HK Magazine Archive

Mok Ho-kwong Finds Sustainable Living in Hong Kong

He collects water from a stream and hasn’t used toilet paper in 12 years—all in the name of environmental protection. 

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 11:29am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:04pm

You go by “Ye Yan” in Cantonese, which translates to “Wild Man”—why? I want others to know that I’ve chosen a life that’s different from your average urban dweller. For example, my wife and I do our laundry by hand. We use baking soda instead of clothes detergent, and tea seed powder to do our dishes and wash our hair. We brush our teeth with salt and use only plain water to shower. And instead of using toilet paper, I use a glass of water to clean myself!

Wow! So you’re fully out of society? Being eco-conscious is about choosing what’s best for the environment, not abstaining from consumption. I still use electricity for my computer, fridge, fan and lights. I do shop, mostly for food, but I try to choose items with minimal packaging, or buy from small shops or the market.

Have you always been an environmentalist? I became vegetarian in 2003 because it’s better for the environment. Then in 2006, after I graduated from the University of Hong Kong, I moved to live in a natural environment because it’s perhaps the most eco-friendly way of living. Now, I live in Yuen Long, right by a stream, where I get my water. I also farm vegetables for my own consumption. I may be “wild,” but I don’t deliberately distance myself from society. In fact, I think it’s important to integrate into society to pass on my message. I want people to know that environmentalists are approachable!

But what do your critics say? Some tell me it’s pointless if I’m the only one living such a lifestyle. Some tell me not to eat at all because it will save more resources! Then there are those who are genuinely curious. They ask things like, “Isn’t burning wood for cooking destroying the environment too?” The thing is, using gas and electricity also damages the environment, but you don’t see the immediate effects. Besides, I use waste wood. Even my parents didn’t support me at first. They thought it was a waste of my education when I graduated from university and decided to form my own educational social enterprise. Three years on, they began to change their minds. People have told me to find a better job, but my role as an educator is the perfect way for me to give back to society. It isn’t always about money—although for the first few years I didn’t make any money as an environmental educator, so I did what university students do best: tutoring.

Do you earn enough now, then? Happiness isn’t about consumption. The tiles on my floor are of different patterns because I use the ones people throw out. Most of the things I have at home are stuff that people threw out. You see, I minimize my dependence on money. I don’t consume a lot, so naturally I have less waste: I can go six months without emptying a small rubbish bin. I won’t travel somewhere just to have a good time. I will do so if it’s for a good cause—I recently flew to Taiwan to learn how to build a stove. That was the first time I’d boarded a plane since university.  

Have you ever considered leaving Hong Kong for good? I was born here, so I feel like even if the environment isn’t how I’d like it to be, leaving isn’t an option because I feel responsible for shaping my own environment. I don’t know for how long I can keep this up. Maybe at some point, my decisions will change, but it’s all about making choices. As an expectant dad, I’m not worried if my child will question our lifestyle choice—but we’ll let our child decide their own path.