Tai O appeal as village fades away

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2000, 12:00am

Tai O community leaders are calling for urgent action to prevent the 800-year-old fishing village from becoming just a memory after it was revealed the population had dropped by more than half in 10 years years.

A July 2 fire destroyed about one-quarter of the settlement's 300 stilt houses. A 1996 government census recorded 2,223 residents in the village, down from 4,333 in 1986.

Government permission for residents to rebuild the lost stilt homes arrived about a week ago, but the Tai O people face bigger problems than simply rebuilding their houses.

Vice-chairman of the Tai O Rural Committee, Lau Cheuk-wing, said the revitalisation efforts were coming too late. 'We believe that the building of a boat anchorage shelter is the best solution to Tai O's weakening economy. Although it may not revive Tai O's fishery, it can at least attract boats from China and allow Tai O to develop other supporting businesses,' he said.

The fishing industry is shrinking, the younger generation is moving out, and an ongoing legal fight with the Government to obtain perpetual family ownership of their homes has yet to be decided.

A Tai O revitalisation study that touched on the fishing and depopulation concerns was conducted by the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau in May. The bureau called for greater development of tourist sites in Tai O, including a new boat anchorage, hotel and folk museum, as part of the overall Lantau tourism development.

Government officials are reviewing public reaction, and a final report will be published by December.

But before Tai O becomes more of a tourist attraction, locals want other social concerns addressed. 'Emphasis should be placed on the development of local infrastructures, such as building a more convenient transport network and providing more schooling opportunities,' said resident and author Wong Wai-king, who wrote Tai O: Love Stories of the Fishing Village.