Final preparations take place for the Lunar New Year market rush

The 'grass mud horse' will be the must-have item at Victoria Park, while toys, flowers and traditional festive fruit will be on offer across the city

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 4:02am

Retailers were chomping at the bit last night as they made final preparations for the Year of the Horse festive markets that open at noon today in various parks across the city.

Expect to see plenty of horse-themed stalls at the annual gatherings where shoppers can pick up festive flowers and plenty more besides. From toilet paper bearing the face of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to African drums, to toys for four-legged friends, the Victoria Park market will have plenty to offer.

The "grass mud horse" - a mythical creature and anti-censorship symbol with an obscene Chinese name - will feature prominently in the form of hand warmers, cushions and stuffed toys.

At a stall run by City University students, the Post counted at least seven versions of grass mud horses on sale. One of the students, Dekki Lai, said the group had invested HK$40,000 in the stall, including HK$28,000 on rent, and they expect their stuffed toys to be a hit.

If your new year's wish is to get rich quick, Ray Chong and his friends are selling 600 key rings that feature a horse with a dollar bill on top - a literal representation of "money-on-top-of-horse", which sounds the same as "get rich quick" in Chinese.

Ban Go Go, a 60-year old drummer, said he hopes to bring some alternative rhythm to the fair with his stall selling drums, shakers and djembes.

A few chose to make subtle statements. Kelvin Leung, one of the owners of the "Catch the Leading Horse" stall, said some might get the hidden message behind the phrase normally used to offer good luck. "It also means to have Leung Chun-ying - the leading horse of Hong Kong - caught," he said.

WeChat, the most popular mobile messaging app on the mainland, is represented at the fair this year for the first time, with two booths where visitors can shake out virtual fortune-telling sticks.

The average rent for stalls at Victoria Park has risen at least 15 per cent compared to last year, both dry-goods vendors and flower sellers say.

Flowers are more expensive this year as a result of a stronger currency on the mainland, where most are grown, and rising transport costs, according to sellers.

Eva Tsang, a mandarin tree seller who has been coming to the market at Victoria Park for the past decade, said her overall costs had risen 40 per cent this year.

"But old customers still ask for old prices," she said. "I will have to see how much money I can make this year to decide if I will still come next year."

She said she had invested more than HK$100,000 in her stand this year, HK$40,000 of which went on rent.

June Chong, who sells orchids and lilies, said transport costs were particularly high this year. She also blamed the heavy snow that destroyed some flower crops in Kunming in December for pushing up the price of fresh flowers from the area.

The markets will take place in a total of 15 parks and playgrounds until the early hours of January 31, the first day of the lunar new year.