Ice cream on the move

Lai Ying-kit
Lai Ying-kit |

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Photo: SCMP

Lai Ying-kit talks to teenagers to find out why they want to keep the mobile vendors around

Facing increased competition and hawker controls, roving ice-cream vendors are becoming scarce these days. But the vans and motorcycles that have zip-zapped through the city's narrow streets for decades still attract young people.

Young Post talked to teenagers to see why they find these frozen treat carts so endearing. They hope the government will issue more licences and be more flexible about hawker controls so the ice-cream vendors can continue their business.

The mobile vendors have to fight against all odds. Convenience stores and fast-food shops offer tasty cones in air-conditioned shops. Supermarkets and foreign brands tempt eaters with packaged ice-cream boxes in large fridges.

What adds to their uphill battle is hawker controls by government hygiene officers. Licence-holders say the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is constantly telling them to move, accusing them of blocking the street.

The number of ice-cream vendors in Hong Kong had been frozen for 16 years. In 1993, the government stopped issuing new licences. It restarted issuing licences last June, but it's not easy to set up business.

First, according to dairy products union director Cheung Chee-hung, start-up cost is often too high. Only 25 of the 61 people who were given a licence eventually started their business.

Then, there are complaints by neighbours and hawker controls. Vendors tend to stay in busy streets to get more business. But often this draws complaints from neighbouring shops and residents about obstructing their walkways.

But many ice-cream lovers remain loyal to the vendors. They are not willing to forgo the iconic tune of the vans, and they love getting a crispy cone freshly laid with a twirl of snow-white ice cream. They hope the vendors will continue their business for generations to come.

Law Kar-shun, 17

'Sometimes it's hard to find these ice-cream vans because they move around the city. I feel a bit sad when I can't see one at the usual spots. Government officers should be more flexible about hawker controls and not ask these vans to move unless really necessary.'

Anna Kwok, 17

'I buy ice-cream from both mobile vendors and convenience stores. But I like buying from the vans more. I like the flavours of their ice cream, and I grew up with the music they play. Wherever and whenever I hear Blue Danube, I would think of the ice-cream vans!'

Cheung Ching-man, 18

'I don't think the ice-cream vans and motorcycles cause much obstruction in the streets. They usually sit quietly at corners or outside parks and tourist spots. They offer nice refreshments and make urban life more interesting.'

Ho Mei-wah, 16

'The mobile vendors are very romantic to me, and I hope they can carry on with their business. They travel around the city to deliver ice cream. They spread happiness.'

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