One might still remember that back in November, the government proposed a temporary night market specializing in street foods to be set up at the Macpherson Playground in Mong Kok during the Lunar New Year holiday that followed, only to be vetoed by the Yau Tsim Mong District Council on the grounds that it might cause nuisance to the neighborhood.
Eight months on, some Yau Tsim Mong district councilors have brought up the idea again, suggesting that a temporary night market be set up at the intersection of Boundary Street and Tai Hang Tung Road during both the Christmas holiday this year and the Lunar New Year holiday that follows.
The suggestion has gained widespread favor with district councilors from both the pro-establishment and the pan-democratic camps, and is very likely to be approved by the council.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) also welcomed the idea and vowed to provide all necessary assistance and coordination for the plan once it is given the green light by the council.
In fact, we also agree that setting up a temporary night market during the upcoming Christmas and Lunar New Year holidays in Mong Kok is a brilliant idea because it cannot only add rich flavor to our city’s nightlife during seasonal occasions but can also help ease public grievances.
It is because in today’s Hong Kong, livelihood issues and political tensions are often the two sides of the same coin. Under such a tense social atmosphere, any public or livelihood issue could indeed snowball into a political controversy if handled improperly.
Let’s not forget one of the major reasons that Lau Siu-lai, the former localist lawmaker who has been disqualified by the court recently, was able to win the hearts and minds of young voters in the Legco election last year and take a whopping 38,000 votes was her high-profile support for street vendors during her election campaign.
Lau did deliver on her election promise of pushing for more favorable government policies for street vendors in the legislature during her term in office.
In other words, while the matter over street vendors is by nature a purely livelihood issue, it also has enormous potential as a powerful rallying point by politicians.
And perhaps nothing exemplifies the political energy of the street vendor issue more than the Mong Kok riots last year, which was in fact triggered by public anger over the government’s unpopular decision to forcibly disperse the street food vendors outside Langham Place.
As such, a more street vendor-friendly policy by the government can serve as a safety valve for public grievances.
Besides, apart from easing social tensions, night markets, if managed properly and orderly, can also become major tourist attractions. In fact, night markets in Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Singapore are so well-known and successful that they have already become must-visit night spots for foreign and domestic tourists.
So why can’t the people of Hong Kong, who are known for their penchant for late-night snacking, also have their own night markets?
Street foods are often seen by many as the embodiment of a city’s unique cultural and historical character. Apparently, our government has also noticed the market potential of street foods, and that is why it has launched the food truck program, under which the FEHD issued licenses to 14 operators to run food trucks.
Unfortunately, the program has failed to live up to expectations and most of the operators have complained about being hamstrung by rigid rules and red tape.
As a result, most of these food trucks have been underperforming in sales, except during the recent Dragon Boat Festival holiday, when all 14 food trucks were allowed to gather together and serve food to the public in one whack at the promenade in Central, indicating that the “synergy effects” are indeed the key to success for the food truck program.
The same formula certainly applies to night markets as well, and that’s why we just don’t see any reason why anybody should oppose the idea of setting up a night market in Mong Kok.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 31
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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