Monday, May 9, 2011 Officials' warning means bun scramble on streets

Officials' warning means bun scramble on streets

What's a bun festival without buns? Some attending today's Cheung Chau Bun Festival might find out.

The annual festival's two official bakeries cut back dramatically on their production of buns stamped with peace messages after the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department warned against the shops' longtime practice of stamping the buns outside their premises.

One of the two bun-makers reacted to the government "reminder" by closing the shop from Saturday until today. The other cut its bun production by 30 per cent.

"There will be a shortage of buns for sure, which is such a shame because the buns symbolise blessing and peace - a centrepiece for the festival," Cheung Chau Bun Festival Committee chairman Yung Chi-ming said.

"What the government did was unnecessary and disappointing."

For more than 20 years, the bakers have made special white buns with different fillings and a big "peace" stamp in Chinese characters on each one. Sold for just four days each year, the buns carried religious and cultural significance, Yung said.

"Of course I'm worried about the lack of buns," Yung said. "It's how people take part in the festival."

The Kwok Kam Kee Cake Shop would make buns to fill advance orders, but would not sell buns to the public today, an employee said.

The other bakery, Grand Plaza Cake Shop, said it made about 108,000 buns for last year's festival but because of the government's warning and lack of space, was making 32,400 fewer this year.

A spokesman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said last week it had issued "reminders" to the bun-makers after receiving eight complaints in three weeks. The spokesman said the department's officers had not seen either bun-maker violating the law.

Kwok Yu-chuen of the Grand Plaza Cake Shop in Praya Road said: "We received the warning on May 5 - when the government told us to make sure all production procedures were indoors. We only had a few days, and a lot of buns to make."

Kwok said the government warning had caused problems partly because it came so late. "It's hard because we have so little space. We usually stamp the buns outside here - which we've been doing for so many years," Kwok said, pointing to a covered area just outside the front of the shop.

Yung said: "What [the government] did was not good - not good for business, not good for the whole atmosphere of the festival."

The buns have traditionally been attached to towers for the festival highlight, the bun-scrambling competition, but have been replaced by plastic ones for hygiene reasons.

The festival committee will be handing out free buns for blessing-seekers today at 9am - buns made before the department's hygiene warning.

The day-long festival will start with a unicorn and kung fu performance at 10.30am followed by the festival parade at 2pm. Parade participants will spoof current issues, including this year's HK$6,000 government handout and the plan to build a waste incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau. The bun-scrambling competition will take place at midnight.

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