Light-fingered travellers

I was tickled pink by a recent article by Qianjiang Evening News, a Chinese publication, which told of a group of Chinese passengers who pilfered 30 sets of stainless steel tableware onboard a Singapore Airlines flight.

The English version can be found here on the South China Morning Post site. When the flight attendants demanded the return of those tableware, the Chinese passengers refused, claiming that relatives who had flown with the Singapore carrier had managed to keep the same items as souvenirs. So somewhere in China are people with sacred collections of Singapore Airlines tableware.

I wonder if Singapore Airlines is secretly proud of having such determined fans.

Anyway, the incident ended with the tour guide of the group reprimanding these light-fingered tourists, who eventually surrendered their loot .

“Stop hurting the reputation of Chinese people,’’ the tour guide was reported to have said.

The reputation argument is a most poignant one, as it was only recently that a message in Mandarin – “Ding Jinhao was here” – was found cut into a wall of the ancient Luxor Temple in Egypt. The vile graffiti was later traced to a 15-year-old Chinese boy.

While my immediate reaction is to click my tongue in disapproval of these socially-backward, self-centred tourists from China, I must remember that the majority of these travellers are still ‘amateur’ tourists, new to the fine art of travelling with grace.

Most travellers start off this way – bringing their behaviours from home to their holiday destination. The more they travel, they more they will learn social etiquette acceptable in an international society, and the better behaved they will be.

Well, at least one could hope for such a progression!

I’ve been reminded by older friends in the tourism trade that Singaporeans started out pretty much the same way too – pocketing airline cutlery and loose items from hotel rooms whenever possible, poking and squeezing fresh fruit at farmers markets to check for freshness, much to the chagrin of sellers who were left with bruised fruit that can no longer be sold.

It took Singaporeans decades and several generations to become more graceful travellers, although there are still disgraceful ones, such as this young couple who caused damages totaling S$1,300 after staying at a Taiwanese homestay inn in June this year.

China is huge, with many rural towns that are far removed from metropolitan city behaviour although the disposable income of its people is rising. It may take the general Chinese population the same length of time to mature in their ways.

Then again, with word that the Chinese government may implement social etiquette classes to guide their citizens on good behaviour while travelling overseas, destinations that are popular with the Chinese may get some relief sooner than expected.

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