On 16 February this year, about 100 Hong Kongers marched on the streets of a popular shopping district to call for curbs on the number of mainland China tourists. Their demand is very reasonable for a city as land scarce and overcrowded as Hong Kong: last year, there were close to 41 million mainland visitors to Hong Kong, averaging 112,000 visitors per day and more than five times the city’s population of 7.2 million. Taiwan, which is 32 times the size of Hong Kong, has a daily quota of 3,000 mainland tourists.

Unfortunately, the protestors’ rightful cause was marred by the language used: they called mainlanders “locusts,” a label that first appeared in the infamous locust advertisement in 2012.

Top government officials quickly attacked the “anti-locust” protest for “tarnishing” the city’s image; one went as far as condemning the rally as “barbaric and uncivilised activities” that ran counter to Hong Kong’s values.

The same official who has such strong words for the protestors, however, has not uttered a word in the unfolding and escalating saga over a mainland boy defecating on a busy street in Hong Kong (see video at 1:34).

It seems that the official has varying levels of tolerance for sh*t, depending on which part of the human anatomy it was discharged from.

Wikipedia defines antisocial behavior as “behaviour that lacks consideration for others and may cause damage to the society, whether intentionally or through negligence” and that which “is deemed contrary to prevailing norms for social conduct.” It encompasses an array of activity including annoyances such as littering, rowdy behavior, dog fouling and so on that disrupt the daily lives of people.

If even dog fouling is regarded as antisocial, then public excretion of bodily waste by adults or toddlers is surely more so.

Given that Hong Kong is an overcrowded city where pedestrians jostle for space on congested streets, it is understandable why there is little tolerance for the antisocial act. The health hazards of exposed excrement in a densely populated city like Hong Kong should not be overlooked too.

Contrary to what some mainland netizens claimed, it is a breach of Hong Kong law for adults and even children under 12 years old to urinate or defecate in public areas. So mainland netizens who called for retaliation by letting their children eliminate on the streets of Hong Kong, if they are really as good as their word, may well find themselves in, erm, deep sh*t. Especially since a group of Hong Kongers has started a counter campaign to photograph culprits.

Jokes aside, the recent protest raises important questions for Hong Kong and other popular tourist destinations:

How far can a destination cope with tourism rise? When is the psychological limit reached for locals?

Sunday incident gives an indication of the negative feelings of many Hong Kong residents about what is now perceived as a tourism invasion. Especially as Hong Kong Government recently claimed that the city could cope with an annual 100 million visitors by 2030. The incapacity of a destination to manage tourist flows properly can then turn dangerous and exacerbate negative feelings among locals.

(Read this and this on the impact of massive visitor influx on Hong Kong and on Berlin).

Right to pillory xenophobes, wrong to pillory antisocial behavior?

Why did Hong Kong officials openly censure xenophobic Hong Kongers but keep mum on mainlanders’ antisocial behavior? One official even urged Hong Kongers to show “tolerance (包容).”

Considering the harmful effects of both types of behavior, should one not be consistent in calling out xenophobes as well as perpetrators of antisocial behavior, even if the latter happens to be people of one particular nationality?

Why is it morally right to pillory xenophobes, but seemingly wrong to pillory antisocial behavior?

Is there not an element of public shaming in both, supposedly to achieve the objective of deterrence? What is there to stop either from degenerating into witch-hunting?

I throw these questions to our nation’s leaders who were always quick to label Singaporeans as a disgrace, xenophobes, bigots etc. etc. but remained silent about (or even defended) the antisocial behavior of foreigners, and also to those who have “called out” netizens for making xenophobic remarks in the controversy surrounding the Filipino Independence Day celebrations in Singapore.

And I also have this to say to the xenophobes, whether you are maligned or deservedly-so: there will always be people making hateful remarks to stir sh*t, but if you have a bigger purpose than that, stop the crap and reflect on your behavior. Your action is only doing harm to your cause, at the same time alienating more restrained Singaporeans who are also sick of overcrowding and oppose to the 6.9 million population target.

Instead of spewing vitriol at foreigners, harness creativity and humor for your cause like this parody protest in Hong Kong, also to urge for curbs on mainland tourists.

 

(This blog post first appeared on The Online Citizen)