Buddhist Holidays

Revellers flock to Cheung Chau to chase evil spirits off island

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2009, 12:00am


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Bun Festival revellers on Cheung Chau appeared unfazed by the threat of an H1N1 epidemic as islanders kicked off the annual traditional festivities yesterday.

Islands District councillor and festival organiser Yung Chi-ming said: 'We on Cheung Chau are not scared of epidemics. The Bun Festival is about chasing away evil spirits and plagues. We have people praying for good luck.

'Cheung Chau was fine during Sars in 2003. I'm not worried now.'

Even so, event organisers and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department teamed up to sanitise the island by washing the streets before festivities began, Mr Yung said.

Exuberant tourists and spectators poured into Cheung Chau yesterday as ceremonies for the annual bun festival began. Today's bun-scrambling competition - a highlight where contestants scale a 14-metre tower covered with buns - is held on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, locally regarded as the birthday of Buddha. Visitor numbers this year surged because the festival coincides with the three-day Labour Day weekend, Mr Yung and business owners said.

Most holiday homes had been rented out yesterday despite prices double the normal rate, and many local shopkeepers tried to cash in on the event by selling festive souvenirs.

'Business on the island has tripled over previous years. We will make at least 10,000 buns today,' said Kwok Kam-chuen, owner of the Kwok Kam Kee Cakeshop, as he worked to cater to long lines of customers. Mr Kwok, who has been making the buns for over 30 years, has been looking forward to the holiday bringing in more revenue, after the financial crisis brought a 20 per cent drop in his daily business.

The threat of the H1N1 virus and the financial meltdown have not dampened business for Douglas Poon Ka-long, owner of the local design firm Studio 8.5, who has been designing products to sell during the carnival for four years. 'More people are coming to the island as travellers opt for internal trips for the three-day holiday instead of leaving the city.'

Souvenirs this year include bun-themed marshmallows, small helium balloons, T-shirts and key chains.

Event organisers will start giving out 1,500 tickets at 10pm for spectators to view the bun-snatching race at Pak Tai sports ground - which begins at 11.30pm tonight. The traditional parade will start at 2pm. Eateries have agreed to adhere to a vegetarian diet to show 'sincerity to the deities', Mr Yung said.

The schedule

2pm today Bun Festival Parade starts

10pm Organisers begin giving out tickets for the bun-scrambling competition

11.30pm The bun scramble begins

12.25am tomorrow Festivities end