Parade turns into a political bun fight

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2012, 12:00am


For an island of just 30,000 people, Cheung Chau certainly knows how to throw a bun fight.

An estimated 70,000 people ferried over to the small island yesterday for the culmination of week-long celebrations that hark back to traditions of the 19th century.

A former pirate stronghold, Cheung Chau's Jiao festival includes an afternoon parade and a midnight bun-scrambling competition.

The Taoist festival is meant to appease the spirits of islanders who died in a plague in 1894 and to pay homage to Pak Tai, the island's patron deity who protects fishermen.

Thousands of onlookers lined the narrow alleyways of the weekend getaway destination to catch a glimpse of lion dances and 'floating gods' - floats with children immaculately made up in costumes, some with a political twist.

A five-year-old boy was dressed to look like Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, holding aloft his wife with an aeroplane, a luxury boat and a block of flats, all references to recent scandals that have hit the outgoing leader.

Another float represented chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying and the mainland government, calling for better co-operation between Hong Kong and Beijing.

On the Hing Lung Street committee float, the message was about the need to close the gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong, with four-year-old Ken Chow Lok-hin in a gold costume, representing the wealthiest residents.

He was supporting a girl dressed in red, symbolising the children of Hong Kong and its future.

'Ken was in the parade last year and he asked to be in it again this year,' said Ken's mother. 'He thinks it's beautiful and he likes people to watch the float he is on.'

About 400 police provided crowd control as the 22 floats wound their way around Cheung Chau.

Two of the floats were carried in the traditional manner on the shoulders of four people.

And buns were doing a roaring trade yesterday after last year's controversial decision by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to ban stamping of the buns outdoors, which created a shortage.

Kwok Kam-chuen, owner of Kwok Kam Kee cake shop, did not open last year in protest.

But this year he did the stamping in a new indoor preparation area, a few doors down from his shop, and was kept busy with about 60,000 buns going through the steamers.

Filled with lotus paste, red bean or white sesame, the buns cost HK$7 each, despite a 10 per cent rise in costs for ingredients such as sugar and flour. 'I needed to raise prices, but I decided not to because I want to keep the tourists happy,' Kwok, 62, said. Twenty-five-year-old Jacky Au was watching the parade for the first time despite growing up in Hong Kong.

'It's unique and I feel like I'm learning about my own Hong Kong culture,' said the clerk from Sheung Shui.

The festival weekend is the busiest time for the island, with many of its guest houses fully booked weeks in advance.

The island's only big hotel, the Warwick Hotel was full and rooms were priced from HK$1,760 to HK$2,360 per night.