Vancouver’s first Hong Kong festival drew more than 3,000 people to the city’s downtown Harbor Center Saturday to bask in the familiar sights and sounds of the unique culture.
Among 72 vendors that sold a range of culturally-inspired food, clothing, jewelry, art and other creations, the gathering saw attendees take part in Mahjong and Jungle group games, documentary screenings, celebrity fan clubs, Cantonese workshops and other activities.
“Our idea was to create a safe space for Hong Kongers to gather, to be around people who speak the same language, to showcase our culture and traditions because without active preservation of our culture it will fade away,” said Heiky Kwan of HK House , a volunteer-run group that funded the free event.
“This is a deeply emotional event for everyone,” said Kwan, who was born in Hong Kong.
When Sharon Chan’s eyes started to well up with tears when she first entered the concourse and took notice of a sign that read “hometown” in her native language. She moved to Vancouver in 2020.
“Missing that childhood feeling of home is hard,” said the 41-year-old Port Coquitlam mother-of-three whose parents reside in Hong Kong.
Chan, the owner of Mama In The Kitchen, sold her homemade version of Hong Kong street food tastes, curry fishball sauce and oils, at the fair.
“I want people to remember the love of their childhood when they take that first bite.”
The event wasn’t without acknowledgment of the political unrest Hong Kong faces as the Chinese government pushes for greater influence over the city.
For vendors “Side Lee” and “Rekh,” who stood behind their paintings Saturday, the turmoil is not such a distant memory.
The pair, who asked their legal names not be used out of fear of retaliation, said they were among 14 people charged for rioting at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University on Nov. 18, 2019, during the 2019-2020 protests against a law proposed to allow extraditions to mainland China.
Side Lee, who is living in Vancouver on a work permit, nearly lost the use of his hands after Hong Kong police arrested him that day on campus.
“Police zip-tied my hands together and forced me to lay on my stomach for 15 hours,” Side Lee said. “My hands turned blue and swollen.”
The young artist said it took him two months to recover the feeling in both hands.
“He told me he wouldn’t want to live if he couldn’t make art,” said Rehk, his girlfriend.
For her the most terrifying part of the order was struggling to breathe once police unleashed tear gas upon the protesters.
“I thought I was going to choke,” said Rehk
In January, the 28-year-old was granted Canadian refugee status after having fled to Vancouver in 2020 following the riot.
“I couldn’t stay in Hong Kong anymore,” Rehk said. “My family is pro-China and kicked me out of the house. My friends were being surveyed by the government. Some of them are still in jail.”
Alez Fung and Emma So, owners of the Metro Vancouver candle company If We Burn You Burn With Us, said the fair was their way of spreading messages of hope to fellow Hong Kongers.
Tealight candles they sold for $2 burned to reveal images of Cantonese sayings including “Fight For Freedoms” and “Stand With Hong Kong.”
“It’s our way of telling people back in Hong Kong, like my aunts and uncles, that we have not forgotten about them,” said So, who hasn’t traveled back since the 2019 protests.
“I would only go back to Hong Kong without a phone, or with a completely wiped one.”