I’ve never seen anyone get so angry over flowers.
It’s tradition to buy flowers in advance of the Chinese New Year, a festival that celebrates renewal as one lunar year gives way to another. Last year, when I was living in the Mongkok Flower Market, I watched as traffic became more and more snarled as the days led towards the new year. By the time the last week year came around, I was being woken up on weekend mornings by endless honking and angry shouts. Leaving my building meant fighting for sidewalk space with housewives willing to slaughter and maim for the last peach blossom or peony.
When I returned to the Flower Market last week to take some photos, it didn’t surprise me that the first thing I saw was a shouting match. A crowd had formed at the corner of Sai Yee Street as several people stood screaming at a few uniformed men and women.
After a few minutes, the screamers gave up and walked off in a huff. I followed them to a flower stall in a nearby laneway and asked what they were so angry about. I was answered by Kelly Cheung, a petite young woman with plastic-framed glasses and vaguely elfin features whose family has run the stall for more than 30 years.
The people in uniforms were hawker control officers employed to prevent flower vendors from blocking the streets with their wares, she said. For nearby a week, they had given the Cheungs daily fines for putting their flowers and trees on the edge of the sidewalk near their stall, even though this is done by every other flower shop around the market.
“We’ve followed them to the other flower shops and they don’t do anything to them,” she said. “Each ticket costs thousands of dollars and we’ve already been fined six times in the past week. It’s not fair.”
I followed the hawker control officers around for awhile and watched as they asked other vendors to move some plants off the street. It wasn’t clear what standard they used to gauge how much something blocked the sidewalk — none of the plants they ordered moved seemed to be obstructing traffic — and I didn’t see them issue any fines.
But the officers wouldn’t say much when I approached them with questions. When I returned to the Cheungs’ stall a few days later, they said nothing much had changed, and they were still getting fined. But they were also eager to tell me about their flower business.
Take a look at the photoessay on CNNGo, which has more about the Cheungs, a bit about the market’s history and some photos of the pretty flowers and fruits that people buy for Chinese New Year.
Tags: Celebrations, Hong Kong, Kowloon, Markets, Mongkok, Street Vendors, Streetlife