Kevin Sinclair has been writing about New Territories events since the 1960s. He remembers spending dawns on the shores of Deep Bay in the Cultural Revolution, counting bodies, and days at the old railway station at Sheung Shui waiting to talk to the few arrivals from China. Most memories of our rural areas, however, have been much more cheerful; over three decades he has made many friends from fisherfolk on the Soko Islands to Hakka farmers along the border. The veteran Post columnist has lived in the New Territories for 15 years and keeps close to the rural communities by long distance cycling trips over village paths. His new fortnightly column, Tolo Harbour, starts today The rainy season arrives on the Yuen Long plain. Out comes New Territories man in his summer finery. From the cooked food stall at Luk Keng on Starling Inlet to the beer stands at far Lau Fau Shan, the sensible hot weather gear of the rural inhabitant is near universal. Here he comes, through the market at Luen Wo Hui. He shuffles in plastic sandals too big and too loose. His baggy shorts, khaki or grey, have capacious pockets to hold wallet, cigarettes, gold lighter, betting slips, Mark Six selections and, poking from a rear pocket, his newspaper of choice. His singlet is rolled neatly above the swell of his belly, exposing his stomach and kidneys to the soothing breezes which alleviate heat and make for comfort. In his right hand is a can of San Miguel. In his left is a mobile phone. From his lips, a smouldering cigarette dangles. You can see him everywhere. He's my friend and chances are his name is Cheung or Pang, Man or Tang, the great families which settled the northern New Territories seven centuries ago. He's no fashion plate, but why would he dress up? He's only going down to the corner store where he can sit on a wooden stool around a formica-topped table with a clutch of other villagers he's known all his life, sipping a beer or an endless glass of tea and solving global problems. Despite modernisation and the New Towns which have sprung like gigantic mushrooms from the paddy fields and fishing hamlets, much of the old heart and feel of the New Territories remains, apparently sleepy, but vibrant and throbbingly alive. In the vast air-conditioned shopping malls of Sha Tin and Sheung Shui, which yield little to Pacific Place or Landmark in terms of luxury goods, shops with odd Italian names sell unlikely-looking garments at prices which can kit-out a few scores of my chums from now until the turn of the century. Stroll a few metres off the beaten track, any afternoon as the sun heads down over the Shing Mun hills, and you can find the council of elders. Grab a stool, help yourself to a beer from the cooler, take a rest; chances are, within a few minutes you'll be in the conversation. They're a friendly bunch, up on the far side of Lion Rock. They're also interesting. Back in the 1950s when the farming economy based on rice growing collapsed (because of cheap imports to feed the million refugees from China) many of these New Territories farm boys were forced to leave the ancestral villages. They went, by the tens of thousands, to Europe, to work for pennies in Chinese restaurants, or to sea, to man ships flying flags of scores of nations. In the 1960s, there were 50,000 men in the Hong Kong merchant marine, many from the New Territories. They came back, some of them, richer and wiser. Some parlayed their skills from the kitchens of chop suey joints into ownership of restaurants. Others remained humble dishwashers and stir-fry cooks. Most stayed away three decades, apart from the obligatory trips back home to marry a girl from the next village, usually an arranged match, get her pregnant, and then go back to Nottingham or Manchester to work. They returned periodically, more frequently as aircraft got bigger and faster, to add to the brood. Today, the old men are home for good. The dress code is relaxed. If it's a formal occasion, they may put on socks. For a couple of confining months in the winter, they struggle into hated long pants and a jersey. If there's a wedding or, more likely these days, a funeral, then the suit is taken from its plastic shield, dusted off, and a hunt is made for the tie. But most of the year, the garb is New Territories standard: shorts and a singlet will get you just about anywhere you want to go.