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City tours are no means exclusively for foreigners. Locals can explore Hong Kong through CityWalker@IA, another city tour group for those who love to go off the beaten track. The group targets locals and, on occasion, visitors from the mainland.

The founder, Sze Tak-on, is a sociology postgraduate and teaching assistant at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Sze is so into local culture that he encourages youngsters to care about their city by visiting local communities and talking to the residents. Sze hopes the youngsters can observe local culture and different ways of living and, ultimately, share their experiences with their friends.

“Wanchai is like a friend, and you introduce this friend to your other friends,” the 26-year-old says. The group offers two types of free tours: “City-walking Tours” and the “Country Tours”. The former involves walking around districts in urban areas like Sham Shui Po and Choi Hung while the latter is all about country parks and rural areas like Choi Yuen Village, which is being demolished to make way for the controversial Express Rail link.

The group has been taking tours to Guangzhou as well since last year. Participants   can explore the development of the art scene in Hong Kong’s neighbouring province, which Sze says is “more successful than in Hong Kong”.

They conducted their first city tour in July 2009. Unlike Secret Tour Hong Kong which takes participants to different districts in a day, Sze and other core members of the group take participants to just one particular district or spot. Participants are encouraged to take the initiative to approach residents and talk to them during the five-hour visit. At the end of the tour, they have to share their ideas with other participants.

Sze emphasises the interaction between participants and residents. He recalls making friends and chatting with residents in Kut Hing Wai during their first visit. The residents invited participants into their own gardens and even acted as tour guides for the following visit.

After more than a year of operation, Sze is pleased to see the increasing number of youngsters showing concern about Hong Kong’s land and city planning problems. These are the issues he wanted to address from the beginning of the venture.

Sze organised a tour to Choi Yuen Village during the first phase of land clearance there. During the tour, a student participant wrote on a wall – after leaping over fences to get into the construction area – “Construction workers, please be gentle when you demolish (the wall).”

Sze hopes the village tours will make people think about how vulnerable Hong Kong’s disappearing village life is. “We can let participants see a beautiful village and a village that has been destroyed. They can then reflect on how city dwellers should live (and help protect their environment).”