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Urban planning

Mong Kok buskers say thank you and good night

Some of street’s best-known names were out in force on Sunday night to mark the closure of iconic city pedestrian zone

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2018, 11:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 12:17am

“It’s been a very happy night for us,” said Steven Lai Cheuk-yin, who was performing on one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts for the first and last time.

A few hours before the closure of the pedestrian zone along Mong Kok’s Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Lai helped a man propose to his girlfriend during his performance.

People scrambled to take selfies with the street’s best-known names, who were out in full force amid a carnival atmosphere.

The pavements were barely navigable and the noise was deafening. Police officers, uniformed and in plain clothes, stood on street corners. When the clock struck 10pm on Sunday, the road, which has been closed to traffic during specific periods of the week for 18 years, was returned around the clock to vehicles.

“We really wanted to just ­witness a chapter in history come to a close,” Lai said. “It’s a bit sad to see it end this way. But it all could have been avoided if performers practised some self-discipline and had respect for others. Everyone could have just turned the volume down a notch.”

We really wanted to just ­witness a chapter in history come to a close
Steven Lai, street performer

Lai, who usually busks in ­Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, said he had never experienced such an environment anywhere else in the world.

Penny Kan, an emcee and singer for a well-known group that had been covering Canto-pop classics on the street for years, said it was a bittersweet moment.

“I would put it like this: there’s always going to be something that people like and dislike. Kind of like durian or stinky tofu,” she sighed.

“There would have been no need to end it all in one go if they [the government] introduced some sort of strict limitation in time, say Saturdays and Sundays until 6pm.”

Perhaps one of the pedestrian zone’s most famous faces over the years has been veteran crooner Lam Fat of the band 3L. He was also there to perform one last time, despite having a dry throat.

Lam said he had already lost his passion for doing gigs on the street after years of “failed” and “disappointing” mismanagement by the government.

Mong Kok buskers plan next move as closure of Hong Kong pedestrian zone nears

“With all the noise, complaints and heavy penalties they slap us with, I had actually told them, ‘Why don’t you just put us out of or misery and just shut the street down early’,” he said.

Lam began performing nine years ago during a more peaceful time. “Then the gangs of karaoke people moved in,” he said, referring to groups of “amateurs”, some from the mainland, that ­enjoyed singing rather than ­performing. He said a licensing system should have been introduced long ago.

“Everyone is just trying to one-up each other with the volume. It has gotten out of control. They are screaming.”

Audiences at the time also expressed mixed feelings towards the closure. They said while they understand the noise must be hard for the residents, closing down the buskers would mean they have one less thing to do for fun at the weekends.

“I can’t imagine what this place will be like when there is no more pedestrian zone. But at the same time I understand that residents have suffered from a lot of disturbance,” said audience member, Mandy.

Another audience member, surnamed Lee, said he was curious to know whether they would move to West Kowloon or Tsim Sha Tsui as rumoured.

“I stop by to listen to them now and then when I have a break [from work]. I like Lam’s style of singing.”