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Hong Kong culture

Peace returns to raucous Hong Kong pedestrian zone after buskers pack up, but not everyone is happy

Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok is again open for vehicles round the clock at weekends but some shopkeepers say there are now fewer passers-by and business has fallen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2018, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2018, 10:41pm

The buskers have gone, the noise has dropped but not everyone is happy now that a Hong Kong pedestrian zone notorious for its decibel levels has closed.

This weekend – the first without street performers in 18 years – Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok is again open for vehicles round the clock – and is now just another crowded street indistinguishable from any other shopping area in the city.

“It feels like it’s just a normal weekday now,” Ray Wong, manager of a phone accessory store on the street, said on Saturday. “The whole atmosphere is different now, and my business has got worse.”

According to Wong, there were apparently fewer pedestrians in the area on Saturday night, which left him “a bit disappointed”.

Previously based in Causeway Bay, Wong’s store moved to the area four months ago in a bid to attract more customers in the bustling environment.

However, Wong conceded the street was “more relaxing to live in” for local residents.

“Staff in my store, including me, feel our working environment is more comfortable,” Wong said, referring to the disappearance of loud noise made by buskers every weekend.

Is Tsim Sha Tsui the new Mong Kok for street performers?

More than 1,270 complaints were filed by locals and shopkeepers over the past year about increasing noise levels and obstructions in a 500-metre pedestrian zone along the street, which led to the government’s decision in May to shut it down.

Vehicles had been blocked from entering the street at weekends, to preserve an area for artists and hawkers.

Wong, who liked to watch street performances, said he hoped to see a “better version” of the pedestrian zone make a return.

“As long as it’s better regulated, I will still look forward to welcoming its return.”

In contrast, other shopkeepers were pleased to see the demise of the pedestrian zone, although they admitted the area saw a decrease in visitors and tourists on Saturday night.

18 years of raucous Hong Kong street entertainment to end on July 29

Clothes shop saleswoman Polly Chan said she felt there were “slightly fewer passers-by” but it did not influence business.

“The amount of customers is pretty much the same, because they are mostly local Hongkongers rather than tourists,” said Chan, who is in her 20s.

“I certainly don’t want [the zone] to come back. I felt so happy today before I came to the store, knowing the place would be quieter, and my job would be much easier.”

Chan recalled during weekend nights that she had to shout to customers when the buskers were performing outside, as “conversations at normal volume were impossible”.

Benny Liu, owner of a photography equipment store, shared those feelings and said visitors to his shop were more willing to buy goods without the disturbance outside.

“Our products require detailed explanations from staffers, and customers need to stay longer to select and decide what to buy,” Liu said. “But when it’s loud on the street, people tend to get impatient, and normally just leave without buying anything.”

Having worked in the store for more than 10 years, Liu said that his weekend business – especially after 7pm – was worse than on weekdays in recent years.

“Now the performers are gone, customers can finally stay in the store and talk to us,” he said.

Performers, on the other hand, used the zone’s closure as a chance to take a rest and gather their bearings, if they had not already made the harbourfront in Tsim Sha Tsui – another area popular with tourists and shoppers – their new pitch.

“I’ve been singing for so many years, I haven’t had time to go on holiday. I won’t go to Tsim Sha Tsui for sure, my fans can’t go too far, so when I come back I’m hoping to stay around the Mong Kok area,” one of the singers, known by his alias “Mong Kok Law Man”, said.

End of an era for Mong Kok street performers

Other musicians said they would “wait and see” how things panned out after the first week of the shutdown, hoping to scout for places that weren’t as crowded as Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui.

Kim Hung, a regular performer at Sai Yeung Choi Street South, moved to Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade after the zone shut, saying he deliberately avoided the Star Ferry pier to stay away from the so-called mainland aunties, or “damas”, known for their blaring music.

“I’m already terrified of competing with them to be the loudest. My music is not about high volume,” the 52-year-old said.

Kim, who had been singing in the pedestrian zone for 14 years, said it was rumoured on the internet a group of mainland aunties would occupy the pier even before the zone closed. “I’m just glad I no longer need to bring high-powered speakers for the performance any more,” he added.

Performing with his band Hung Lok Goon, Kim described the zone’s closure as a “relief”.

“I wanted to leave the area ever since damas arrived, but I couldn’t ignore the audience which has followed us for years,” Kim said.

Buskers tuning up for last hurrah at axed pedestrian zone

“Now people who come to watch our performances are those who really appreciate us. That’s enough. We don’t worry about the fact there are fewer passers-by here.”

Kim and his band started their Tsim Sha Tsui show on Saturday at 5pm and planned to end at 10.30pm. He expected more than 40 spectators, adding he was planning more shows at different venues.

“It used to be that we could only perform twice a week at the zone; now we are out of Mong Kok, I hope I can be more proactive in terms of doing street performances,” Kim said.

Angel Wong, a fan of Hung Lok Goon for more than 10 years, said she was glad to see the band had escaped from competing with the mainland aunties.

“I still feel it’s a pity they can’t perform in Mong Kok any more. After all, there is a bigger audience and the atmosphere is more heated,” Wong, in her 50s, said.

Kim, however, hoped to enjoy performing across the city from now on. “I feel so free now,” he said.