Deliver the goods

Deliver the goods

Wet markets are still needed to help low-income families


Patsy Cheng (right) distributes Market Post to raise awareness of the importance of wet markets.
Patsy Cheng (right) distributes Market Post to raise awareness of the importance of wet markets.
Photo: Paul Yeung/SCMP
Shoppers say that the groceries sold at Aberdeen market are too pricey. Vendors at Wong Tai Sin's Tai Shing Street Market complain that it's impossible to work in temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius. Legislators want the near-vacant Tang Lung Chau Market in Causeway Bay closed.

The government announced last year that it will stop building new wet markets, and will shut down the less-occupied ones. But does this mean wet markets are no longer useful to the community?

Patsy Cheng Man-wah, founder of conservation concern group See Network, doesn't think so. She says that wet markets, scruffy and chaotic though they may be, are still a big draw for housewives and low-income families. "Some wet markets are built to fail not because the community doesn't need them, but because of mistakes in urban planning," says Cheng, who has studied wet markets for years.

That's why See Network is publishing a series of five free biweekly magazines, called Market Post, this month to highlight the reasons wet markets should stay. The second issue can be collected from 180 points across the city, including 759 Store, on August 16.

Yeung Uk Road Market in Tsuen Wan is an example of how successful markets can be. It has been expanding ever since it opened in 1990. Today, 300 vendors sell everything from Mandarin fish and soy sauce to slippers.

A wet market in Wan Chai Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

Every morning, vendors, shoppers and vehicles fight for space. According to a survey conducted by the Federation of Trade Unions this year, food sold at the market is among the cheapest in the city.

The market is thriving, unlike many others, thanks to its prime location near a transport hub - it is close to the West Rail Line and is surrounded by minibus stops - and there's ample room for growth.

This is basic economics, says Cheng. The more stalls there are, and the more diverse the goods they sell, the better the quality and the lower the prices.

"When the fish stall next door sells the same eels and it lowers its price, you have to cut yours, too, to attract customers. That's why you have bargain prices," she says. "That's the beauty of competition."

On the other hand, prices at Hoi Lai Estate, in Sham Shui Po, and Aberdeen Market, are much higher. At Hoi Lai, there's a chain supermarket which has a monopoly on the neighbourhood's groceries, while Aberdeen Market covers just the first two floors of a multi-purpose government building and is surrounded by private property.

"It's not fair that low-income people have to pay more for their groceries or walk for at least 20 minutes ... to the closest wet market," says Cheng.

She thinks basic renovations - such as air-conditioning, better ventilation and lighting, more entrances and cleaner conditions - will attract more customers. However, she says the government needs to rethink where to build wet markets in the future, and save space for them to expand.

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