According to legend, origin of the festival started when a plague devastated Cheung Chau in the late Qing dynasty. The weakened island was further assaulted by pirates that ravaged the town and subsequently caused famine and poverty. The desperate locals built an alter for the god Pak Tai, paraded his statue around the village, and petitioned him to send away the evil spirits encompassing the island. Pak Tai listened; peace and fortune smiled once again on the people of Cheung Chau. One hundred years later the rituals are still performed with a week long event including parades, lion dances, Chinese opera, and a Bun scrambling competition.
***To be honest, we did not know about the Bun Festival until we arrived on Cheung Chau this past Sunday. Our plan was to meet a few friends for a seafood lunch and to explore the island. Luckily for us the festival was in full operation!***
We took the fast ferry from Central to Cheung Chau which ended up being around a 30 minute commute.
Hoards of people lined the waterfront adjacent to the ferry exit. Flags, decorations, and food stalls sprinkled throughout the harbor. A particular stall caught our eye with its long line and a huge banner displaying mochi desserts.
In the back of the stall was a kitchen where you can see them making the fresh mochi balls.
After wetting our appetite with the mochi dessert, we were eager to fill our empty stomachs. We walked around the harbor and randomly chose the busiest looking restaurant.
Our meal was pleasantly interrupted by several lion dancing processions.
Seeing that our hunger had been quenched, we headed out to explore the island and join in on the festivities. Our first stop was the Pak Tai temple.
Adjacent to the temple was an open air stage with a live Chinese opera performance.
Bordering the festival grounds, lied the enormous 60 ft Bun tower. Originally the tower was made of bamboo and used real edible buns. But in 1978 one of the towers collapsed, resulting in over 100 people injured. After that fiasco, government officials ordered the tower to have a metallic framework, used only plastic buns (fear for risk of contamination), and all competitors had to use safety harnesses. Historically, young men would compete to grab the highest buns on the towers; the higher the buns, the better fortune they would bring to their family.
Traditionally the edible buns were kept on the tower for 3 days, then knocked down and distributed to the islanders. Most islanders did not eat the buns but some have used small amounts for medicinal benefits.
Unfortunately for us, we did not get a chance to see the Bun scrambling competition. It is held on the last night of the festival, which this year was on a Monday night. I was, however, able to find a clip of the competition on Youtube.