Two shades of rude
The Chinese government has recently begun a campaign to educate citizens on how to behave while travelling abroad. The campaign was launched after stories about “rude” Chinese tourists began to fly about everywhere. Among the reports doing the rounds on the internet: a group of Chinese tourists dipping their feet in the fountain at the Louvre; a Chinese teenager leaving graffiti on an ancient Egyptian temple; a Swiss Airlines Zurich-Beijing flight turning back after two Chinese passengers fight. “Rude” Chinese stories are also common in the local papers. The South China Morning Post says every “rude tourist” story it publishes makes it to the ‘Top 10’ most-read articles.
Hong Kongers disassociate themselves from the “rude” tag as much as everything else related to mainland China. However, this “special administrative region” of China cannot completely shrug off the tag: we got to taste enough of rudeness from its residents during our brief stay there. Shopkeepers would have little patience with people surfing through their wares—and God forbid if you messed up the display—even if all they sold was tourist knick-knacks. Waiters would fret over the imbeciles who couldn’t read menus in Chinese. And while haggling at street markets was generally considered quite acceptable, the vendors would consider it downright offensive if you quoted too low a price.
Not at home
In Hong Kong, people are always out and about. If you try to guess the time from the crowds on the metro trains, known as the MTR, you are likely to get it wrong: in Hong Kong, every hour is rush hour. Stations, markets and plazas are abuzz even late into the night. The urge to stay outdoors is rooted in the country’s economy and geography. Hong Kong has one of the most expensive property markets in the world owing to the city’s limited space. However, the island provides unlimited economic opportunities and draws thousands of migrants, especially from mainland China. The government has restricted immigration, but the region still sees a considerable rise in population every year. Much land has already been reclaimed from the sea. The new international airport and Disneyland both stand on reclaimed land. But there are limits to such expansion too, especially with red flags from environment bodies over the long-term impact of reclamation.
The average size of houses and offices in Hong Kong is one of the smallest in the world. Large families often share houses and children stay with their parents until late into adulthood simply because moving into one’s own house is a luxury only a few can afford. So while it is crowded outdoors, it is no better at home. Many Hong Kongers, especially the young, just prefer to stay outdoors as long as they can and visit home only to take a nap and shower. The heart is not at home; at least not here in Hong Kong. And if you like your space, this is not your place.
Cantonese cuisine is all about seafood. Most restaurants have their own aquariums in which they keep live stock. Just pick the one you like and it will be on your table shortly. However, this may only suit the culinary brave, as some of the food that arrives on the table may be just a bit too fresh. Or as a friend described it, her crab still had moving limbs when it was served to her! And if you have not had seafood to your heart’s content, you could take some home. The dried seafood market on Des Voux Road has much resemblance to India’s kirana bazaars, with its neatly displayed sacks and cartons of starfish, sea horses, sharks (yes, sharks), scallops, oysters, dried snakeskin and pretty much everything imaginable (and edible) from the crustacean world. Some of it is vegetarian too—seaweed and black moss. I was tempted to pick the starfish—as a souvenir for my daughter—but dropped the idea lest the fish smell that pervaded the street take over my bags. Also, I wasn’t sure if the Indian customs officers would be happy with the idea.
If the Indian media really needs to pick a fight with China, it should be over spiciness, for Szechuan food surely beats all claims of Indian food being hot! The Szechuan chilli, short and red, is packed with heat and used in abundance in the cuisine. In one classic Szechuan dish, we had to pick chicken pieces out of a bowl full of red chillies and tongue-tickling Szechuan pepper. We began proudly, as Indians who could handle their chillies, but eventually had to order a cucumber salad to cool our tongues. We did finish the dish though. Indian pride would not have allowed—or swallowed—the alternative.
Til the last
A black broth in a bowl may not be your classic dessert. But do try black sesame soup. It will relax your mind and stomach. Much needed after a chilli onslaught!
Delhi-based Arti Shukla Wankhede is an editor with the BBC; E-mail your diarist: arti.shukla AT gmail.com
Indians have lost any respect foreigners had for them.
And this applies to ANY country. I wonder if the authoress travels very far, ( but then again, some countries treat women with reverence anyway - which could explain her treatment being better in other countries )
Who would have the patience ( even if you claimed to be 1/3 of the worlds population ), if your image is one of a perpetually poor and illiterate country, where the polticians loot in front of the peoples eyes, and religion is main stream politics ( and not vice versa )?
And with the buffoon ( imposed ) as PM, and a communally virulent opposition party, why would ANY nation respect our people anymore?
Feel a little squeamish fingering a live crab for lunch at Trishna but they make sure it has stopped moving by the time it is served.
Chinese tourists are generally ok outside China. It is only within China that they show their worst, and Hong Kong is a part of China. The similar behaviour is seen with Indians, who reserve their worst for their own country.
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