The Horror! Of Chinese Mainlanders, right here in Repulse Bay!

expatlingo repulse bay comic

I have discovered a new annoyance: Hong Kong-based Western expats complaining about Mainland Chinese tourists.

This month’s edition of “Southside Magazine,” the English-language magazine catering to residents of southern Hong Kong Island (Stanley, Repulse Bay, Aberdeen, etc), features an article by Carolynne Dear called, “Snap Unhappy: Camera-wielding tourists are turning Repulse Bay into a no-go area for some families.” The article complains about the large numbers of Mainland Chinese tourists visiting Repulse Bay and highlights their interest in photographing blonde children as alarming.

To give you an idea of the flavor of the article:

“[I]n Repulse Bay … past the volleyball nets and beyond the ice-cream shop, the bucolic sounds of the afternoon are drowned out by the rumble of idling engines from coaches lining Beach Road. The air is heady with the stench of diesel and the beach is a mass of camera-wielding tourists.


“[B]asic differences in etiquette between mainland China and [Hong Kong] are not winning the tourists many fans. Parking problems aside, one of the biggest complaints from expat residents is the photo-taking of Western children.

The article then quotes several upset expat parents, including this mother:

“Although it’s flattering on one level that people want to take photos of your child, it often feels like an invasion of your privacy, especially when it upsets your children and makes an otherwise pleasant day awkward.

“My children have even been photographed inside the car. We pulled up at lights outside Ocean Park, and a tourist bus pulled up next to us. Suddenly flashbulbs started popping and we realized there was a surge of people on the bus taking pictures of my two children asleep in the back of the car. It was unbelievable.”

It’s all rather over-dramatic and slightly ugly. Privileged white people complaining about Mainland Chinese — who may well have lived through The Great Leap Forward’s epic famine and the Cultural Revolution and who are only allowed to have one child themselves — enjoying a vacation in Hong Kong, a day at the beach, and delighting in your children. The horror!

Yes, I know, strangers take pictures of your children can be annoying (my daughter resorted to hiding her hair and face in a hooded jacket to avoid it in Hangzhou recently), but please don’t be hysterical. You are fortunate. You live in one of the most expensive housing areas in Hong Kong (after The Peak). If you are out in public, people — gasp! even Mainland Chinese people — may talk to you and take pictures.

Thank god, the article concludes with some reasonable thoughts. A teacher originally from Guangdong province says:

“Don’t be too worried… Most tourists are just curious. For the Chinese, taking pictures of children does not have the same sinister connotations that it does for Westerners.”

And similarly sage thoughts are shared from another Western expat:

“[W]hen I have travelled in South America and Asia, I have taken photos of locals. Pictures are just a part of traveling.”

13 responses to “The Horror! Of Chinese Mainlanders, right here in Repulse Bay!

  1. Pingback: Hundreds of mainland helpers to arrive within months, report says | Bonus Republic·

  2. Maybe they’re just interested in people who live in a place called Repulse Bay. I’d certainly like to know more about these creatures; are they called Repulsers? The Repelled?

    Seriously, does the name mean something less repellant in the local lingo?

  3. A few years ago me and my toddler had a similar “horror” encounter with “Chinese” turists at the Beijing’s Summer Palace, I literally couldn’t fan off a group of youg men snapping pictures at my child. And we are 100% Chinese, no dyed blonde hair either. It was indeed repulsive, but is it because I’m a bit too “westernized”?

    • The very persistent photo-takers can be rather annoying. I try to keep these photo-taking interactions positive (and use them to practice my Chinese!), but I do know it can be tiresome.

      As for your Summer Palace experience: I suspect your toddler is simply exceptionally 可爱!

  4. You know why ‘us foreigners’ do this, don’t you – it provides a kind of base for mutual arrogance with some of those around us.

    Like when Singaporeans or Taiwanese come to Shanghai (nothing against either group and this is a generalisation) and try to make it as clear as possible to white people that “eur, look at the horrible behaviour of the locals, ‘us civilised people’ don’t do that”

    Then the Western person they are with agrees, and they all enjoy some back-slaps and the warm feeling of belonging. If you have nothing in common with someone and are not real friends – at least you can both be snobbish together!

    And as you say it’s a totally classic expat-ism – complaining about the people whose country you are visiting. “This wouldn’t happen in Haughton-upon-Thames you know!”

    • I often feel bad for the Mainland Chinese; Hongkongers, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, overseas Chinese, even Shanghaiese all trying to distance themselves by talking about what a bunch of hillbillies they are. When you have 1.3 billion people, yes, there are going to be some losers in the bunch. I’m just lucky most Americans don’t actually have passports so the rest of the world can’t see our dirty-underwear as close up. Big groups of Chinese tourists can be hard to take (same as big groups of American tourists).

      And you’re totally right about it being a way of bonding over being superior to others. I myself can think of times I’ve been guilty of this (but not in the same context).

  5. Taking a picture is VERY different from reaching out to pat your child on the head or arm or, well I’ll stop there. Even teaching in Shenzhen, students (ranging in ages from 12-18) would tiptoe behind me and delight in the fact that they found a non-“yellow haired, blue eyed” US citizen to poke.
    At the same time, although I rarely deliberately take photos of locals when traveling, the Chinese get overzealous about trying to stop me, yet the ones doing just that are meanwhile whipping out their 智能手机, absolved of the foreigner doing what we’re just going to copy them doing contradiction.
    Your post also reminded me of an event my teaching program was invited to see in 2006, at a Guangzhou stadium. I couldn’t go, but everyone in my group was told not to take their cameras/mobiles, even though the Chinese snapped away.

    Since you mention southern HK island, what’s the status of the MTR being extended to Aberdeen? Still just artist renderings?

    • I haven’t heard a peep about the Aberdeen MTR line, so I assume it’s still a fantasy.

      I’ll readily admit that even the photo-taking can be annoying, but it’s kind of a minor annoyance, not something to hysterical about. Sometimes I wonder if the Chinese are so tired of living with so many rules in some areas of their lives (one child, internet censorship, one party) that they just let loose in all the other areas they can (as a kind of “fuck you”).

  6. Funny that you judge people for their arrogance when in fact you also put a good amount of it on display. Those stupid locals, what’s their problem with mainlanders anyway? What’s so bad about feeling like a second-class citizen in your own city, right? Go back to your favorite SoHo hangout and keep living in your little expat bubble, that’s fine, but don’t write about things you don’t understand.

    • I know this is a sensitive topic for many Hongkongers. I try to make fun of myself, other expats, Mainlanders and HKers all in equal measure (hopefully poking fun at myself a bit more than the rest). But you do make a fair point and I have modified the first sentence of the post, which was too harsh. Though, for the record I would never call a local ‘stupid.’ Myself and my fellow Americans maybe, but not a local.

      Over-and-out from my home-stopping grounds of Tai Po. Far from the bright lights to Soho… Cheers, Jen

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