The man was bent double beneath the weight of two suitcases. 'That's my pitch you're on. Move over or there's going to be a scene,' he said. The smiling, bare-chested hawker crouching over a single open briefcase of $35 'made in the UK' Parker pens nodded, closed the case and hurried on to find another space. This was the first time he had come to the market and he was not going to push his luck; it would also be his last. The event variously known as the Gurkha market, the Friday market and the Sek Kong market, was open for business for the last time on Friday. The man selling the 'Parkers' had, like almost 100 other unlicensed hawkers, come along to get a slice of what would inevitably be the biggest purse in the event's 17-year history. 'Normally the crowd is around 2,500 but we're expecting at least 5,000 today,' said Flight-Lieutenant Paul Rice, who has been supervising the event for the past 10 months. It was 9.15am. Within two hours, about 300 hawkers, including 181 official traders who pay an annual $450 licence fee to set up a stall, and 8,000 shoppers, were milling around the shady roads and footpaths of Cheung Chau Court, the married quarters estate near the RAF base at Sek Kong. When the estate opened in 1979 a few hawkers, spotting an obvious business opportunity, set up stall. By 1982, the numbers had swelled to the point that the RAF felt some control was necessary and instigated a system of licensing, a clean-up operation and formalised the market into its present form. 'We are not in the business of making money,' said Lieutenant Rice. 'The licence was levied to pay for a cleaning contractor to return the site to its usual pristine condition. The place is always left in a real mess. 'Licences have been issued on an annual basis and the majority of traders, each of which has their own pitch, have attended for many years. 'As far as I am aware this is the only market in the world run by the RAF. Obviously this is not the sort of thing the military does naturally. 'I'm not sure it would happen anywhere else; there would be a question of public liability,' he said. 'But it's a good day all round. The atmosphere is more like a fair and the grassy, tree-lined surroundings are very pleasant. 'We decided to make this the last market day because the hawkers are licensed from August 31 to August 31.' Sek Kong station closes in December and many of the servicemen's families have started leaving. While the event is known throughout Hong Kong as the Gurkha market, all of the licensed traders are Chinese, and none sell Nepali products. 'I suppose the market got its name because at first it was the wives of Gurkha soldiers who used to frequent it,' said Lieutenant Rice. Today the Gurkha wives are in a minority; tourists account for many of the visitors and the 8.30am to noon market has become a regular morning out for people throughout Hong Kong. 'I've been in Hong Kong since 1978 and have been coming for years,' said Noelene Hill of Tai Po, who was laden with bunches of artificial flowers. 'In the past two months I have been about three times. It's much better than the other markets in Hong Kong.' Benindra Limbu, the wife of Gurkha Signals Captain Krishna Limbu, will be returning to Nepal in December after 12 years in Hong Kong. She will be sending home some of the silk flowers and vases she has bought at the market over the years. While the families living in Cheung Chau Court will undoubtedly be relieved to forgo the hustle and bustle of the market this Friday, others will be at a loss as to what to do. Artificial flower-seller Cheng Kwan has not missed a Friday market for 13 years. Business has been good and she does not need to work elsewhere during the week. Today, her daughter, who works in a bank, has taken a day off to help. Mrs Cheng has decided to mark the closure of the market by retiring; her daughter will look after her. Unlike other hawkers, Mrs Cheng has decided not to move to a new 150,000-square-foot site near Fairview Park, where a private company, China Fame Management Ltd, has made plans to revive the market, starting this Friday. 'It is too far to travel and too expensive,' says Mrs Cheng, referring to the $250 daily licence fee China Fame is charging hawkers. Not everyone agrees. Another artificial flower concern, Ace Win Flowers, located further along the path at a busier pitch, will be moving to the site. At least 100 boxes of silk flowers, including perennially popular roses, sunflowers and lilies, are laid out on the grass while dozens of women pick over them. A stall spokesman, a man in his 30s who is a mobile phone salesman from Mondays to Thursdays, said Ace Win had been trading at the market for seven years with average sales of $5,000. This, surely, was a conservative estimate for Friday, when there was a constant queue of at least 10 people, each one laden with blooms. The attractions for keeping the market up and running are obvious. All hawkers testify to taking more in Sek Kong than at any other venue in Hong Kong, and visitors say the quality and the price of goods, from Chinese porcelain, to toys, clothing, watches and linen, is infinitely better than elsewhere. Unlike other markets, the environment is clean, the atmosphere friendly and, on normal weeks, there is plenty of space to meander between the stalls. The woman running Shun Kee umbrella business said she sells about 200 umbrellas a day - come rain or shine - with the average umbrella costing about $25. She makes more in one day at the Gurkha market than in six days of trading in Kowloon. Allen Cheung, a spokesman for China Fame, said 200 hawkers had already registered to trade at the New Sek Kong market, which will also be open on Saturdays and have extended hours from 9am to 5pm. 'We haven't worked out how many from the old market have registered because we are not limiting it to those traders. We welcome anyone but we will look after those from the old Sek Kong market first,' he said. China Fame plans to limit the number of traders to 300 and offer free pitches to non-profit-making charities. 'We hope we can create a similar atmosphere as the old Sek Kong market. We have already planted trees,' said Mr Cheung. 'The new market solves a problem for hawkers at the old site by providing a place for them to continue their business, and it means visitors can still enjoy a day out. 'We will try to provide interesting activities that will be attractive to tourists and hope it will become as popular as the old market.' Trade will be limited to common merchandise, with no drink or food stalls, though an open-air cafe is planned, he said. Other 'dreams', as a flyer being handed out to visitors on Friday described the company's aims, include a large number of car-parking spaces, a $1 auction platform, an agricultural products exhibition and a second-hand car exhibition. 'If traders cannot afford the $250 daily licence they are not doing business and I think they will have to give up,' said Mr Cheung. 'Those who think there is enough business will come to the new site. 'We have to pay to rent the land which is private property, so we have to charge. We will also be responsible for management services, stall co-ordination, orderly operation, cleaning, security and promotion. 'We are profit making. But profit-making is only one premise. We wish to make it a tourist spot so that people think Hong Kong really is a shopping paradise. You cannot say that at the moment. Tourists always say how expensive Hong Kong is nowadays.' Whatever China Fame achieves, it will not be able to recreate the carnival atmosphere so evident last Friday. Two airmen dressed as dames walked around collecting donations for the Home of Loving Faithfulness, which cares for children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities, and over the course of four markets raised $22,450. Three RAF Wessex helicopters carried out a flypast at 11.45am and presenters from the British Forces Broadcasting Service entertained crowds with a live roadshow. Whatever the future, shoppers look set to keep turning up with their fistfuls of dollars. Angee Chan, 27, from Sha Tin, goes regularly to the market with friends. At 11.30am, she left the estate gates burdened with clothes and toys, having spent $800. 'I'm going next week. It sounds like it will be even bigger,' she said.