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Chinese compete for "worst tourist" label

Influx of visitors from mainland China provokes culture clash at Taiwan's tourist sites.

Members of a Qipao club from Shanghai, China, watch an honor guard performance during a tour of the Sun Yat-sen memorial in Taipei, April 22, 2009. (Nicky Loh/Reuters)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — They deface Taiwan's scenic rock formations. They spit in public, cut in line and talk too loud.

And to top it off, some even take shelter from the rain — and smoke cigarettes! — inside one of Taiwan's "sacred trees."

A year after the island threw open its doors to Chinese tourist groups, Taiwan has a long list of complaints.

Chinese tourists were supposed to give Taiwan's sagging economy a much-needed jolt, and help increase exchanges and mutual understanding between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

But whatever economic benefits they've brought have been canceled out by the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, the Chinese tourists' habits have gotten on many people's nerves.

"Since Chinese tourists began coming here, not as many English- or Japanese-speaking people visit anymore, because Chinese people have some bad attitudes and habits," said Chris Lin, a 25-year-old who answers phones and helps foreign guests at the Alishan National Park, a scenic mountain area and one of the island's top tourist draws.

"They litter, smoke and talk loudly, and some people don't like it. Actually, most people don't like it."

Alishan was the site of the latest outrage. The park includes a much-beloved "sacred tree" that's said to be some 3,000 years old, and is hollowed out by the ravages of time. In May, Taiwan TV stations broadcast footage of Chinese tourists smoking and waiting out a downpour inside the tree.

To be sure, not everyone's unhappy. Some Taiwanese hotel managers are happy to see visitor numbers up, and downplay the complaints.

The tourism bureau recently reported that some 365,000 Chinese tourists visited in the first half of this year. The bureau said each Chinese tourist spent an average of $295 per day, helping drive up 2008 tourism revenue nearly 14 percent year-on-year, to about $6 billion.

Others here say Taiwanese just need to give Chinese more time to learn to curb inappropriate behaviors while traveling abroad.

Taiwan holds special allure for many Chinese, who learn about top scenic sites in school, and call Taiwan their "treasure island" (or bao dao — a term that causes eye-rolling among pro-independence Taiwanese).