Neighbourhood Sounds

Lonely Tung Chung fights for a better life

Tung Chung is a classic example of a flawed planning strategy, but young people at least are now getting a chance to channel their creative energy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2012, 11:35am

Tung Chung was not designed for human beings. This is a common complaint from the area's poorer residents, who suffer most from the lack of amenities in the isolated new town.

"It's like whoever planned the town decided that all people need are flats to live in, transport to their workplace, and that's it," said Lau Sze-ki, a higher diploma design student at Polytechnic University. "The truth is, we are not just workers, but people who would like to do some shopping, go to a good cafe, find a room or library for studying, or a place for a good meal with the family … we are not working robots."

The community, on the northern coast of Lantau island, is nearly all residential, and notorious for its distant location and its inhabitants' lack of access to the most basic of amenities. Those in public housing estates remain trapped by hefty transport costs in an existence they find difficult to escape.

If Tung Chung in general is considered isolated, Yat Tung Estate is an even lonelier place. The public estate, a five-minute bus rise from the MTR station, houses about half of Tung Chung's 80,000 population. What particularly sets it apart is that up to 40 per cent of its inhabitants are under 18. These youngsters grow up without many of the amenities their urban counterparts have access to, and perennially face the spectre of delinquency and crime.

Some have refused to give up hopes of one day bringing change to the only neighbourhood they have ever known, however. Among them is Lau, 22, who started a youth organisation a year ago dedicated to providing the neighbourhood's children with summer programmes, games and art classes - experiences she said she "never had when I was growing up".

Lau said: "We've grown up here. We may not have had the opportunities children living outside may have and we may not even get to travel out of Tung Chung that much, but we only hope our neighbourhood will improve.

"We want to give our next generation something better … to do our part in broadening their horizons, let them know that they can accomplish a lot, despite being poor. We want to fight for better things for the community."

Tung Chung, established in conjunction with the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, which sits across the water a short bus ride away, is, like Tin Shui Wai, an example of the government's flawed "new town" strategy of the 1990s. Like its counterpart in the northwestern New Territories, Tung Chung has long struggled to become the self-sufficient community it was supposedly designed to be.

Yat Tung began with just a small mall and lots of parking spaces. A wet market was added after constant complaints by residents, and a hospital is being built.

Another resident, Li Ka-po, 23, said: "What do we have? We have a mall and a market, a few ball courts, lots of those little playgrounds for children … and I think that's it.

"The library is a 30-minute walk away, and the swimming pool is 20 minutes away. You could take the bus, but for our elderly and our poor, it's too far."

The mall, run by The Link, which has operated most public housing estate malls since the government sold them off, is filled with fast food and supermarket chains selling goods many of the residents consider expensive. Goods at the wet market, also managed by The Link, are much more expensive than in Tin Shui Wai. Stallholders say this is because their costs are high. An employee of a vegetable stall said the stall cost more than HK$70,000 a month, including rent, electricity and water bills. The wet market closes at about 7.30pm and the mall at 11pm sharp. After that, Yat Tung's residents have nowhere to go. The deadness of the place is deepened by the eerily empty car-park buildings, which have spaces for more than 5,000 vehicles but which have never been used since their completion a decade ago.

At night, young people trickle down to the parks to chat or play games while some show off their hip-hop moves. But often things get uglier. Tung Chung has constantly made headlines in the past few years for suicides, gang fights, illegal home-gambling businesses and more youth-related problems.

"We are told to walk on paths with a covering above, in case someone decides to jump down," Li said. She was only half joking. "Some parents are actually worried enough to give this advice.

"We need more facilities for this community. This is a community of people, not just workers for the airport," Li said. "If there aren't more things to do, places for the young to hang out, they will only get into more trouble."

Freeman Lau Chin-pang, 23, said the government needed to diversify the types of jobs and career opportunities available in the area. "I want actual streets with shops so those who want to start their own little businesses can have a chance," he said. "Give the young people a chance to use the abundant creativity that they have instead of working in menial jobs like a cleaner or waiter at the airport."

Despite the social problems, the generation that grew up in the estate over the past decade (the first part was completed in 2001 and the rest in 2004) feel they belong, and want to give something back.

Ho Man-kiu, 20, inspired by the sight of children in the estate's grounds with keys on chains around their necks because there is no one at home, is studying to become an early-childhood educator.

"They'd tell me that no one cares about where they were anyway," he said. "I want to be able to help that."

Lau Sze-ki, who has been working voluntarily in the community with the youth organisation she set up in a year ago, summed it up: "This is our home, our neighbourhood. We want to make the future better for the generations to come."