Bun festival climbing champion vows to keep local grip on trophy

The defending champion of the bun-scrambling competition has vowed to keep the trophy in the hands of Cheung Chau residents.

Kwok Ka-ming said that islanders were deeply connected to the festival, which began as a way to pacify the spirits of the islanders who died in a plague in 1894.

'This was an activity for ... Cheung Chau residents only, but now this concept has changed,' said Mr Kwok, who snatched 51 buns in three minutes at last year's competition.

'For [non-Cheung-Chau residents] this might be just another climbing competition, but for us Cheung Chau locals, it means a lot. I feel that it is part of my roots.'

The 24-year-old firefighter will race 12 others, including four Cheung Chau locals, in the finals at midnight on Saturday. They will also be using bigger bags this year to stop the buns from falling out

The competition was banned in 1978 when a bamboo bun tower collapsed and injured 100 people. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department revived the contest last year, replacing the bamboo with a 15-metre steel tower decorated with 8,000 buns. Safety measures were imposed to prevent participants from falling off. But many of the islanders were upset by the changes to the contest, including opening it to people from around Hong Kong.

'There's no way to go back,' said Yung Chi-ming, Bun Festival Committee chairman. 'Safety always comes first. The return from losing a bit of the tradition is the bringing in of more tourists and raising the profile of Cheung Chau.

'It'll be great to have locals winning the competition, but once the competition is open to the public, it's hard to keep it just among the locals because winners are based on the scores.'

Mr Yung said that last year about 40,000 visitors turned up for the festival parade. Organisers will hand out 1,500 tickets for the contest. They will be given out at Pak She Second Lane at 9.45pm.

The parades, which will feature lion dancers, will take place on Friday and Saturday.

The 24,000 buns of the three bun towers erected outside Pak Tai Temple will also be distributed to the public at 9am on Saturday.

Special traffic arrangements will be made on Friday. More round-trip ferries from Central to Cheung Chau will be added to the schedule. Bus routes from Central will be added from Saturday midnight and a 1.15am ferry will be added to take passengers home after the bun contest.