HK mall Festival Walk reopens, but post-protest scars remain

18-Jan-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

An upscale shopping mall vandalised last year during Hong Kong’s anti-government protests reopened on Thursday, but much was still to be fixed despite a closure of more than two months.

Returning for the first time, shoppers at Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong browsed in similar numbers to those before the mall was forced to shut on November 13, according to shop workers.

But behind the veneer of normality, damaged glass panels had been replaced by white metal fences, while some customers were forced to take detours to get to their destination with more than a dozen escalators still out of action.

A handful of shops, including Japanese lifestyle chain Muji, sportswear chain Gigasports, Nike and Toys ‘R’ Us, were still closed, though normal service was resumed at most boutiques and restaurants.

The Singaporean-owned, 1.2 million sq ft shopping-and-office complex became a target on November 12 last year, as black-clad radicals broke glass and railings and clashed with plain-clothes police officers on various levels. A giant Christmas tree went up in flames after it was hit with a petrol bomb.

The anti-government protests, triggered by the government’s extradition bill in June, have since morphed into wider unrest including some of the most violent disturbances the city has seen.

Festival Walk has been closed since the day it was battered by clashes, though its office tower reopened on November 26.

An 83-year-old retiree, who gave his surname Wong, said he wanted to return on the first day because he generally used the mall a lot, owing to its proximity to Kowloon Tong station and its spacious interior.

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“But it’s still a bit inconvenient,” he said, adding that because of the suspended escalators, he had to walk further than usual to get to the dim sum restaurants where he planned to have lunch with his wife.

Of the mall’s 63 escalators, 13 remained out of order, but every floor still had at least one connecting to the storey above.

The two exits facing Tat Chee Avenue and the one leading to the East Rail line were narrowed to only one set of doors, with other doors blocked by white metal sheets.

Mainland Chinese postgraduate student Tang Minmin, 23, struggled to get to City University across the road because the tunnel connecting the campus was still blocked.

The Hubei native, who moved to Shenzhen, the mainland city bordering Hong Kong, when her university called off the last term, said the mall’s reopening was a sign of society “taking a turn for the better”. But she was frustrated that access to her university from the mall remained blocked.

Local resident Edith Tang, 25, was puzzled as to why the mall had not been completely fixed up, despite being closed for more than two months.

The skating rink, a signature facility of the mall, was far from ready to return to business on Thursday, with ponds of water gathered on its surface.

If you are here to shop, you don’t actually pay much attention to white fences

Housewife Iris Li

“Putting up white fences doesn’t actually take that much time,” Tang said, adding that the closure had deprived her of restaurants and shops. She had been making dinner at home and doing her grocery shopping at another supermarket instead.

But housewife Iris Li disagreed, saying: “If you are here to shop, you don’t actually pay much attention to white fences.”

The 50-year-old Hung Hom resident, who had taken the East Rail line to the mall to pick up a dress after a store’s Whampoa branch ran out of her size, said it seemed people were in the mood to shop.

A salesman at Japanese fashion chain Uniqlo said customer numbers were smaller than usual, suggesting that many might not have known the mall had reopened. “But it’s good to return to the same environment,” he said.

A saleswoman from a children’s fashion store said the crowd was about the same as before, with many flocking to restaurants and food courts on Thursday.

By lunchtime, the food court on the second floor was full. Simply Life, a cafe owned by the Maxim’s Group, unpopular among protesters due to several pro-Beijing comments made by its founder’s daughter, had customers lining up outside.

Tourists were also in the mix. A Shenzhen woman, who gave her surname Zhang, said she had been going to other districts, such as Tsim Sha Tsui, to shop when the mall was closed.

“The reopening is good because this place is kind of a one-stop shop,” she said.


Category: Hong Kong

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