Jarring pounding of pile-drives, shrill honk of car horns, excited midnight neighbours, pounding music from amplifiers all night…
Day and night, finding a complete peace and quiet place in hustles and bustles in Hong kong is barely possible.
Government has been trying to mitigate noise pollution. Still, citizens suffer from over-exposed to noises.
Dusks falls, volume up.
On one side of Sai Yeung Choi Street South a man with a Fedora hat sings Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and blasts electric guitar through a crackly speaker.
Just a few metres away, a group of people singing merrily with microphones and several amplifiers, without noticing a few passersby who covered their ears and strode away.
Turn up the volume to the mac.
Listen to this while working.
How long can you stand?
1minute? Or even less?
People living and working there have to stand it for 2 whole night every week.
Street performers proliferated.
At the same time, more noise complaints are filed.
Though the complaints strike,
police seldom deal with them seriously by issuing sermons.
My hearing is poorer. It is inevitable.
Mr. Ng, a second hand electronics buyer, usually works while sitting beside two music booths in the zone.
His hearing has deteriorated in recent years.
When I go back home and watch television in weekdays, I only need to tune the volume to 12 to 13 to hear it clearly. But today, I need to tune it to 22 to 23 to hear what it is talking about.
Cheung, a sales person, said he can hardly talk and hear.
The buskers sing too loudly that even customers lost patience to stay and listen to salespersons.
Cheung said that either volume of performances should be restricted, or a zone should be drawn to kick out performances which are too loud.
When they begin to sing, we have no business.
Cheung, a shop owner, is frustrated when massive audience block the road when watching busking performances. Customers could hardly squeeze themselves through the crowd and visit Cheung’s shop.
Hence, shop owners in the street do better in weekdays instead of weekends.
Cheung said calling the police is useless. As buskers tune down volume only when the police advise them. Once the police left, they tune up volume again.
Still, average noise level of busking exceeds the government guidance.
According to Environmental Protection Department’s Noise Control Guidelines for Music, Singing and Instrument Performing Activities, sound level of performances should only be at most 10dB more than the street noise level.
When compared with usual street noise level at around 70dB, the 90dB average busking noise level is 20dB higher.
Busking sound level is even “intolerable” for human, as it is above the standard suggested by Transport Department (70dB). Long or repeated exposure to busking sound level (90dB) can cause gradual hearing impairment, according to Department of Health.
Andy Yu Tak-po, one of the District Councillors in Yau Tsim Mong District Council, said he receives plenty reports from residents and shops in this zone.
He said the noise problem cannot be solved, if the government does not put busking regulation into policy agenda.
As shortening opening hours of pedestrian zone does not help mediating noise disturbance, let’s have a peek at busking regulations in other countries.
In Hong Kong, none of the government department have right to manage busking activities. For example, as buskers are not hawkers, their performances are not under control of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Same as Hong Kong, other countries does not have laws nor designated sound levels for busking.
Therefore, even though police can interfere, they can only judge on a subjective nuisance basis. It is because Noise Control Ordinance does not specify ways to assess the acceptability of the noise produced by street performances.
Other countries restrict equipments to control the sound level indirectly.
In New York, a permit is needed if street performances involves a sound device, such as a loudspeaker, megaphone, or stereo.
Melbourne allows use of amplifiers only if it is powered by batteries. As powered amplification and generator powered batteries are prohibited, performances are prone to quieter acoustic.
London only suggested the noise to be slightly above street levels, but no specific guidelines.
Compared to Hong Kong, busking have to go through quality control if it is in prime spots in other places.
Buskers have to face public audition to perform in central Melbourne.
Performance in special events in New York MTR also requires audition.
Similarly, London also have entry requirements sick as auditions or permits in private busking schemes in prime spots.
Hong Kong has audition too, but it is for busking in off-centre cultural spots instead of city centre like in other places.
General public space
Still, regulations are rather loose if performances are held in general public space as in Hong Kong.
Yet performing beside a park or at the Staten Island Ferry terminals requires a permit in New York.