Of all the places with which Hong Kong should have an affinity, none should be closer than Shenzhen. It's our nearest neighbour, an economic partner and next to our city, one of the nation's most developed. There's growing consensus that the two should one day merge. Despite this, there seems to be an abiding mentality here that the good is on this side of the Shenzhen River, and the bad and ugly on the other. Consider the protests by the parents of English Schools Foundation students who pressured a principal to call off a planned four-day excursion to the city. He had said the trip for the 120 nine- and 10-year-old children from Clearwater Bay School would provide 'authentic opportunities for students to utilise their growing Chinese skills'. With Shenzhen being a stone's throw away and Putonghua the dominant language, he had a good point. There's nothing better than emersion to come to grips with a culture, history and linguistics. Some parents didn't see it that way. They expressed fears about safety, hygiene and pollution. Why couldn't a previously organised camping excursion in Hong Kong's countryside be substituted, they asked. Amid the protests, the principal cancelled the trip. The parents' concerns weren't surprising, or isolated. One country, two systems is a 13-year-old reality, but attitudes towards people living across the border remain deeply mired in the past. To be sure, they had legitimate concerns; but there's a broader question about how we in Hong Kong see ourselves, and our neighbours, in general. Shenzhen, for all its growth, is seen as a cheap imitation, its people backward, its restaurants unclean and its streets lawless. There's no disputing that Shenzhen isn't as safe as Hong Kong; few cities in the world are. Its crime rate is relatively high compared to other mainland cities. Hong Kong people have been murdered and a number of children have been kidnapped for ransom in recent years. Robberies are rife in outer districts where migrant workers live and pickpockets abound in busy areas and on buses. Mainland food and hygiene regulations aren't as well-managed as here. Barely a week passes without yet another scare. We handle produce from across the border gingerly and often pass it up if there's choice. The world's most polluted cities are on the mainland. Parents whose children are going on excursions to Shenzhen have a right to ask questions. They need to know the teacher-to-student ratio, which places will be visited and the accommodation chosen. They're the same queries that should be made of any city or country, regardless of whether developed or developing. Naturally, more attention should be paid to the latter. Snobbishness towards Shenzhen is such in some quarters that there are those who wouldn't dream of setting foot within its boundaries. But those who live in, work in or visit Shenzhen usually have another take. They see mainland China's most developed city after Shanghai, with facilities and infrastructure in some districts on a par with Hong Kong or better. Personal safety is at times and places an issue, but the precautions that apply when visiting any unfamiliar place apply. If we used Hong Kong as the yardstick for our safety zone, we would never leave. There are few cities where it is possible to fearlessly travel through virtually all parts at any time. But if we ventured to only where we felt comfortable, our horizons would never be broadened. Knowledge and understanding is best gleaned from travel and we and our children should do as much of that as possible. Our experiences will teach us that stereotyping is wrong.