Sexy models were mobbed at the opening of the Book Fair yesterday, causing chaos that organizers had tried to head off.
Girlie displays and scrambles around them were akin to scenes at last year's fair, and they spelled failure for a concerted push against them by the Trade Development Council, backed by education groups and serious book lovers.
The council declared that there was no space in the fair for langmo (literally, teen models, though many are in their twenties) trying to promote risque "photo album" books. At least 12 applications from models and their managers for promo slots were rejected.
But the models were as large as life, beating the ban by turning up at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai not as "authors" but as ordinary visitors.
Except they were far from ordinary. In skimpy outfits, some paraded in the exhibition hall to promote their albums.
Young fans of the models - and of teen singing idols who also got in on the act - expected a show, queuing long before the doors opened at 9am. Some had been in line since Tuesday night.
And when the doors did open, they rushed inside for albums of their favorite models and free gifts from singers. A 16-year-old fan of pop singer Theresa Fu said she had been outside since 10pm the night before and was spending HK$500 on Fu's book and limited-edition items. Chanting for Theresa, the fans had to wait another hour for Fu. But when she did finally walk in, she set off pandemonium by handing out free keepsakes.
Elsewhere, three models from Taiwan attracted dozens of male oglers, who took photos while reaching for gifts from the girls
The best-known langmo, Chrissie Chau Sau-na, was not at the center of the action. But the subject of a sensational pictorial book that featured in the fair last year was nearby in Golden Bauhinia Square for an autograph session. A representative of her publisher said later that the first day of the fair was a triumph, with 7,000 copies of Chau's new album sold in the morning alone.
Although it was stymied, the council's attempt to have the focus squarely on the other types of books was welcomed by most visitors, who said the fair is for writers, not scantily clad girls. A 75-year-old visitor named Chan said the models "have utterly nothing to do with books."
Mother of two Josephine Mak was put off by models "practically wearing nothing" and said they should be kept out of the fair altogether.
Mak was at the fair with a plan to spend up to HK$3,000 on classics, saying schools fail to teach children to appreciate literature.
Model books aside, exhibitors expect a rise in sales this year. "We anticipate a 10 percent increase since it has been nearly two years since the economic meltdown," said Keith Wong Yiu-wing, a marketing executive at Page One.
For those looking beyond langmo, the week-long fair features public forums with British novelist Frederick Forsyth, author and actor Stephen Fry and historian Andrew Roberts.
A record 510 exhibitors are taking part and about 900,000 visitors are expected.