Time for more Hongkongers to broaden their horizons and take a trip to mainland China

Peter Kammerer says more personal interaction could help relieve tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland, which has as much to offer as a holiday destination, both culturally and historically, as other destinations in Asia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 December, 2015, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 December, 2015, 5:19pm

You need a short break from work, perhaps a few days or a week to recharge; your thoughts immediately turn to the airport and the 150 destinations offered by the 85 airlines that serve Hong Kong. More than likely, it will be Japan, South Korea or Thailand that is chosen. Not for a moment was the mainland considered, despite the fact that it offers places that are just as interesting, mind opening and, in such conflicting times for some, educational.

Given the political circumstances, both Hongkongers and mainland Chinese need to mix and mingle beyond work. What better than to go to the mainland and see how it is evolving?

I understand the attractions of the above-mentioned overseas places: I have been to them a number of times. Beaches have never been an attraction for me, though, nor, living in a shopping capital of sorts and with so much choice online, do I comprehend the need to get on a plane to buy clothes and cosmetics. For me, travel is largely switching off from the day-to-day routine by learning about different people, places and cultures.

I head to the mainland for a holiday a few times a year. Proximity, cost and convenience come into play, but I am sure those are factors for most people considering travel options. What confounds me, though, is the perplexed look I get when I inform people of my plans. Be it a hot spring resort, a nature reserve or a third-tier city, the reaction from my Hong Kong friends is the same: Why?

I am not immune to the negativity that anything to do with mainland China evokes in some. The perceived ripping up by Beijing of “one country, two systems” among a certain demographic is bound to factor into all manner of decisions, from what to eat tonight to where to go for the next holiday. Human rights and the rule of law not being what they should can also play into travel plans. Those decisions are made without even considering the more practical matters of crowds, litter and the stench of hole-in-the-ground public toilets.

There is also the reality that Japan and South Korea have levels of development similar to our own, making them more familiar to visit. The order, politeness, cleanliness and service are better than on the mainland and will remain so for some time yet. Then there is trust – in the food being served, the authenticity of what is being bought and even whether the water in the hot springs pool is genuinely from a natural hot spring.

Given this, it is perhaps little wonder that arrival figures for inbound tourists have been steadily declining in recent years. Despite China having some of the world’s most magnificent natural and man-made wonders and an unmatched history, the nation came just 17th out of 141 in the World Economic Forum’s latest travel competitiveness index. Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore ranked higher. Improving infrastructure is only a part of the equation in lifting numbers.

Yet, for Hongkongers, there is every reason to consider making even a short trip across the Shenzhen River. My experiences travelling in Guangdong have been exceptional, with few complaints about what was eaten, seen and experienced. The people encountered could not have been more polite; I will always remember the family occupying the ginseng-scented hot pool at Gudou, near Jiangmen, who smiled, made room and shared their melon seeds. It was an intimate setting, I could have gone to another of the dozens of pools on offer, yet they waved me in, the hairy-chested foreigner that I am.

It is only by such interactions that Hongkongers and mainlanders can truly get to know one another. Given the political circumstances and the concerns among some that our way of life is being eroded, both sides need to mix and mingle beyond work. What better than to sometimes go to the mainland and see how it is evolving? Quickly, it will be realised that not everyone is a bloody-minded shopper on a shelf-stripping mission.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post