Hong Kong stages bizarre 'bun scrambling' festival
Tuesday 10 May 2011
Tens of thousands of people flocked to a tiny Hong Kong island Tuesday for a bizarre ancient ritual known as "bun scrambling", part of a religious festival to celebrate victory over evil.
Huge crowds converged on Cheung Chau, a picturesque fishing village, for the annual "Bun Festival", a celebration unique to the southern Chinese city.
Legend has it that the event's all-important sweet buns bring good luck to the island's fishermen, protecting them from the spirits of pirates that once lurked the region by satisfying hungry ghosts.
The ceremony is also held in honour of Pak Tai, a Taoist god of the sea, said to drive away evil spirits.
The festival's centrepiece comes when the clock strikes midnight and a dozen contestants scramble up three towers studded with some 9,000 buns in a race to grab as many of the holy items as they can.
The contestants, nine men and three women, have three minutes to pull buns from the 14-metre (46 foot) tower, with pastries at the top bringing the most points.
Another festival highlight is a "parade of floats" where local children, decked out in elaborate make-up and costumes depicting mythological figures and deities, pass through the quaint island's narrow alleyways.
"Every year about 60,000 people, locals and foreign tourists, take part in the festival. We expect the same crowd this year," Eric Ho, the festival's organising committee vice-chairman, told AFP.
"It is very important for us to keep this tradition because it showcases our culture."
In the past, hundreds of young men raced up the structure to snatch the lucky buns, until more than 100 people were injured when the two bamboo towers collapsed in 1978, prompting a ban on the event.
It was revived in 2005 with bun towers made of steel, and limited to a small number of designated climbers. The steamed edible buns once used in the ritual have also been replaced with plastic replicas for hygiene reasons.
Blessing-seekers can still buy the real buns, usually made of lotus paste and stamped with the Chinese character for "peace", at shops on the island.
But the festival has been hit with a bun shortage this year after health officials warned local shops to stop stamping buns outside their premises, prompting merchants to cut back their supply in protest.
Some bun lovers were outraged. "I am disappointed I could not buy the buns - usually I will bring back some buns for my family as they symbolise peace and good health," said Christina Wong, a 57-year-old housewife queuing queue outside a bakery.
"If we don't allow this practice, we are going to lose part of the culture," she said.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
Are plastic planes the future of flight? Heathrow expansion reopens debate over aviation's effects on the environment
Top 10 zoos in Europe, according to TripAdvisor
Inside Travel: Greece 2015 Q&A - should we cancel our Greek holiday? Are our flights safe? And what will we be spending there?
The most powerful passports in the world
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...
£33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...
£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...
£22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...