Monthly Archives: June 2012

Tourists Stereotyped

What do tour guides say about you, and your country? Presumably they are locals, so they say lovely things. As a Hong Kong expat, while I am a local, I’m not, well, a local. I’m not Chinese, nor was I born here. And whilst I have lived in Hong Kong for 9 years, I don’t think a HK born person would view me as anything but a transient.

OK, so what? Well, here’s what. I may not be technically Chinese, but I do love Hong Kong, and am taken aback when I hear strange utterances – such as when I was out the other day about to head home after some shopping. Along the way, I saw a tour group. In Hong Kong, that’s not particularly unusual, what was a bit unusual was it was a tour group of westerners, in the bar area of Soho. (ie generally westerners are IN the bars, not looking at them as if they’re at a zoo.)

The local Chinese tour guide was talking quite loudly to the group of maybe 20 people. As I passed by, they were standing outside a pub, and this is what I heard:

“This is where they sell beer and everybody get drunk, mainly Australian’s”

Eh?

Has this bloke never been to the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s, where you can see every nationality on earth getting as drunk as 40 pirates? Has he not been into any pub in Hong Kong showing Premier League football, to see a full house of inebriated English?  Has he never seen South African’s, tequila shooters lining the length of the bar, whenever the Springboks win a rugby match? Has he never watched the Super Bowl with a few dozen Americans and many dozen Budweisers?

Let me clearly state I am not taking the high moral ground. Australians LOVE a drink, and we will undoubtedly be convicted if the World Court ever sentences countries found guilty of being generally drunk and disorderly. But we will not be alone in the dock.

So it got me to thinking about stereotypes. Are they inventions of the media or are they generally true? According to folk-law, every Glaswegian worth his black pudding loves to smash his pint glass into his friends face on a Saturday night; yet I have only ever found Scottish people to be wonderful and charming.  All Americans are suppose to be loud and ignorant, yet they had the intelligence and know-how to put a man on the moon (apparently), not to mention they invented the Cotton Gin and saved everyone’s bacon in WW2. If you go to Bali, all you will see are Australian, New Zealand and British, drunk as skunks in flowery shirts, yet just edge out from Kuta, even a few miles, and you will see the same tourists calmly visiting temples and admiring the wonders of Indonesia. Anyone who has been to France will insist that all Parisians are rude, and all the waiters on the Champs-Élysées are snobs…Ok, so some are true.

Every country has its fair share of embarrassing natives. So why not have a laugh when the ‘loud’ American turns up, chuckle when the ‘sheep loving’ New Zealander enters the room, and buy ‘Paddy the Irishman’ a pint of Guinness.

Part of being in the human race is to recognize that people are different – not better or worse, just different.  People can, and do, act outrageously when they are out of their normal environment. To turn a normally law-abiding teetotaler into drunken, slobbering letch – simply add beer and rugby.

Instead of getting angry, I try to enjoy the kaleidoscope of cultures on display. Sure, it doesn’t always work, especially when all those annoyingly bolshie Russians, with surgically enhanced wives in tow, turn up at the resort and take over the pool… Oops.


Bus Stopping

If you ever go to Paris, you might consider getting on the hop-on/hop-off bus. You can see all the sights, the Louvre, Eifel Tower, Paris Opera, Champs Elisees, Arc De Triomphe, Place de la Concorde – the list goes on.

If you ever go to London, you might consider the hop-on/hop-off bus. You can see all the sights, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, St Paul’s Cathedral – the list goes on.

If you ever go to Cape Town you might consider getting on the hop-on/hop-off bus. You can see all the sights, Table Mountain, The castle of Good Hope, Camps Bay, St George’s Cathedral – the list goes on

If you’re in Hong Kong, you might consider the hop-on/hop-off bus. You can see all the sights – Ummm, all of them, like ummm, the traffic jams in Causeway Bay, what’s left of Lan Kwai Fong, old and historic Pacific Place shopping mall, and even Wan Chai Computer Centre.

Do you think Hong Kong really needs a tourist bus? I love this place, but it’s not exactly open top bus tour friendly. You will not see, nor motor past, wondrous sites such as the Colosseum, or the Sydney Opera House. It also has to be the easiest city in the world to get around by public transport. London, Paris, Cape Town and most other major cities are spread out to varying degrees.  Hong Kong Island is 15km long, and from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay – less than 4km. It has, in my opinion, the best transport system in the world; it’s certainly easier to use than any other city I have visited.

Hong Kong hasn’t got so much in the way of grand European style buildings; we don’t have wide tree-lined boulevards or miles of majestic beaches. We have Hong Kong. Narrow streets with tiny shops selling everything imaginable; noodle shops and outdoor butchers; impossibly steep streets selling fruit and vegetables; fish mongers who will slice and dice a fish without dropping a speck of their cigarette ash. You can’t experience that from a bus.

A hop-on and off bus might deny visitors the essence of this town. Visitors should be on the Mid-Level outdoor escalator, not just looking at it from above or alighting to take a picture, only to hop back on a bus so they can drive past the Convention Centre and stand in awe at the latest harbour reclamation.

Think what tourists miss by not wandering around – all the little bars and interesting places along the way: the smell of incense on Peel St; the pungent aromas of the dry markets in Sheung Wan; the hustle and bustle of Causeway Bay; the many markets and stalls around Central and Wan Chai. That’s without even starting on the richness of the Kowloon side.

Hong Kong is a walking city. It’s a place I like to experience it at street level. Tourists should get lost in the Wan Chai markets, marvel at people who work each day in the barely tolerable smells of the dry markets, and see our City for what it is. If you come to Hong Kong on holidays or a stopover, stay off the bus and get walking, it will be worth it.


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