A video clip showing a quarrel between several mainland tourists and local Hong Kong residents on a subway train in the special administrative region has unexpectedly become an Internet hit.
The squabble was sparked by what most mainlanders would consider a trivial matter - mothers feeding their children instant noodles on the subway, oblivious to the no-food-and-drink rule that local passengers abide by.
However, on a scale of fierceness the quarrel was no match for what I see almost daily on Beijing streets. There were raised voices, but no extremely vile words were used. And there were no severe consequences. The dispute ended after a subway employee intervened.
But since the video was posted online, tens of thousands of netizens have left comments. The event hit the local media headlines, and Sohu, one of China's largest news portals, posted the clip on its front page.
It has become a symbol of the "culture clash" between Hong Kong and the mainland.
Internet users from the mainland overwhelmingly pointed to Hong Kong residents' sense of superiority - something that was routinely felt by the less wealthy mainlanders when they visited Hong Kong before its return to the motherland in 1997 - only a very few took a neutral stand, noting that mainland tourists should learn to behave themselves while Hong Kong people should be more tolerant and not overact.
I would no doubt have reacted in the same way as most of my mainland compatriots if I had not lived in Hong Kong for five years. In fact, I was expecting to experience discrimination when I was first sent to the city in 2000 to work for the local bureau of our newspaper.
After all, I had experienced not so subtle discrimination in big cities such as Shanghai where I could not speak the local dialects. Given Hong Kong's history as a British colony for more than 150 years, what more could I expect?
Yet my fears never materialized. Instead, my five years living and working in Hong Kong are some of my most pleasant memories. Instead of enmity and discrimination, I was shown hospitality and care by the local people, who were always polite and ready to help.
Looking back, I am still moved by the heart-warming moments when I was helped by people on the street, in banks or in department stores. Mandarin was never a hindrance. Once when I was riding on a double-decker bus, a local Cantonese-speaking resident, after learning of my mainland background, asked me to correct his Mandarin pronunciation.
There is no denying that the manners and etiquette of some visitors from the mainland do not meet the standards set by the local Hong Kong residents. But poor manners are considered only a nuisance. Their real gripe comes from the fact that greater spending power enjoyed by many from the mainland has in some way hurt the Hong Kong people's self-esteem and quality of life.
It was a loss of pride that prompted Hong Kong people to take on the street to protest against D&G after the Italian luxury brand banned locals from taking photos of its shop front while allowing wealthy mainland customers to do so. And as rich mainlanders snap up properties, Hong Kong residents are also feeling the pinch of rising housing costs.
While the mainland's growing wealth has been a boon to the Hong Kong economy, Hong Kong people are feeling an increasing sense of loss as the city loses its edge as the only gateway of the mainland to the outside world. Its status as a global shipping and financial center is facing intense competition from mainland cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen. There has been heated debate about how Hong Kong should reposition itself now that the mainland has opened up on an unprecedented scale to the world.
The verbal sparring on the subway was sparked not by Hong Kong residents' sense of superiority, but rather by their growing sense of inferiority.
The author is a senior writer with China Daily.