Activists gather to defend New Year’s hawkers from Kweilin Street ‘cleanup’

A brief standoff between police and protesters occurred at the Kweilin Street night market last night as authorities preapred to crack down on illegal food hawkers over the Lunar New Year.

The Sham Shui Po street has for many years served as a hotbed of local street food, a form of nostalgia for the older generation and a way for low income families to earn extra money over the New Year period.

However, this year authorities have been asked to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to unlicensed vendors after local DAB councillors and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department threatened to close the attraction for good.

Last night, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, activist group HK Indigenous organised a gathering before the night market’s probable last day in defence of the hawkers who politicians have accused of being “unhygienic”.

Police descended on the area as crowds gathered and banners were unfurled, but no apparent clashes occurred or arrests were made during the brief standoff.

Coconuts HK was able to interview a few activists at the scene.

Ms Lau, 21, a blogger working in the finance sector, said she heard about the protest on Twitter.

“The night market is a feature of the city. Hawkers are everywhere in the world, and if you clamp down on this then they have nowhere to go”.

She added that she found the heavy police presence unnecessary. “The cops were only here to suppress the underdogs.”

Christian, 17, a student from a minority background, stressed the importance of preserving Hong Kong culture.

“It’s been a tradition in Hong Kong to sell [hawker] food and a way for poor people to make money”, he said.

He hopes the small protest will remind Hongkongers of what they stand to lose.

“The participation of the people [in the protest] means people are taking a stance to defend their food culture. We have seen [the culture], such as the Tai Pai Dong or Cha Chaan Teng, slowing dying as Hong Kong modernises. It’s like taking away a body part of Hong Kong.”

“One day we may only remember McDonald’s,” he added.

Photos: Thomas Chan/Coconuts Media

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