Monday, April 11, 2011

Defiant egg-waffles man builds 7th cart of year
April 12, 2011
Lo Wei
Back on his feet the day after his sixth arrest of the year for illegal hawking, Tai Hang's "old egg-waffles man" was hammering together yet another wooden cart yesterday, determined to resume business today.
"I'm too old to find anything else to do," said Ng Yuk-fai, 74, whose travails have rallied hundreds of supporters in person and on the internet.

"My children are still young. I'll be working for at least 10 more years," he said yesterday as he rebuilt his cart in a back alley in Causeway Bay next to the small wooden home he built.

His children are 15, 17 and 18 and live with his wife, in her 40s, in their hometown of Lufeng, Guangdong.

Ng has been selling Hong Kong-style egg waffles for more than 30 years, and the cart he was building yesterday is his seventh this year. The others were confiscated by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in his previous arrests.

"Yes they should arrest me, I don't have a licence. But I only wish it was not so frequent," he said. "I won't plead guilty this time. I hadn't even started selling waffles at the time they arrested me. I pleaded with them to let me go but they refused. They're inhumane."

More than 70 passersby and neighbours gathered at the scene to support him on Sunday as he was arrested for the sixth time this year. More than 60 people left comments on his page on an online directory of eateries. The owner of a Tsuen Wan egg waffles shop, Eric Chiang, visited him to see how he could help out.

Ng said the arrests had been getting more frequent. "I can't understand why. I didn't offend them," he said with a shrug. "Perhaps it's easier to arrest me. They'll get a promotion, but I'm pushed to the corner."

But the authorities were not going to stop him. "Let them arrest me until they get tired," he said.

Ng came to Hong Kong in 1958 during the Great Leap Forward and turned to selling egg waffles when his business in trading gold and watches with mainlanders went bad.

"I sought help from my uncle and he taught me to make egg waffles. He learned from a master who made egg waffles after failing in a revolution as a follower of Sun Yat-sen," he said.

The pieces of wood that make up Ng's cart are mostly supplied by the flower shop beside the alley in Shelter Street in Causeway Bay.

"I get miserable too each time he gets arrested; I have to supply him with wood again," Lui Chung, a worker at the shop, said.

Ng earns about HK$6,000 a month by selling waffles for HK$10 each. He usually sends HK$4,000 home for his family. "HK$2,000 is enough for me," he said.

But with a HK$800 fine for each arrest, and having to spend around HK$2,000 to build a new cart each time, he now owes HK$20,000 to a friend, a retired owner of a nearby electrical appliances shop.

Children in the neighbourhood who enjoy his egg waffles after school support the waffle-maker. "The government should grant him a licence. Even the shoe-shiners in Central were granted licences," said Kelly Tong, a Form Three pupil at Hotung Secondary School in Causeway Bay.

Classmate Cathy Law agreed. "The government's too harsh on him," she said.

Ng has been living in a metre-wide wooden house with three compartments in a row: one for his bed, another for storing his tools and materials, and one for cooking and working. It is about 10 metres long.

"It's warm here in winter. In summer when it gets too hot, I sleep out on the ground," he said. "I'm planning to apply for public housing when my wife and children come to Hong Kong to join me next year."

When asked if he missed his wife and children, he said: "What is there to miss?"

Business was a lot easier in the old days, he said. "At first, I didn't use any eggs, just flour; people didn't mind. I sold waffles for HK$1."

Now, with the price of flour more than five times higher, he sells them for HK$10. He uses four eggs for every three waffles. "I can't cheat people," he said.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department yesterday declined to comment on Ng's case.

A department spokesman said: "When enforcing the law, our hawker units take into account hawkers who are elderly or handicapped and strive to be reasonable. However, to protect public health and hygiene, our units will act immediately when it comes to unlicensed hawkers who sell cooked food."

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