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Instagram tourists test patience of Hong Kong locals

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Hong Kong's unique urban aesthetics are a big draw for Instagram fans
Hong Kong's unique urban aesthetics are a big draw for Instagram fans -
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AFP
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For smartphone-wielding hordes of tourists, Hong Kong boasts a host of must-have Instagram locations — but crowds of snap-happy travellers are testing the patience of locals and transforming once quaint pockets of the bustling metropolis.

Critics also say the crowds of Instagrammers romanticise poverty in what is the world's least affordable property market.

Tony Hui recalled how elderly residents always used to play cards in the central courtyard of the densely packed housing block where he owns a dry cleaning store.

The buildings in Hong Kong's Quarry Bay are one of the city's best known residential complexes, famed for tightly-knit apartments towering above three sides of a thin courtyard.

But in recent years, daily throngs of tourists have relegated the card players to a dark corner of the courtyard.

"You might say the elderly have made way for the photo takers' convenience, to not get in their way," Hui told AFP.

While the building had long been a draw for street photographers and architecture enthusiasts, social media has helped turn it into a mass tourist attraction, fuelled by it featuring as a location in a recent Transformers blockbuster and the remake of the Japanese manga classic Ghost in the Shell.

A sign warning against shooting photos and disturbing residents did little to deter the chic travellers, who form an orderly line for the coveted spot in the middle of symmetrical blocks.

A high-end café opened in November to cater to this new market – its sleek interiors and bright lighting a stark contrast to the neighbourhood shops and the public housing towers above.

Other Instagram hotspots have proven more chaotic. A mural by local graffiti artist Alex Croft featuring rows of tenement houses draws a constant stream of tourists to the steeply sloping Graham Street in downtown Central district.

Taxis and cars honk restlessly as the tourists — primarily from mainland China, South Korea and Taiwan but also Western nations — spill into the road to get their ideal frame.

For some nearby shops, the heavy foot traffic means good business — evident in the lines outside a famous egg tart store and a dumpling house for those need of a refuel.

But for the director of a popular pub directly opposite the mural, the sheer number of people has "got out of hand".

"We have seen a few people hit by cars and vans on Graham but they tend to be the Instagrammers who are transfixed on taking photos," The Globe's Toby Cooper told AFP.

"Their saving grace is the sharp corner – vehicles entering Graham Street are going slowly. As far as I'm aware, none of my customers have been hit by cars, yet."

Across the harbour, tourists have taken over the basketball courts surrounded by the now iconic rainbow-coloured housing estate in the district of Choi Hung, which means rainbow in Cantonese.

Korean boy band Seventeen shot a music video at the courts and the location is now being promoted by the government's tourism bureau.

One 14-year-old resident, who gave his name as Yik, said he now worries about racking up a bill when he shoots hoops.

"I once accidentally hit someone's phone," he said.