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Saturday, Mar 02, 2024

Mourning Hong Kong’s maze of memories: textile hawker market closes after 45 years

Mourning Hong Kong’s maze of memories: textile hawker market closes after 45 years

Only 16 of 49 vendors plan to relocate to government’s new site about 400 metres (1,300 feet) away, with some opting to retire instead.

Generations of hawkers bid farewell to Hong Kong’s oldest outdoor fabric market on Tuesday, trading right until the last minute as residents descended on the bazaar for a final glimpse of a bygone era before the iconic stalls relocate or shut down entirely.

The Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar, commonly known as “Pang Jai”, closed after 45 years, and only 16 of the 49 vendors plan to set up their stalls at the government’s new site at Tung Chau Street Temporary Market, about 400 metres (1,300 feet) away, which begins operations on Wednesday.

Some vendors complained of insufficient time to remove their stalls and a lack of electricity at the new site.

Li Man-sang, the 70-year-old owner of San Kee Company, told the Post he discovered the gates to the Yen Chow Street site were locked when he arrived in the morning.

“I negotiated with the officers with a letter that said we could operate until 5pm today. It took 30 minutes before they unlocked the gates,” Li said. “I’ve just come back from travelling yesterday and hoped to come back today for the last day.”

The veteran fabric merchant – who has run his business for more than 40 years – said he would retire, along with most of the other vendors.

Pang Jai’s narrow lanes were still filled with people at 6pm, one hour after the planned closure time. Shoppers made a dash for fabric priced as low as HK$10 (US$1.27) per yard from vendors hoping to sell off their remaining stock before their businesses closed for good.

But one shopkeeper, who only gave her surname as Ho, said the hustle and bustle at her stall would not yield much return ahead of her impending retirement.

“The good traffic today won’t help business when things are priced at HK$10 per yard,” Ho said.

Visitors to the market on its final day ranged from loyal customers to first-time shoppers who wished to support the vendors or take home a piece of history.

Nikki Delport-Wepener, 50, bought fabrics for her embroidery classes at her usual shop one final time.

“If I could, I would take them all back to my studio and donate it to everybody,” she said.

Ling Chan, 57, came to hunt for discarded ribbons printed with “Made in Hong Kong” after seeing social media posts mentioning them.

“You can’t find these any more, it’s all ‘Made in China’ or ‘Made in Japan’ these days,” Chan said. “I’m collecting them just for nostalgia.”

The site on Yen Chow Street.

Over at the Tung Chau Street market, most stalls were filled with rolls of fabric but only a few were fully set up with racks and sewing machines.

Ho Ying-hoi, a 64-year-old vendor, said he was satisfied with the new site but wished the government had given him more time to move.

“I have been moving my stuff from 7am to 11pm every day since January 15, and even stayed up till 3am on Lunar New Year’s Eve,” Ho said. “My family’s reunion dinner was held over lunchboxes.”

The vendor also revealed that some stalls were only able to access electricity on January 27, due to a delay in the issuance of a certificate of compliance from the government, while some vendors struggled with the English-language certification papers.

One shopper trawls through discarded items at the market on its final day of operation.

Leung Kam-hoi, who had operated at the original market for more than 30 years, said he was now paying 70 per cent more in rent for two stalls at the new site and they were less than half the total size of his former shop.

“I expect to recover 30 per cent of my previous business at most – that would already make me happy,” Leung said.

But the merchant in his 60s said he was glad to have made the move, especially given the bright lighting and spacious passageways at the new site, adding the heat was insufferable at the Yen Chow Street market site during the summer.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said all 53 stalls at the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market were let out at an average rent of about HK$1,800 per month.

It added that hawkers were allowed to move into the new venue and renovate stalls before their tenancy agreement commenced.


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