Angry crowd gathers as hawker arrested

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2011, 12:00am


The arrest of a 74-year-old man in Tai Hang yesterday for illegally hawking egg waffles sparked a protest by dozens of bystanders and residents.

Ng Yuk-fai, a popular local figure known to residents as 'the old egg waffle man', has been selling the Hong Kong-style treat to students and residents for more than 30 years.

His arrest eventually involved about 30 officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the police, as reinforcements arrived to deal with a growing crowd of angry supporters of the hawker in Tung Lo Wan Road.

Bystanders and residents asked the officers why the elderly man was being targeted while hawkers selling pirated discs and other products in the same area were left undisturbed.

Some bystanders hurled insults at the officers, one shouting: 'Give the old man a break. At least he's making his own living and not collecting social security.'

It was the third time Ng had been arrested in a week, and the tenth time since early February that Sam Cheuk Cheung-sam, manager of the restaurant outside which Ng was arrested yesterday, had seen him arrested or led away.

'The arrests are getting more and more frequent. He never got in anyone's way, he's only trying to make a living,' Cheuk said.

Neighbour Janice Hung Man-yin said: 'There aren't many who sell egg waffles baked on charcoal stoves these days. They taste better.'

Ng was fined HK$800 each time he was arrested and his cart was confiscated. He had to spend HK$2,000 each time to rebuild it, Hung said.

'He has to pay the fines, so he has to work,' she said. 'Now he works and he's arrested again.'

She was concerned for Ng's welfare and had talked to him before he was taken away yesterday. 'He told me they didn't make any verbal warning before arresting him.'

Hygiene officers arrived at about 11.15am to arrest Ng. Hung said nine surrounded him and one videotaped the process. Cheuk said Ng was just setting up when the officers arrived and 'hadn't even started selling'.

As bystanders gathered and the atmosphere became increasingly heated, more than 20 police officers arrived to control the crowd. Cheuk estimated the crowd had grown to about 100 people.

At one point, Ng sat down on the steps at the entrance to a building and took out two tickets, showing he still had fines to pay. He said he refused to accept social welfare.

A more senior hygiene officer arrived at 1pm and Ng was taken away after struggling with the officers. His cart was confiscated.

A department spokesman said officers dealt with illegal food hawkers strictly to ensure the hygiene of food and the environment.

'FEHD officers are reasonably exercising their rights and there is no selective law enforcement,' he said.

Ng had been arrested five times this year for illegally selling food, the spokesman said. Each time he had been told it was necessary to arrest him without warning to protect food and environmental hygiene. Verbal warnings only applied to those selling products other than food, he said.

Ng, a native of Zhaozhou, Guangdong, who migrated to Hong Kong in 1958, has been selling the local delicacy for decades to support his family. He has four children, all now adults.

Some people at the scene urged officers to check hawkers selling accessories outside a nearby MTR exit. 'If they arrest Ng, they should arrest them, too,' Hung said. She later found that officers only evicted them.

An anti-hawker operation in Central in 2009 also provoked public outrage. In July that year, the department dropped charges of obstruction against four shoe-shiners following a public outcry. With lawmakers' aid, the four were eventually granted licences in December that year.