When Queuing Up Becomes Deadly: Should the government do something about it?

Outside a local music store, makeshift beds were ubiquitous. They were packed with dedicated fans and mercenary resellers – both eager to buy a concert ticket, yet, unaware of the shadows looming behind them. Growing into two clean-cut figures, their black camouflage starkly contrasted by their kitchen knives that gleamed under the blissful sunlight.

The rest is complete chaos. A person queueing for tickets just to see a famous singer was stabbed in the arm, sending blood stains all over the peaceful neighbourhood.

Queuing up is exhausting when it comes to buying a sought-after item. But in Hong Kong, it is not the sole consideration. While being acclaimed as one of the safest places in the world, queuing up in the city has recently been fraught with dangers – the depicted incident, which occurred in Hung Hom on August 6, 2018, is one of the instances, where queuers were intimidated, or worse, attacked.

The worrying phenomenon raises awareness towards its culprit, ticket scalping: reselling tickets at a price higher than the original. The close ties between the two affect different stakeholders’ outlook towards whether line-sitting should be regulated.

 

The real problem: Ticket Scalping

Ticket scalping is growingly rampant. The ticketing situation of Dayo Wong’s talk show, hosted by a locally-renowned stand-up comedian, in 2018 is an epitome of the severity of markups. VIP tickets, originally charged HK$880 (US$112), were sold by scalpers at HK$15555 (US$1985).

The returns reaped by the resale are of a considerable amount, especially to the working class in Hong Kong. In a city where the cost of living is declared as one of the most expensive in the world, the payback thus incentivises individuals to participate in ticket scalping.

Yet, they are only the tip of the iceberg. The major players of ticket scalping are triads, operating as a business. The presence of these organisations gives rise to a new job, sitting in line. In most occasions, line-sitters are given an envelope that contains a “shopping list”; after queuing, they are to pass the tickets to the group representative, who is stationed near the box office and will likely hand them another envelope.

Ticket-scalpers tend to look for line-sitters through Facebook groups for job-hunting. A typical post says something along the lines of “Hiring line-sitters [at a designated time, venue for a certain degree of pay]. You may bring along snacks, and homework. Students and housewives are welcome.” The payment usually ranges from HK$30 (US$3.8) to HK$55 (US$7.0) per hour.

People queuing up overnight. (Photo: Wenweipo)

The general view towards the act is somewhat negative.

For starter, the income for ticket-scalpers is far from sufficient, as the lower end of the income scope does not reach the minimum wage, which is $34.5 (US$4.4). Furthermore, the usual pay is meagre to most. A comment on a Facebook recruitment group reads, “You are a fucking idiot for thinking that I will queue up for you overnight at an hourly rate of HK$40 (US$5.1). The people willing to take the offer are even more idiotic.”

But monetary matters do not seem to hinder people, primarily Southeast Asians, from taking up the position. Crowds of South-east Asians are seen at the front of the queue, waiting to obtain tickets of almost every event. But when local reporters asked about what they are lining up for, they fail to produce an answer. A part of them is not even permitted to work. There have been always forums that discuss whether “Hongkongers should expel all South-east Asians”, and their behaviour amplifies such a thought.

The sentiment towards line-sitters is not solely based on money and legitimacy. What baffles most is the lack of decency. There have been countless recounts of line-sitters attempting to jump the queue.

Take the concert of a local singer Sammi Cheng as an example.  “A day before tickets were officially available for the public, around 10 line-sitters sat in front of me in the queue, and occupied ample space for camping overnight,” a fan describes his encounter on Golden, a local online forum similar to Reddit. “In the next morning, there were approximately 20 more people ahead of me… The South-east Asians have gone too far!”

 

When it turned bloody

Conflicts culminated in 2018, when tickets for JJ Lin’s, a famed Singaporean singer, concert were up for sale. A few fans, who were at the front of the queue, were ambushed by two triad-hired people dressed in black. Fortunately, only one of them was injured. The fans’ position jeopardised the triads’ scalping business; thus, they resorted to violence so that their line-sitters could stand a better chance to get more tickets.

An injured line-sitter on an ambulance after ambushed by triads. (Photo: Singtao Headline)

The wounded later told the press, “The attacker’s identity is unknown to me… I would never have thought of being stabbed for buying concert tickets.” Meanwhile, netizens expressed their hatred towards the line-sitters, “The actions of those South-east Asian dogs are out of control! When is the government going to do something about that?”

Clashes do not only occur between fans and line-sitters, but also among scalpers themselves. In 2018, a line-sitter was knifed while queuing up for tickets for Andy Lau’s, a local singer, concert. The aggression originated from an argument between two triads: the latter, being the monopoly of ticket scalping in the district where the dispute unfolded, refused to give the former a share in the market. It provoked the former to initiate an attack, attempting to impede the latter from earning anything.

Although the line-sitter was the victim, due to the connection between line-sitters and ticket scalpers, the incident did nothing but further damaged the overall impression towards line-sitters: “Fuck the whole ticketing scalping squad. They should just die,” people clamoured on another web forum LIHKG.

 

Should the government do something about it?

Apart from the outrage, the increasing nuisance of ticket scalping has sparked conversation on remedies to the deep-seated problem, which prevents similar attacks from happening. Legislators like Andrew Wan and the government have respectively proposed solutions by referencing foreign models.

There are opposing views against the suggested regulation, though. Line-sitting, being a parcel of ticket scalping, is essential to the eco-system of Hong Kong’s economy.

Leung Tincheuk, an economics scholar from Wake Forest College, wrote in his article on ticket scalping, “The goal to set an expensive price and to ensure tickets are sold out simultaneously is too ambitious. HKPhil [Event organiser] would rather sell their tickets at a cheaper price, and ‘outsource’ the undertaking to fill up the hall to scalpers”, who will then allocate the tickets to those willing to pay more.

“Reselling goods and services is the essence of… free markets… The fact remains that customers were and are willing to pay the secondary market price to attend the event,” according to an opinion by Webb-site Reports, a publication covering economic affairs in Hong Kong.

Line-sitting is perceived as unreasonable and unjust in many ways; on the other hand, it is indispensable in supporting the ticketing industry and upholding the principle of the free market. The outcome of discussions on improving the status quo is unknown, but what is certain is that the debate sheds light on the precarious balance between fulfilling the wishes of the majority, and economic freedom.

 

Feature image credits to HK01

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