How many more times are we going to be pummelled by yet another sorry tale of Hongkongers and mainlanders sniping at one another? To add to the long and sorry list of recent years, in the past week, we’ve had a row over Mandarin language exams at Baptist University and a food fight in a noodle shop at the airport. I also witnessed an argument on a bus and jostling on a street in Causeway Bay.
None of these would have happened had those involved treated each other as equals and taken the time to talk rather than shout.
The Baptist University saga is complex, but at its heart is that same old concern about the creeping mainlandisation of Hong Kong. There are fewer layers to the noodle shop incident, which involved staff losing their cool with two mainland travellers. Both matters quickly found their way onto social media platforms, where the usual mud-slinging ensued. The latter has been settled with an apology from the shop, but the former rumbles on.
Hongkongers feel threatened; I get that. I understand how nationalism is created and manipulated so that the mere suggestion of words like “independence” can have sycophants howling. But there’s also another truth, best illustrated by an observation; two decades ago, people on the mainland complained that Hong Kong visitors were noisy and arrogant, and now the reverse is true. As an outsider to the dispute, I don’t perceive either side is worse and the only significant change is that Hong Kong now gets many times more mainland visitors.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about the same ethnic group and their biggest differences are the dialect they speak and, marginally, the manner in which they’re governed. Culturally, there’s no difference, with both celebrating the moon, with festivals featuring mooncakes and red packets containing money. Not liking the manner in which a person or political party governs can never be a reason to also dislike the people who are subject to such a system. I think United States President Donald Trump is a buffoon, but I would be foolish to suggest all Americans are also clowns.
There’s bound to be indignation when shopping and leisure habits are disrupted by a tourist influx. But Hong Kong has had plenty of time to adjust to that. We should also have had every opportunity to get to better know and understand our visitors. Unfortunately, it’s obvious from the continuing animosity that not enough have tried.
From my perch as a Caucasian with no vested interests, the vast majority of my interactions with mainlanders in Hong Kong have been positive. There have been curious university students, helpful work colleagues, pedestrians in need of guidance and chatty gym-goers and diners in restaurants. The negatives most often relate to being buffeted in the street by a suitcase-wheeling parade or an inconsiderate smoker.
Hong Kong likes to call itself an international city, but the numerous ethnic groups and nationalities who make it so multicultural tend to group together and rarely cross paths. Apart from cross-border marriages, this is also largely true for Hongkongers and mainlanders.
Here’s some common sense: you won’t get to know someone if you intentionally avoid them. If, in an encounter, we are rude and demeaning, expect the same treatment back. And here’s a truth: taking the time to start a conversation with a stranger from the mainland by talking about how the trip is going, if it’s for shopping or business, or even if the weather is meeting expectations, will make a world of difference, with the result bound to be positive.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post