Chinese tourists are no worse than Indian tourists. Yet, catch the Indian government issuing guidelines to them on how to behave, the way the Chinese government has! On the eve of the week-long National Day holiday that began on October 1, the new tourism rules were passed. Aimed at protecting the rights of tourists, they prescribe a long list of duties for tourist agencies, but some for tourists too, including observing public order, respecting “social morality and abiding by the norms of civilized tourist behaviour’’.
It’s easy to understand where the behaviour of the average Chinese tourist is coming from. Rapid urbanization and rising incomes have turned villagers into high flyers. So plane toilets may have tissues stuffed in the wrong places and flights may have passengers nonchalantly calling across to one another. Actually, with many flights within China being turbulent, the loud laughter and gossip of fellow passengers become reassuring. Besides, one is used to loud voices everywhere, be it in restaurants or panda reserves, where silence has to be the norm if one doesn’t want to scare away the cute animals.
This diarist once saw a woman eating a snack in a security queue at an international airport right till she reached the counter, at which point she quickly wiped her fingers and handed over a rather greasy passport for stamping. In the showpiece high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing, four passengers were travelling on two tickets. Kids below a certain age can travel free; so two little boys were made to sit on the floor at the feet of their mother and grandmother, who occupied the seats. This would be common in a second-class unreserved compartment in India, but in a prestigious train? The train attendant discreetly looked the other way as the boys played on the floor.
During the ‘Golden Week’ holiday, which ended recently, millions were out sightseeing. The press was full of reports about the chaos that marks the holiday every year — 4,000 stranded in a national park which sold too many tickets; one group abandoned by their guides when they refused to pay exorbitant rates for lunch at a “No. One’’ tourist spot. Five tonnes of garbage were left after more than one lakh Chinese withstood the rain to watch the flag raising ceremony on National Day at Tienanmen Square, but compare this with eight tonnes last year and 19 tonnes in 2005. China Daily has a photo-feature on badly-behaved tourists: a man picking nuts from a ginkgo tree as his tour guide and group look on; children posing for their indulgent parents on the laps of old statues or lying down on historic urns. But most of the ‘misconduct’ comprises kids playing around on the giant structures that now dot all tourist sites, many of them ugly sculptures of crocodiles, lobsters, and the like. Children scrambling all over them is probably the best use to which they can be put.
All the fuss about badly behaved Chinese tourists can be traced to two sources: the constant cribbing by Hong Kong residents who hate the mainland hordes who descend on their little island at every chance; and a recent incident wherein a Chinese teen etched his name on a statue in an ancient Egyptian temple in Luxor that became a national embarrassment. The boy’s parents publicly apologized. Hong Kong papers last week carried pictures of mainlanders seated on shop awnings and on the waterfront, newspapers under and all around them; and horror of horrors, peeling fruit on a bench in the hallowed Times Square. Alas, their economy can’t do without their country cousins’ splurging; on an average, the latter spend 6,000 HK $ per person per day. And despite everything, Europe is laying down the red carpet for the supposedly boorish visitors, with brochures in Mandarin and even shop assistants trained to speak the language.