anti-mainlander protest

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

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 12:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 2:34am

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