Is Tsim Sha Tsui the new Mong Kok for Hong Kong’s street performers?
Former Mong Kok entertainers, mostly singers of Chinese oldies, flock to waterfront along with their fans, sparking tension with regulars and businesses
Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront has become the new stomping ground for entertainers evicted from an iconic pedestrian zone in Mong Kok, after the government shut it down on Saturday.
The influx of performers made some regular buskers at the site “very upset”, while shopkeepers said they had no choice but to bear with the increased noise levels.
At 8pm on Saturday, there were at least five out of about a dozen performers or stalls who had relocated from Mong Kok to Star Ferry pier and the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Kande Mansaly, 41, who has been playing the African drums on weekends at the pier for a year, said the newcomers had “no respect” for them.
“Us musicians here will usually talk it out together – we each take turns every half hour, but these people, they just come here, turn on their big music and ignore me,” Mansaly said.
“I asked them: how about letting us play for the next half hour, but they only said ‘no need’ … I’m very upset. They don’t respect us, they don’t want to share the space,” he said.
Mansaly left earlier than usual and said he was worried overcrowding in the area would lead police or the government to eventually chase all performers away.
Cui Lixiang, who works at a news stand at the pier, said she noticed it had become noisier and more crowded than usual.
“My voice is already hoarse from shouting. I can’t even hear myself here with all these performers, but what can I do? I only hope this means it brings more business,” Cui said.
On the other side of the fence, the former Mong Kok performers said they were only trying to make a living, having been driven out of their usual spot.
But several officers in uniform and plain clothes were present to maintain order, and reminded performers they were not allowed to collect money.
Some of the entertainers said they were told by police to keep the noise to a minimum, while other groups were asked not to block main passageways.
Yeung Kwong-ming, who is in charge of a singing troupe of about 20 people, has performed in Mong Kok for six years. “Of course I’m disappointed with how things turned out.”
Yeung said they were not the ones “creating noise pollution”, unlike the groups of da ma – an impolite Chinese term for middle-aged women – who gathered to dance and sing to deafening music, a scene often encountered at the Mong Kok site.
Another singer from Mong Kok, who only gave her stage name as Ling Ling, also moved to Tsim Sha Tsui with a group of middle-aged singers belting Chinese oldies. She declined to comment on the heightened noise levels and said she would remain at the venue till 10.30pm.
Meanwhile, one elderly man, who did not want to be named, was among 30 people huddling in a semi-circle along the waterfront to listen to a singer, known to fans as Jenny, perform an old Chinese ballad.
The man, a long-time fan of Jenny, said he came here to catch her act, along with that of other performers from Mong Kok. “The government made them leave and that means we can’t listen to music there any more, so we came here,” he said.
The new tensions unfolded after a famous Mong Kok site – a 500-metre stretch of Sai Yeung Choi Street South – was formally shut down by officials on Saturday.
For almost two decades, the zone was closed off to vehicles on weekends for musicians and hawkers to operate freely, but over the years, as performers competed for space and tried to outsing each other, complaints of overcrowding and noise pollution surfaced.
Last year, authorities received more than 1,270 complaints from residents and shop owners, eventually leading to the zone’s demise last week, as performers bade a final and tearful farewell to audiences.
With the closure in Mong Kok, entertainers eyed the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, another area popular with buskers in the city.
Ng Siu-fai, spokesman of an association of 22 Mong Kok artists and performing groups, said his camp planned to submit a proposal to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The group would suggest performing regularly at an outdoor piazza in Kowloon Park, which is next to a public swimming pool, an aviary and a bird lake.
However, in response to the possible proposal, the department said the park was “not suitable for regular performances”, as it was located in a highly dense area and there were already complaints about excessive noise there.