Estate keeps watch with drum and whistles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2011, 12:00am


Every day they sit and chat under a shelter, sharing snacks and photos to keep each other entertained. But the dozens of residents and property owners of Mei Foo Sun Chuen are not there to have fun - they are keeping an eye on a construction site they managed to shut down two weeks ago.

Every afternoon, about a dozen elderly residents, and a few younger ones, gather outside the site to make sure workers are not trying to get in and start work again. At night, residents are split into teams to watch the site in two-hour shifts.

'If anything goes wrong, we'll blow our whistles and beat a drum to alert others to come down here,' resident Lo Chung-cheong said.

When a truck and some workers tried to enter the site before dawn on March 14, two residents, including Lo, scrambled over the barbed wire and tried to block it.

For most of the 400 residents of this middle-class estate who are involved in the campaign, this is their first protest. 'I didn't think about it much when I did it, I just wanted them to stop working on the site until we have reached an agreement with the developer,' Lo, a design teacher, said. 'I'm not radical in my views and would never have imagined I would behave like one of those young protesters.'

Lo said the protest was not just about Mei Foo. 'We want the power shifted away from property tycoons - we want the government to see that better planning is needed.'

Yip Siu-chau, 65, a retired primary school teacher, is leading the residents' campaign from his dining table, which is piled high with site documents. He said he took part in the July 1 rally in 2003, but apart from that he had not participated in any protest action.

'It's important that the government keeps its promise. They said the LPG storage plant would be moved in return for another piece of land, but we weren't told until three years later that the land still belonged to Exxon Mobil,' he said. 'They haven't done their job properly - the government has really confused us.'

Yip, who as a teacher made a habit of telling his students to act in a rational and peaceful way, said the residents met various government departments before the protest began but that they did not get much from the meetings.

Belinda Yeung, 63, said her brother called her when he found she had climbed over the barbed wire into the site to block a truck. He told her she should not do that again.

'Looking back, I realise that was dangerous,' she said. 'The government did not consult us. What if I preferred the storage plant to a building that blocks my view and sunlight?'