In Hong Kong, a midnight race up a bamboo tower of buns

May 16, 2024
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HONG KONG — Tens of thousands of people turned out on Wednesday for Hong Kong’s signature bun festival, including a bun-scrambling competition in which participants scale a 46-foot tower, grabbing plastic buns along the way.

The event, which officials said drew more than 51,000 visitors to the Chinese territory’s outlying island of Cheung Chau, took place on a public holiday marking Buddha’s Birthday, a holy occasion for Buddhists that is observed in multiple Asian countries and territories.

Hong Kong Bun Festival
Officials said the event drew more than 51,000 people to the tiny outlying island.Martin Henery / Anadolu via Getty Images
Cheung Chau Bun Festival is staged to mark the Eighth day of the Fourth Month, in the Chinese calendar, which coincides with the local celebration of Buddha's Birthday.
The annual festival is said to have begun in the late 19th century as a way to ward off disaster and pray for blessings.Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

In addition to the bun-scrambling competition, the daylong festival consists of a kung fu performance, temple offerings and a unique “floating colors” parade featuring children dressed as local celebrities, characters from classic films and even government officials, who are carried through the streets atop poles.

The festival is said to have begun in the late 19th century as a way to ward off disaster and pray for blessings after the tiny island was devastated by a plague outbreak. It was suspended for decades after 1978, when the bun tower collapsed and caused injuries, but resumed in 2005.

The annual tradition was interrupted again by the pandemic, which kept Hong Kong’s borders closed and social activities to a minimum for the better part of three years, but returned last year. On Wednesday, it drew both local residents and tourists.

“I came to Cheung Chau island just to try the food, but I did not expect this crowd and this magical festival,” said Lin Xinyu, a student visiting from mainland China.

Hong Kong Bun Festival
Participants in the bun-scrambling competition tried to grab as many plastic buns as they could in three minutes.Chan Long Hei / AP
Hong Kong Bun Festival
Villagers on the island burn offerings in honor of Buddha’s birthday on Wednesday.Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

At midnight on Thursday, 12 contestants raced up a bamboo tower covered with 9,000 plastic buns of different point values and bearing the Chinese characters for “safe and sound.” The mission was to collect as many buns as they could in three minutes.

Yip Kin-man was crowned the “Bun King,” with 776 points, while “Bun Queen” Kung Tsz-shan won the women’s competition with 842 points. Both were also winners in past years.

“It’s a call back home,” said Tiffany Chow, who was in the parade. “It’s the time when the whole islanders unite and I get to see friends I haven’t seen for a year. I feel a strong identity of being a Cheung Chau resident and I’m proud.”

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