While Lunar New Year celebrations commenced in our homeland, Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year started with a blast – literally. Riots erupted in the widely popular Mong Kok shopping district, including Portland Street and Nathan Road, where numerous branded outlets and local merchandise stores are located. The clashes were caused by the Hong Kong police attempting to clear unlicensed street food stalls set up in the busy shopping area for the Lunar New Year. Angry protesters, whose ages ranged from 15 to 70, threw bricks and bottles at the police, who responded with pepper spray, batons, and two warning shots fired into the air. The riots certainly contributed to the standstill in the shopping district, with Hong Kong’s underground transport system, MTR, avoiding the station nearest to the riots, with more than fifty people arrested and nearly 100 people injured.
Traditionally, the authorities have turned a blind eye to the illegal food stalls, but have decided to put their foot down this year. However, street food, such as fishballs on skewers and other traditional Chinese snacks, has always been a part of the Hong Kong culture, but stalls have been disappearing fast due to redevelopment and urban renewal. According to Hong Kong-born restauranteur Alan Yau, founder of Hakkasan and the Wagamama chain, the fishball is not simply food – it represents “the values of entrepreneurship”, including capitalism and “liberal democracy”, and mean much more than “a $5 skewer with curry satay sauce”.
Although I do not agree with the violence that the riots have brought onto the Hong Kong population, frankly, I am glad that young people do want to preserve the Hong Kong culture that dates back to several hundred years ago. Unfortunately, they have decided to convey their thoughts in a highly unsuitable and immature way. I feel that violence is never the solution to any problem at all. Perhaps they have not been educated satisfactorily in school and have taken their wrong perceptions of problem solving onto the Hong Kong streets. I am very amazed that the young people do not agree to the development of narrow, congested streets into major cities that could highly benefit them in the ever-changing world, and instead strive to preserve their culture. Many young people in various places around the world would rather have development to boost their performance in the working world than fight to keep a bunch of street food stalls.
Again, the police have been fairly lenient to the illegal street food vendors these past years. I am sure that there are plenty of street food vendors that have proper licenses, and that there is no actual need for such horrifying violence to occur.
I hope that the authorities will find a solution to this problem as soon as possible to satisfy both the government and the young Hong Kong generation.
Chua Wei Ting (2T)