In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, the protagonist, Jack, says: 'When one is in town, one amuses oneself. When one is in the country, one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.' That most Hongkongers live in town is a fact but, given the choice, what would make them move to rural areas or outlying islands? Property owner Paul Dodds, a long-time resident of Hong Kong, has lived in both town and country, with flats in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) in the 1970s and 1980s, which he sold, and today, with flats in Mui Wo, Lantau, where he is happily settled. 'In the early days when I was working in town I wanted to be close to the job but also when I first came to Hong Kong I didn't know about the islands,' he says. 'Of course, the transport system was not what it is today, plus the [English-language] schools were in town. 'Living in town has convenience, for everything, and from where you live you can walk to an MTR station or bus stop and get to most places in a short time. Living in TST, the clubs were nearby - Kowloon Bowling Green Club on Austin Road and the cricket club. These had family facilities which were important then. They were very much expatriate frequented, especially by the newcomers to Hong Kong. Bit of a home from home, once introduced.' Those clubs were more part of the expat social structure than they are today. Lifestyles have changed with a higher degree of integration among ethnic groups and social classes (the moneyed and the still trying), so those clubs are not such a hit today. People can live ordinary lives and feel connected simply as Hong Kong residents, whether new or old. 'Nowadays, I notice that either the English-speaking level of the non-native English speakers has changed or their friendliness has grown,' Mr Dodds says. 'Or is it me, and it's my attitude that's changed?' This does mean that there is less demand for exclusive estates; today it is more about picking a location. 'A lot of people in those days would not be investing in property and expats were contracted short stayers or military people, but I had this idea and at that time enough gratuity from my time in Malawi, in Central Africa. I took a chance and bought in TST.' Mr Dodds bought in 1978 and sold in 1991, when the property market prices were high, and knows the importance of location when buying as an investment. 'Location is important when buying and selling, and finding tenants in TST was never a problem, but I had a bad experience buying in Tsing Yi Island where, though the view and facilities were fine, no one really wanted to live - with its single bridge connection and its inadequate minibus link. The TST flats, on the other hand, were very easy to let and, in fact, I rented them out to Pat Sefton, the manageress of the famed Bottoms Up club in TST, for her showgirls.' More than two decades later, Mr Dodds has forsaken those choices of restaurants, pubs, and unparalleled shopping, and moved to Lantau Island. 'The reason I came out here was I moved to the islands for my work, at the explosives depot at Kau Shat Wan, near Mui Wo. It was so nice: the living conditions in general, the fresh air, the noises at night that changed from roaring buses and cars to that of insect and pond life, of waves lapping the shore. 'Also, the community spirit, the peace of mind to let the children go outdoors and play, virtually unsupervised, knowing the worst thing that could happen is that they fall into a mud pool or have a stand-off confrontation with a buffalo on a narrow path.' Nowadays, life on the islands is completely different from before as there are high-speed ferries to Central from Mui Wo, with a regular service taking only 30 minutes instead of the previous one hour. But the atmosphere of the old slow ferries has gone, along with the freshly made tea and coffee, the handy beer selection, and the noodles with egg and spam. Lamma Island is even closer and faster to get to, and has attracted its own brand of more laid-back and artistic residents. Rents are still reasonable on Lamma and the place teems with western-style restaurants, speciality shops and pubs. Cheung Chau has lost a lot of attractions for westerners, while Lantau has upped its standing for western residents these days. Peng Chau remains a relatively quiet commuter haven, and all the islands offer much lower buys and rents than in Hong Kong or Kowloon. However, you could end up buying or renting a house or flat next to a set of holiday houses which at weekends and public holidays descend to high-jinks and constant noise as the barbecue brigade arrive. These days, more locals are choosing to live on the islands, and this can be seen on Cheung Chau, where the dearth of non-Chinese is evident compared to a few years ago. So, where did all the expats go? To Lantau and Lamma. Of course, many expats today are localised and Hong Kong is their home. Mention living on an island and it used to be that Chinese friends would express some amazement and could hardly see themselves living so far from town. Many of them still quip, 'I have never been to Lantau since my youth, or at least before the new airport started up!' Recruitment consultant Joanne Cheung lives in Mei Foo on the Kowloon side and does not feel inclined to live or buy a place in either the outlying islands or the New Territories, such as Sai Kung. 'Sai Kung is not convenient at all unless you have a car and, anyway, it's too crowded with residences up there,' she says. 'I work in Admiralty and getting to work or popping down to TST to meet friends is no problem from Mei Foo by MTR. But to have that extra distance to get to and from any of the outlying islands or districts, well that's not what I want, though I like being out there during my vacation time.' Living on Lantau's Discovery Bay, for instance, with all its attractions, also holds no attraction for Ms Cheung. 'You are on an island, but wouldn't really know it as the place is too built up. Also, it still has that far-off feel for me.' However, for Philip Lai, a Discovery Bay resident for 20 years, there are still advantages in living there. 'Everything you would want is here and I guess that's why so many families arrive to stay. It's fine for the children. It's easy to get to the airport, and bus access to Tung Chung opens up access to the rest of Hong Kong, by bus or MTR.' However, Mr Lai confesses that he misses Discovery Bay's early days. 'It had the atmosphere of a resort - now it's like a modern town. There were fishing boats, there were fish, there were far fewer people, and it was really peaceful. Now, the crowds have come. It's become expensive, too. That's okay for the aircraft pilots and those whose living expenses are paid by the firm, but whether it's a place to retire to today, that's another question.'