The day the music died in Mong Kok

New rule brings an end to weekday festivities in busy city pedestrian area

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 January, 2014, 3:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 January, 2014, 1:34pm

Street performers in Mong Kok gave their final weekday show last night.

With the opening hours of the pedestrian zone where they performed now shortened to weekends and holidays, regular performers are looking for a new place to play.

"Mong Kok is the main place for street performance in Hong Kong," said Tony Lui Yuet-tin, who has played there for more than two years. "This is a tragedy. The culture was just budding."

The change in hours for the zone at Sai Yeung Choi Street South came after residents and shop owners complained of noise and crowds and the district council voted to support opening the street to traffic on weekdays.

SMS, Lui's three-member band, has played to more than 100 people every night except Fridays from 6pm to 10pm. Lui and other performers sought help from lawmakers, they protested, and met the district council in the hope of keeping the zone's original opening hours. But all was in vain.

They also proposed a licensing system to regulate performers, but it was not adopted.

Lui said that while he was worried about the loss of income from audience donations, they were not playing for the money.

"It's for our attitude in music. We sing every day and we feel uncomfortable when we don't sing," he said.

Lui and his fellow band members have been looking for an alternative venue, but are committed to Mong Kok, having signed a two-year contract on a flat there to store their equipment. They are planning to try playing on a pedestrian bridge in the area on Monday.

Lam Fat, a member of another band, 3L, said he was disappointed that the government did not consider their views. "We have several dozen fans who always come by to dance or chat, and passers-by who stop and listen to us," he said.

Lam's band usually played on Thursday to Saturday nights, but now they will have to switch to Saturday and Sunday nights.

But Sai Yeung Choi Street is not all about fun and music. The politics of street performing is a rough-and-tumble game.

Street performer and self-proclaimed karaoke queen Sally Wong, 60, is happy about the new restriction as she says it will reduce the number of performers in the area and will provide a "cleaner" environment.

"This place has become a hot spot for quarrels between performers trying to outperform or play louder than others," she said. "There is also a lot of bullying by bigger groups. They don't let us small performers use the space and they sometimes call triads to scare us away."

Local business owners are also happy about the new rules.

"A road is to facilitate movement for cars or people from one place to another, not to set up stalls," said Ricky Chan Chau-ming, chief operations operator of Brighter Optical Centre in Sai Yeung Choi Street.

He said he was not worried about reduced pedestrian traffic.

"Doing business isn't about putting yourself where traffic flow is. That reasoning is used only by property agents to charge higher rents," he said.

But student Ash Wong, 19, was disappointed by the restrictions.

"When people think of Mong Kok, they think of street performers," he said. "It's … part of the cultural fabric of the area."

Indonesian tourist Dian Lubis agreed. "I've been to Hong Kong 15 times and I love its vibrancy. It's sad to see this area close [on weekdays] as I like listening to live English music very much."