. However, I feel differently about the cross border buyers, which the mainland government could stop in an instant, and dislike intensely the nouveau-riche jerks I have seen treating Hong Kong service staff with absolute contempt. It's people like them who led to a revolution in the first place.
In terms of manners, Hong Kong's own manners WERE worse, even in my own lifetime. What we are not happy about is seeing the place take a step back.
jgmoreno
Very well said!
Mr. Kammerer has a long way to go before he truly comprehends the real problems and issues this small city is currently facing.
ssslmcs01
As a villager in Sheung Shui who needs yo use the East Rail every morning, I wonder where Peter would suggest I and people like me go? Why should I have to resort to Internet shopping when there are a number of shops 20 minutes away on foot. I never knew Sheung Shui was a tourist area. I guess Peter considers the parallel traders to be legitimate tourists rather than a nuisance.
I guess it's easy to write an article like this without putting any thought into it. Even the Chinese visitors are complaining about not being able to get into Disneyland and Ocean Park after traveling to Hong Kong from faraway places throughout China. The number of visitors has exceeded Hong Kong's ability to accommodate them, simple as that. And why shouldn't we be able to enjoy a day at Hong Kong Disneyland with our family as a local Hongkonger?
Dai Muff
Oh grow up. Even NPC members think there is a problem here so it's irritating as hell to see northern shoe-shiners pretend there is not.
cal10ten
Well said, impala. Totally agree with him. I also agree with jgmoreno's comment that kammerer ''has a long way before he truly comprehends the real problems and issues this small city currently faces.'' Come off your ivory tower and your expat life, Kammerer, and live like a local and face the problems and issues that locals face. It is easy to dispense advice because he can easily go back to his own country.
It always amazes me how some ****s think they are experts on Asia and problems in Asian countries and cities just because they spend some time in the continent. Kammerer is just one of these ..holes. He doesn't understand, or refuses to understand, what's going on. He says that ''where we live, work and shop are our choices and if the queues become unbearable, we always have the option of going elsewhere''. Really? In congested and expensive HK, for example, for apartments, pray tell where are the residents going to live because nearly everywhere else in HK is costly. Also, is it that easy to just change jobs like Kammerer made it out to be??
Dai Muff
Unfortunately, even now, privileged Westerners like Mr Kammerer are NOT going to be the ones struggling for the resources with the tourists and cross border dealers. At most, their maids and domestic servants are. Many people, Mr Kammerer, already live too close to subsistence levels in Hong Kong. Things that might be no inconvenience to you whatsoever can be hugely critical in their lives. Really, it all looks great from up in the ivory tower.
As the 1960s disturbances showed us, while expats rode in cabs in comfort, a few cents rise in ferry or other transport costs can be make or break for some families. You are cushioned from the problems, I am afraid to say.
Hum-Balang
Peter is blind and he sees better than many others who provided comments below.
@lucifer & laiyuen, if you happen to be a Hong Kongese, you will probably know generally the Hong Kongers are xenophones!
Many of whom a generation or two ago were themselves emigrants from China, legally and otherwise. And many more of whom it appears don't emphatise the hoards of tourists arriving by the plane-loads to HK everyday, are probably village folks from China who haven't been out to their nearest Chinese cities but opted instead to visit HK. If that isn't enough to cure your hubris, consider this that since 2003 this is one of the mainstay of the HK GDP. So what if they urinate in the trains or in the streets, let the Tourism Board to put enough pamphlets and signboards to warn our visitors what HKers' expectation of 'culture' and etiquettes may be. MTRC also reflected they need to add more toilets to the tube stations, haven't they? If there's not enough hotel rooms or flagship brandnames in Central or TST, let's build more of those. Isn't that a good thing afterall, whichever way you cut it?
What makes you think you are necessarily better than any of our visitors and you are entitled to not share the trains, the streets, and the air with them?
Dao-Phooy
Well said impala!

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