Mainland visitors get a schizophrenic message from Hong Kong. On one side of the streets, a political group waving national flags and blasting music to welcome them; while across the street another group yells insults and tells them to go home.
Global Times saw one such scene in a crowded shopping district in Causeway Bay. Dozens of members from two opposing political groups, the pro-mainland Voice of Loving Hong Kong and the anti-mainland People Power, yelled at each other. But it's one that's been repeated over and over again in Hong Kong in recent months.
The concern behind this confusing message is the rising number of mainland tourists in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). The city hosted some 35 million tourists from the mainland in 2012, almost six times its entire population.
The increasing number of mainland tourists has contributed to the city's economic growth. But it has led to a series of social problems such as a shortage of baby formula, mothers flocking to Hong Kong to give birth and claiming residence for their babies, and unpleasant behavior on both sides, from mainlanders eating in the subway to Hongkongers flinging racist insults at visitors.
Some Hongkongers refer to mainland visitors as "locusts," seeing them as a swarm of ravenous insects that will devour the orderly society the islands have built.
Seventeen years after Hong Kong was returned to China, the gap between citizens of the former British colony and those from the mainland seems to be widening.
On February 16, some 100 Hongkongers from the People Power group marched through Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon, a luxury shopping area favored by many mainland tourists, calling for mainlanders to "go back to China" and demanding that the Hong Kong government take measures to stop them from visiting.
Local government officials condemned the action. "We have zero tolerance if such events happen again," Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in a press conference. "I believe such behavior belongs to only a few extremists and surely doesn't represent the majority's opinions and values." Still, many mainland tourists said their feelings were hurt.
The People Power group refused an interview request.
"Hongkongers' attitudes toward mainlanders have changed in recent years," a Hong Kong reporter surnamed Hong told the Global Times. "They used to see mainlanders like brothers, now they see them as neighbors."
"Their attitudes now is 'mind your own business, don't bother me,'" she added. Many Hongkongers see mainlanders as a burden. Mainland travelers almost emptied Hong Kong's milk powder stock after a milk formula scandal in 2008 that caused infant deaths across the country. The SAR government eventually issued a rule that no more than two cans per person could be taken out of the region.
The Hong Kong government also introduced a "zero-birth quota" policy to stop mainland women from giving birth in Hong Kong to gain citizenship. According to official statistics, over 43,000 mainland mothers gave birth in 2011 in Hong Kong. Many Hongkongers believe this strained its healthcare system.
The increasing number of mainland immigrants to Hong Kong also has been worrying Hongkongers. Since the hand-over, an average of 150 mainlanders have moved to Hong Kong on a daily basis, about 54,000 per year.
According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Education in 2012, more than 50 percent of 1,000 respondents said they want to see a reduction of mainland immigrants.
From the mainlanders' point of view, Hong Kong is like a prodigal son. If he doesn't show respect to his father, he should be punished. But from Hongkongers' point of view, Hong Kong is like a brother to the mainland, and they took care of their little mainland brother when he was financially challenged.
Local taxi driver Lau Tsui complained that mainland buyers are to blame for the Hong Kong housing bubble. In 1983, he earned HK$6,000 ($770) a month but managed to buy a 40 square-meter house with HK$220,000. Today his 33-year-old son, who earns over HK$40,000 a month, cannot afford a house.
"I think it is because some crazily rich mainlanders can buy a few apartments at one time," he told the Global Times.
During interviews, some people said they respected Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, some called him a "wolf," and a few wanted to give up the "One country, two systems" principle and called for Hong Kong independence. Political groups are using the "Occupy Central" movement to pressure the central government to implement universal suffrage.
Cheung Chi-kong, a non-official member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, told the Global Times that he hopes mainlanders should show some understanding of Hongkongers' frustration.
"There is nothing in the world that only has advantages and no disadvantages," he said.