1. When is the Bun Scrambling competition taking place?
The competition takes place at the Soccer pitch of Pak Tai Temple Playground, Cheung Chau. The Official Bun Carnival timetable starts 11:30pm on May 10th and the final competition ends around 12:30am on May 11th. This year there were 199 applications to be climbers, all vying for prestigious title of the “King of Cheung Chau Bun Tower”.
The person who collects the most (plastic) buns in their sack on their climb to the top of the tower within 3 minutes will be crowned the “King/Queen of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival” Competition. For relays, Neighbouring areas and community groups in Cheung Chau are invited to take part (8 teams in total), the teams have to compete by grabbing the designated buns as fast as possible.
2. when is the best time to get to Cheung Chau?
You can take the ferry from Central to Cheung Chau. The processions start as early as noon but 9pm is the best time to start lining up to see the races and competitions at the Bun tower, there will be plenty of police around keeping order and you can ask them where to line up to get into the football stadium. At 10pm you better be in some sort of queue because roads will be blocked off. Once you get into the spectator area in the football stadium it up to you to find the best spot to gawk in awe at how fast these shortlisted athletes scramble to the top of the bun tower.
May 10th this year is the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival in Hong Kong and this year 2011 it coincides with the Buddha’s Birthday too (making it a public holiday on Tuesday) therefore will be attracting more locals and tourists alike to swarm into Cheung Chau to take witness the galore. Snack shops along the dining streets, seafood restaurants are going to be churning out food non stop to feed the ravenous crowds but this year, with the inflation rate as high as 4.6%, expect festival food, souvenirs, handmade trinkets and local getaway guesthouses to slap their prices by at least 10%.
If you are planning on spending a night over at Cheung Chau during the Bun Festival then you better think again because rooms that would usually cost around HKD950 per night. Some of the better Cheung Chau guesthouses such as the B&B Cheung Chau and the Warwick Hotel will be charging 4 star hotel prices of HK$1200 to HK$1600 (USD 130-200) per night as yet still be fully booked out. Otherwise all the events going on are FREE, you pay for your food and ferry ticket and that is about it.
Even since since the re-commissioning of the Bun Scrambling Competition in 2005, the Kwok Kam Kee Cake Shop has been synonymous with the round white buns you see at the Cheung Chau Bun Festival tower.
3. Kwok Kam Kee sells over 20,000 buns every year come the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. This year on top of the traditionally popular sesame paste and lotus seed paste fillings for the Ping An Buns, this local traditional bakery has decided to be more adventurous and experiment with ube/purple yam paste filling and red bean paste filling.
The owner is expecting to sell 30,000 buns this year and keeps his fingers crossed that the weather will be on his side because if it rains then the “rain is going to pull sales down tremendously”.
4. The Best selling Cheung Chau Bun Festival Souvenirs are the Bun Cushions that sell for HKD50 each and this year the new additions are the Ping An Bun iPhone cases and Ping An hand held mini fans.
5. But all of this aside what is the Cheung Chau Bun Festival actually celebrating?
Apart from the parades and the carnival-like street procession featuring costumed children on stilts held aloft above the crowd, lion dances and bun towers…
6. How many people actually notice the religious Taoist rituals performed each year?
7. Why are people carrying the parading children on stilts?
Tourists flock here to see the show and the get carried away by the excitement of the Bun snatching and the colourful parades and the seafood and savory treats. Since this day is labelled a “Bun Festival”, everyone assumes that everything has got to do with buns and colourful parades. There is, however, a deeper tradition behind this religious day on May 10th and its not exactly a real carnival or “festival” either.
The Cheung Chau bun festival should be better known as the Dajiao, ‘jiao‘ meaning ‘worshipping the gods’ or Taipingqingjiao in Hong Kong. Literally translated into the “the Purest Sacrifice Celebrated for Great Peace“. The true meaning behind this is to ask for the “rebirth” of Cheung Chau, by asking Taoist deities (so important to fishing villages) for peace and rest in their communities before the bun climbing festival takes place at midnight.
Starting at the Pak Tai temple and the processions parade goes around the island once and local Cheung Chau residents let their children represent the 20 or so gods or the goddesses that you see on stilts to let the good luck and blessings pass through to the local community.
8. Why do the men who carry the gods on stilts in the parade have to race each other run back to the Pak Tai temple?
When the parades have gotten back to near where they started, the men who carry the stilts with the Taoist deities will race back to the Pak Tai Temple because local Cheung Chau residents believe that the team that reaches the Pak Tai temple first will be blessed with good luck.
‘Dajiao‘ (the processions and the following ceremonies) were meant for the “rebirth”, to ask for blessings to the local community but it’s only been in these few years that more and more attention gets focused on the commercial side of the parades, lion dances and the Bun scrambling competition rather than the religious meanings behind this festival.
Obviously its easier to explain to tourists and faster to simply call this day the “Cheung Chau Bun Festival”. In accordance to “dajiao“, its actually a 4 day fasting period where Cheung Chau residents abstain from meat and go vegetarian. Even the one and only Mcdonalds in Cheung Chau will only serve mushroom burgers in respect for local customs. If you fancy a larger seafood meal then plenty of restaurants will start to serve meat again at 6pm after all the parades have gone back to the Pak Tai temple and Cheung Chau has been “reborn”.
Times have changed though and some stores will sell meat all day because they feel the need to capture the enormous business opportunity otherwise risk being outdone by competitors. Yet its still one of the greatest events that goes on in Hong Kong and there is no reason for you to not have fun and enjoy yourself. The debate between respecting the historical traditions vs. the signature Hong Kong practicality to make money out of a great carnival will go on.
Regardless though, One Last tip for the day from a Cheung Chau Local:
There is still Kwun Yam Wan Beach for those envious for a dip in the beach – expect overwhelming crowds though.
When the crowds are too much and the cafes and snack shops all bursting with even more people then go to the library at the top floor of the Cheung Chau market building. There is refreshing A/C and believe it or not its one of the most off the beaten path deserted points of interests come the day of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. Its been recently refurbished and there is free internet and wifi, just as the librarians nicely. The best part is getting away from the heat!