Village voices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 November, 2009, 12:00am

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Chan Wing has lived in Shui Hau, just outside Mui Wo, all his life. So had his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him. But in the past decade, 50-year-old Chan has seen the population in the village shrink from more than 500 people to about 200 - with a predictable effect on the small businesses serving the area, including his own.

Chan knew something had to be done to prevent his community from fading away.

'There are two things I know from living here so for many years: the best ways to dig up clams and the best ways to cook them,' he says.

So two years ago, he and his wife closed their tiny convenience store and started a new business renting clam-digging tools to visitors and turning their catch into tasty dishes for a small fee.

Chan dubs his operation the 'tourist welcome centre', and even watches over his customers' belongings while they're out digging for clams. 'Mr Chan has definitely helped stimulate the weekend tourist trade,' says Louise Preston, a long-time resident of south Lantau. 'I've seen as many as 100 visitors eating clams at his place on Saturday evenings.'

Major developments such as Chek Lap Kok Airport, Tung Chung new town and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car have transformed large swathes of Lantau, but to villagers such as Chan, the south of the island has been suffering from neglect.

Now a growing number of residents are working to revitalise the area, with most attention centred around Mui Wo - the usual jumping off point for exploring the natural attractions of south Lantau.

Among the Mui Wo Rural Committee's gripes are the need to renovate the ferry pier and make improvements to local cycle tracks and the town's cooked food centre.

Having met with little response from the government after many submissions since 2002, residents know they can't depend on them for help, says district councillor Rainbow Wong Fuk-kan.

'After waiting for the government for the past several years, we've decided to take charge and help the area ourselves by organising more events to highlight the beauty of Mui Wo,' Wong says.

Wan Tung-yat, who heads the South Lantao Rural Committee, says: 'We've got to do this ourselves.'

Among the activities is the Experience South Lantau fair on Sunday, which is being held at Pui O Beach, a short drive from Mui Wo. The event will feature a display by local fisheries, art by local children, food stands with local and Western snacks, live music, beach games and a hiking trail exhibition.

'Water events will be our main focus because that's the strongest attraction here,' says organiser Henry Pai Lap-yuen.

Although the fair has been going for several years, this year is the first time organisers have sought to attract visitors, Pai says.

'In the past, the fair was for local residents and we wanted to change that this year. There will be ethnic music performances, Lantau-style snacks and other activities that reflect our traditions.'

It's a home-grown affair - all the fair workers and performers are volunteers from the community.

'We have a diverse group of residents helping out, from local schoolchildren to expat housewives,' Wan says.

Mui Wo enjoyed a boost last month when music lovers converged for the Silvermine Bay Music Festival, another DIY event where bands brought their own sound equipment along with instruments, and residents carried in their own tables and chairs.

'Mui Wo is the only choice for an event of this type,' says Hui Ho-kei, of the Hong Kong Outlying Islands Women's Association. 'Where else in Hong Kong would we have such a nice open space to play music?'

Long-time resident William Sargent was similarly driven to initiate last month's MoonTrekker, a night hike from Mui Wo to the top of Lantau Peak. Besides raising funds for the Room to Read charity, Sergeant, a conference organiser, also hoped to draw attention to the natural beauty of south Lantau.

Like the villagers, expatriate residents have also been proposing revitalisation plans to the government, to no avail.

John Schofield, of the Island Living Movement, says the group, which is made up entirely of Lantau residents, proposed a facelift for Mui Wo two years ago, but has received no response from the government.

'The scene when one steps out of the Mui Wo ferry pier isn't attractive,' says Schofield.

'There are piles and piles of bicycles blocking the walkway and the harbourfront is often occupied by construction trucks.'

It's only when the pier area is cleaned up that that leisure and dining ventures can thrive as they have in places like Sai Kung, he says.

But to Wan, the most important revamp needed is a modern sewage treatment system.

'An upgraded sewage system in Mui Wo would clean the beaches and reduce pollution,' he says.

'We can only do so much to help revitalise the area with events, but we need the government to act [on infrastructure].'

Like many, Preston favours modest schemes that can help sustain the economy without sacrificing the town's rural character and cultural roots.

Another long-time resident, Philip George, echoes the sentiment.

'I've lived in Hong Kong for 28 years, nearly half those in Mui Wo. There has been talk about revitalisation plans for a long time and I'm in two minds on the issue. Our pier definitely needs a clean-up, as it looks a complete mess right now, but I don't want Mui Wo to be turned into another Tung Chung.'

A spokesman from the Civil Engineering and Development Department says the government recently completed a feasibility study and plans revitalisation measures in the next few years.

But don't expect the locals to sit around and wait for changes.

'Those people who want to leave have gone,' says Chan. 'Everyone who has stayed loves it here. It's not just us indigenous Chinese, I see a lot of expats helping too.'

Experience South Lantau, Pui O Beach, Sun, 1pm until evening, free. Inquiries: 9032 6738