Spanning 12.5 hectares and located next to a railway station and housing estates, Tuen Mun Park is not best known for its 200 species of plant, its reptile house or its artificial lake.
Instead, most locals associate it with a group of female, mainland Chinese singers, sometimes referred to as “damas”, who regularly blast music through loudspeakers, and whom many residents decry as a nuisance. Online videos of the scantily clad singers dancing suggestively with park-goers – who are often seen giving cash tips – also draws criticism.
Noise complaints in the park first started in 2004, when groups began performing traditional Chinese music using amplifiers, before the singers took over.
According to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), which manages the park in the north of Hong Kong, 1,930 noise complaints have been filed since 2016. Only three of those cases have ended in conviction.
But that low rate of enforcement may soon change. A group of 21 Tuen Mun district councillors-elect has vowed to monitor the park daily from Saturday, checking for noise and reporting any infringements to LCSD staff. They plan to enact the plan for 30 days.
On Friday afternoon, children and parents from nearby schools spilled onto the southern fringes of the park, where there are playgrounds. Most did not dare venture any deeper into the park, including 76-year-old Tommy Chan and his grandson, aged seven.
“It’s like a restricted zone. We will not go through there,” Chan said of the park’s heart, about 200 metres away, where the damas are active from 3pm to 6pm most days.
He described interactions between singers and patrons as having “sexual elements”, adding that he was worried about his grandson asking questions.
A mother in her 30s, surnamed Leung, said it was unfair that she and her daughter were confined to the park’s periphery.
“They are doing businesses like in nightclubs,” Leung said, calling for the singing and tipping to be banned. “This is not how the park should be used.”
Chan and Leung were not alone in their frustrations.
In July, about 2,000 people marched in Tuen Mun against the mainland singers, prompting the district council to pass a motion to close two “self-entertainment zones” in the park, where performances were originally permitted.
But that did not deter the singers or their patrons, who on Friday had congregated once again in the middle of the park. About a dozen singers – mostly armed with microphones and loudspeakers – were active, with hundreds of largely older men among their spectators.
Many parents do not bring their kids here … and try to avoid the area
Michael Mo, district councillor-elect
The men, some of whom danced with the singers while holding their hands or waists, handed over bills as large as HK$500 (US$64). The singers did not speak to Post reporters, and some started filming when approached.
The smell of cigarettes was strong inside the park – where smoking is not allowed – and some men drank beer.
One spectator, who declined to give his name, said he could not afford to tip, but defended the scene.
“We are all retired. Where else can we go?” he said, adding that there was nothing sexual between singers and patrons.
Uniformed park guards played an audio message calling for the singers to turn down the volume, but took no further action. A guard explained that only LCSD officers were authorised to issue tickets, but added most singers were willing to quieten down when asked.
Michael Mo Kwan-tai, who was among 27 people from the pro-democracy bloc elected to Tuen Mun District Council last month, is also among those calling for a crackdown on the dance shows.
“Many parents do not bring their kids here … and try to avoid the area,” the 33-year-old said, during a visit to the park on Friday.
Mo said the playground on the south side of the park was well designed and suitable for disabled children as well as able-bodied, but some parents had to take the long way to get to it, avoiding the singers.
Shortly after Mo entered the park, a woman could be heard telling the singers: “Work’s over, time to go home.”
Mo said some people act as lookouts and tell the singers when those prone to complain are in sight.
Noise nuisance in the park is regulated by Section 25 of the Pleasure Grounds Regulation, which states that people are not to annoy other park users with sounds or musical performances. Violators face a maximum penalty of 14 days in jail and a fine of HK$2,000, an amount Mo complained was too small to have a deterrent effect.
Enforcing the regulation has been difficult, as a ticket can only be issued if it is established that someone inside the park has been annoyed. That means those living nearby and affected by the noise are not covered by the regulation, if they were not inside the park.
Another hurdle is that someone who was inside the park may have to testify if the case goes to court, for the punishment to be handed down.
The government’s latest proposal was to amend the regulation so anyone affected by noise coming from the park can trigger the process. It planned to table the amendment at the Legislative Council before July 2021.
In the meantime, Mo and his allies said they would take turns to monitor the park and urge guards and LCSD officers to enforce the rules.
“The problem is [the dancers] are not paying to use the space for commercial activities,” Mo said.
With their cash earnings, he said, they could afford to use private indoor venues.
Another young politician set to join Tuen Mun district council next year, Tsang Kam-wing, 25, said he remembered going to the park as a secondary school pupil, but fewer young people use the park lately, after the singing intensified.
“What I hope to see is a cohesive space for people of different ages, instead of one that is occupied by one group of people,” Tsang said.
Asked if people’s frustration with the singers was linked to anti-mainland sentiment, Tsang conceded it could be a factor, but said: “What is more important is their conduct.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Large crowd gathers in Hong Kong to protest against noisy middle-aged women ‘dama’ singers from mainland China shattering peace of Tuen Mun Park
- ‘Some people in Hong Kong may not like mainlanders’: how six months of protest hit China’s cross-border travellers
This article Newly elected councillors step up war on racy mainland Chinese dancers in Hong Kong park first appeared on South China Morning Post