How a Hong Kong city dweller found his calling in the rural life of an eco-village

Members of alternative community ‘Toyau’ grow their own food and live frugally, avoiding wastage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 11:18pm

Tam Wan-ho, 29, started dreaming of a life in the countryside while he was working for an online marketing firm five years ago.

“I was typing away on my computer and asked myself: ‘Is my whole life going to be like this?’” he said. “That’s when my friends told me about the eco-villages in Taiwan.”

Nine months ago he moved out to a similar village in Sheung Shui, where he now offers weekly training sessions in woodwork and pottery together with three other local residents.

Watch: Sheung Shui eco-village offers a taste of nature for city dwellers

The alternative community is called “Toyau” – which means mud hill – and his partners have eclectic backgrounds: a former flight attendant, a pastry baker and an artist.

The community grows its own food, lives frugally and avoids producing unnecessary waste.

Since moving into the area Tam has experimented with growing corn, papaya and ginger. While they cannot yet grow enough food to sustain all their needs, they buy the rest from friends in the organic farming community in the New Territories.

Tam’s weekend workshops provide income to run the Toyau community, with visitors paying a small fee to learn how to make art and craft objects out of materials that can be picked up for free in the countryside, such as scrap wood.

“Hong Kong imported a lot of trees in the 1950s and 60s from Taiwan,” Tam said. “They grow very fast, and now there are too many of them. The government is cutting them down and they end up on the scrap heap. That’s why you see them piling up here.”

Visitors to Toyau arrive empty-handed, but leave with kitchen tools they have made themselves out of the scrap wood.

The community’s weekend event also includes organic food cooked on site by its members.

Tam said the purpose of the workshops was to promote the idea of sustainable living.

“I hope people will think more about their attitudes towards how they live. Looking at scrap wood now, maybe they won’t see it as trash any more. Instead, they’ll see it as something that can be regenerated.”