Hong Kong culture

Buskers told they cannot perform in Hong Kong’s Times Square mall after being ousted from Mong Kok

Management says more acts seen since Mong Kok pedestrian zone closure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2018, 7:32am

The busy Times Square mall in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay has warned buskers not to perform in the open spaces and walkways around the building, after it observed that more were doing so in the days following the closure of a popular entertainers zone in Mong Kok.

The Post obtained a letter from mall management issued last Friday to City Echo – a group that ­organises performances for ­buskers – saying it never approved or authorised gigs at the ­complex’s ground-level piazza.

“Please stop misleading others by spreading false information,” the mall’s management said in the letter.

The firm stance was prompted by a performance organised by the group on the evening of ­August 3. Details of the incident were stated in the letter. Mall staff had approached the buskers to tell them they were holding an “unauthorised event” and asked them to leave the grounds immediately.

According to the letter, staff then called police when the group refused to leave.

“City Echo told police that the event was approved by Times Square. We immediately refuted the claim. Since then, other organisations have inquired if City Echo was granted permission by Times Square to conduct performances on the piazza,” the letter stated.

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The piazza, at a size of about 32,500 sq ft, is the second-largest among 24-hour public spaces managed by private developments in Wan Chai.

As the owner of the piazza, Times Square is required to open the area for pedestrians or as a recreation ground for public use, according to a deed of dedication signed with the government.

City Echo’s founder, who only wanted to be known as JL, told the Post he never told police or others that the group had the approval of Times Square.

“I told police that we have been doing this every Friday night for more than five years and there had been a tacit understanding between us and the mall,” JL said.

“We were never forced out by Times Square staff since we started to bring singers here in late October 2012.”

He said that although the letter from management was unprecedented, he regarded it as a “clarification” instead of a “warning”.

He added that he felt the note, including a notice on the premises put up this month on permissible use of the piazza, only reflected unspoken concerns of mall management.

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On a pillar at the piazza, a silver sign stated: “Noisy and disorderly conduct and every other practice, in the opinion of the owner, that is likely to cause annoyance or nuisance or interfere with the use and enjoyment of the open piazza as an open space and passive recreation ground are forbidden.”

“Why did they do this only after the Mong Kok pedestrian zone was terminated?” JL said.

On August 4, an iconic stretch on Sai Yeung Choi Street South and other nearby roads were opened to traffic round the clock after almost two decades in which they were closed on weekends and public holidays for street performances.

The decision by the district council and the Transport Department to terminate the pedestrian zone in Mong Kok was prompted by years of complaints about noise levels and overcrowding, in the absence of any licensing system to regulate buskers.

The closure of the zone sparked concerns that the Mong Kok performers would take their acts elsewhere, with regulars at the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier, another busking hotspot, clashing with some of the evicted artists over the past two weeks.

On Saturday night, protesters confronted some middle-aged women belting out Chinese ballads at the pier. The singers were among performers from Mong Kok who had moved to Tsim Sha Tsui. Police eventually escorted the women away after they collected money from fans and were accused by protesters of begging, which is illegal.

Concerns that the incidents would spill over to Times Square were realised on Monday night when a woman singing Cantonese opera songs for about four hours at the piazza ignored warnings from staff to leave. Police were called in and the case was classified as a complaint against noise levels.

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“There has been an increase of such performances at Times Square lately,” a spokeswoman of the mall said on Tuesday.

The spokeswoman said both the performances by City Echo on August 3 and the woman on Monday night were “unauthorised” and did not comply with the permitted purposes set out in the deed.

“We once suggested to Times Square that we would like to discuss obtaining a permission to perform but we didn’t receive any feedback from the mall,” JL said.

“If Times Square wants to talk, we are certainly willing too.”