The daytime opening of a Wan Chai night market designed to jumpstart the city’s evening economy saw disappointing turnout on National Day, vendors have said, but some remained hopeful that visitors would return after the 9 pm fireworks display.
Visitors were few and far between on Sunday afternoon – the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China – after the government on Thursday told vendors that they would have to close by 5 pm as a crowd control measure as spectators fill the promenade for the fireworks. They will be allowed to reopen their stalls at 10.30 pm, after the pyrotechnics display, and remain operational until two in the morning.
Tsui, who was operating a snack stall on Sunday afternoon, said “mutual understanding” was the only way to cope with the awkward arrangements. “You’re telling us we can set up shop, but as you can see, we’re just sitting here and waiting to leave,” she said, gesturing at the sparsely populated waterfront.
“But it’s understandable. [The government] was short on time, and they only started recruiting stalls in early September,” she said.
However, Tsui said she would not be reopening her stall later that night. “There’s no way we’re going to wait six hours; that’s just really strange. I can’t go home, but I can’t just wait here either,” she said, adding that many other stall operators had chosen not to open on Sunday.
Compared to the scene on Mid-Autumn Festival this Friday, the night market, which opened at 10am on Sunday morning, was almost devoid of visitors, while more than half of the stalls were closed, according to an HKFP reporter’s estimations.
Hong Kong’s night sky would later light up with more than 30,000 fireworks, as the city puts on a HK$18 million fireworks display to celebrate China’s National Day for the first time since 2018. The pyrotechnics were cancelled in 2019, when the city was gripped by month-long pro-democracy protests, and were not held throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, when strict measures were in place to stop group gatherings.
The Wan Chai bazaar is part of the government’s “Night Vibes Hong Kong” campaign that launched last month in a bid to jumpstart the city’s night-time economy after a prolonged pandemic-era slump.
The event got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, when power outages left vendors unable to cook food.
No night shift
Speaking to reporters after a National Day banquet on Saturday night, development minister Bernadette Linn said that the government was not sure whether there would be a fireworks display when it was in talks with the organisers, which was why details about the arrangements on Sunday night were not clearly spelled out.
“The stall operators were notified as soon as the details were finalised,” Linn told reporters, adding that authorities had to take into account public safety.
Meanwhile, several other vendors told HKFP they would not be reopening later that night. Yip, who was helping out at another snack stall, said she was hoping traffic would pick up later in the afternoon. “Maybe they can have a quick walk around before the fireworks start tonight,” the 21-year-old added.
The stall she was working at would not be reopening later that night, she added. “In terms of manpower and logistics, it’s a bit challenging. It’s hard for us to plan where we can rest for five hours, and we’d have to consider how employees are compensated for their time.”
Another stallholder, Wong, who was in his 50s, said he was still deciding whether to reopen at night, also citing scheduling issues. “You’re allowed to open until two in the morning, but by that time our employees will have to take a taxi back home. The timing isn’t great.”
“I don’t think it was necessary to shut everything down,” he said. “Look at Japan’s fireworks festivals – they have lots of people too. I think our government needs more experience organising night markets.”
He added that of the few visitors that were at the market that afternoon, less than 10 per cent were from mainland China. On Sunday, more than 380,000 arrivals had crossed the city’s border with mainland China as of 4 pm, local media reported.
One stall that sold Taiwan-made soju would be reopening after the fireworks. Chan, 37, found it ironic that he was selling alcohol in the daytime. “Who would be drinking now?” he asked.
While he was supportive of the government’s push to revitalise Hong Kong’s night economy, Chan said authorities should have considered the situation from the vendors’ perspective. “It’s not that [the government’s] plan was bad,” he said. “But watching the fireworks with some booze and snacks – that’s not so bad, is it?”
Chan was aware that several other stalls did not plan to open after dark, but he said he was hoping that people would stay and check out the night market after the fireworks.
Hung, the only person manning his stall on Sunday afternoon, said he was mostly standing around until after the fireworks. He had sold out of all his food on Saturday night, and was still waiting for his business partners to bring in a new batch.
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” he said with a laugh. “But we’ll still reopen tonight. I think people will stick around.”
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