Opting out has its own rewards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2012, 12:00am

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Mok Ho-kwong is no ordinary environmentalist.

He doesn't just preach his ideals but puts most of them into practice. He lives in a remote village house in Fanling, where he grows his own vegetables.

While his house is connected to the power grid and has an internet connection, he has few electrical appliances, spurning air-conditioning and a television.

He makes his own soap, uses only salt to clean his teeth and occasionally burns waste wood to cook. Locals have dubbed him Yeah Man, a pun on the similarity between 'yeah' and the Cantonese word for 'wild'.

'Materially, I might be deprived, but psychologically I am richer than many of you,' says the 30-year-old university graduate who picks up furniture discarded by others. Mok decided to live this way after he graduated from university in 2004, a year after the Sars epidemic sent the economy plunging to its lowest ebb in decades. With his friends, he founded a nature network, providing eco-education services to students and young people.

He says most of the quality-of-life issues facing urban dwellers, such as rising home prices, air pollution, income disparity, food safety scares and lack of social mobility, are a matter of choice. 'I have spacious living space here and right outside I can breathe very good air. Whenever I want fresh and safe food I just go to my farm and harvest whatever I need. This is also a quality life,' he says. 'Everyone is able to live this life, but many just can't leave the city, which is too convenient for them.'

Mok fills his leisure time with meditation, reading and growing his herbs and vegetables on a piece of land he rents from a village resident.

Mok doesn't care much about what he earns - now about HK$4,000 a month - as long as it covers his expenses and rent.

'The more money you make, the more you want,' he says. 'Then it exerts more pressure on you to get more. And I don't have this anxiety now.'

He says he still cares about injustice and poverty but has found his own way to deal with it. He also puts little faith in protests.

'Taking to the streets a few times doesn't mean you can make changes. It is not that easy. The most practical way is changing how you think and behave,' he says. 'Of course, we should continue to push for social changes, but you don't necessarily feel happier when the government gives you more.'

Mok is accompanied in his simple, fruitful life by his wife, Ah Ngau, but there are clouds on the horizon. His landlord has asked him to move out of the three-storey village house in Hok Tau village so it can be renovated. He expects the rent to double to $6,000 after the work.

'Rentals are rising, even in this particular corner,' he says, wondering how long the land would remain peaceful before it fell prey to development.