• A pop-up market event in Glasgow brought Hong Kong culture to the Scottish city by way of 25 stalls selling everything from egg tarts to TCM and haircuts
  • The Hong Kong Market was billed as part of Hong Kong March, a series of cultural events that have taken place across the Britain throughout the month

The Barras Market - like much of Glasgow - is not much to look at, initially. It appears to be a place in which to flip through dog-eared Toyah Willcox records or buy jeans of questionable origin.

In its 1930s heyday, though, the indoor market - and its adjacent ballroom - formed the nexus of the Scottish city's social life.

But there is regeneration afoot. Shops are springing up that reflect modern, multicultural Glasgow: bubble tea here, bao buns there. The Hong Kong Market - a pop-up event that took place for the first time on March 25 and 26 - is the latest chapter in the Barras renaissance.

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Although independently organised by Scotland's Hong Kong community - officially the Wee Union Hong Kong in Scotland - the pop-up was billed as part of Hong Kong March, a series of cultural events that have taken place across Britain throughout the month. There were 25 stalls and all the vendors were originally from Hong Kong.

As I entered, I found myself back in Asia. There were wife cakes and washi tapes, bubble waffles and beef balls. A woman sat on the edge of a massage table, having her spine realigned.

I heard the buzz of a shaver and turned to see a barber carving a coiffure. So far, so Hong Kong - except that almost all the customers were white.

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I headed to the performance area, where a martial arts demo was finishing up. There was a brief interlude of bagpipe music, then a turquoise-robed opera singer took the mic.

Volunteer Wilson Chan was manning the soundboard. He said he was surprised by how willing Glaswegians were to familiarise themselves with Hong Kong traditions. "Especially the people getting haircuts and massages; even with a lot of people around them, they enjoy it."

"The purpose of the market is to promote Hong Kong culture to Scottish people: street food, performance, etc," he adds. "But not the present Hong Kong; more like the Hong Kong of the '80s and '90s."

Beijinger Jacqueline Pan, who moved to Scotland in 2007 and was visiting the market as a customer, said she found it "a bit old-fashioned" and laughed. "It's like the Hong Kong you see in the movies."

Scotland's 2011 census showed that around 11,000 people of Chinese descent live in Glasgow, making it Britain's fourth-largest Chinese community. Most arrived in the 1960s and '70s, as land reform in Hong Kong sent villagers to Britain in search of a better life.

Most of last weekend's market vendors moved much more recently: either during the 2019 protests, or with the introduction of the BNO (British National Overseas) visa in 2021.

Stallholder Au Long arrived in Glasgow in 2021 on the BNO scheme; he was a football coach in Hong Kong and is now channelling his skills into establishing Glasgow Hongkongers FC.

"I'm trying to gather people here because Scotland is famous for football - we want to integrate into local society, so we're hoping we can form a team and compete."

In return for following Glasgow Hongkongers FC on Instagram, I got six chances to throw a dart at a funfair-style balloon wall to win some sweets.

Of all the market's decorative details, Au told me, he most appreciated the posters. On the wall were torn, peeling sheets of paper advertising tutoring and goods for sale in Chinese. They looked like they could have been there for months.

"There are some things here that only Hongkongers will know," he said. He pointed overhead, and grinned. "Like that sign of a foot with a smile on it."

Au drew attention to the stall of Evin "Keychain Boy" Ho, who also arrived in 2021. Together with his wife, Ho makes key rings inspired by Hong Kong minibus signs. Many of the place names, however, are Scottish: Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness.

Behind Ho's stand was the crowded food court, with signs explaining sticky rice rolls and egg tarts to any diners who might have found them unfamiliar.

"There's a lot of local street food," said a young Hong Kong woman living in Edinburgh who declined to be named. "I'm surprised that [Glaswegians] want to try it, because it's not really a common food here in the UK; the Hong Kong style is different from what you get in Chinese takeaways."

Ricky Lun and Helena Lam were selling chicken pot pie, cashew nut cookies, sugar rings and coconut osmanthus jelly inspired by Lam's native Macau.

"Glasgow has very nice people, just the weather is a bit ..." he made a face, and laughed. As we spoke, people at the entrance were pulling up their hoods against a sudden rain shower.

Candle maker Su Ching and her husband came to Glasgow on the BNO visa in 2021.

"I think it's better than London - can I say that?" she said, laughing. "Scotland is friendly; a bit chilled out."

Su's candle stall looked like a Hong Kong memory box, with wax depictions of mahjong tiles, cherry blossoms, Wong Tai Sin temple amulets and disposable milk tea cups.

She picked up a white candle etched with a black outline. "This one is Lion Rock," she said. "You know that song, 'Under the Lion Rock' - it represents the Hong Kong spirit."

Among the market's more unusual attractions was a stall offering traditional Chinese medicine consultations. Cups and powders were spread out on the table along with notes explaining their uses.

Amy Wu Yuen-ting left Hong Kong in 2021, and now runs a traditional medicine business from her Edinburgh home, which mostly caters to fellow expats.

"I have some British clients, but not many," she said. I asked her what visitors to her stall had been most curious about.

"Usually, they are interested in acupuncture; I think it's more accepted here than herbal medicine. They say things like, 'Oh, I've tried acupuncture before.'"

Early on, it was clear the Hong Kong Market was going to be a success. Most of the 3,000-plus people who signed up on the event's Facebook page seemed to have turned up, mobbing the 25 stalls. By 2pm on Saturday, all the food had sold out; by the end of Sunday, most of the crafts had, too.

A glance at that Facebook page shows that the organisers have already started planning next year's event.

The market's success is characteristic of the Glaswegian willingness to embrace the unfamiliar and welcome the stranger. And hopefully, for the Barras, it is a sign of better times to come.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

2023-03-31T10:31:20Z dg43tfdfdgfd