By Paul Chong
Map of Hong Kong
My article was initially written in 2001. This little island paradise
has one aspect of tourists’ delight that foreign visitors to Hong Kong know
little about – sort of a well kept secret.
Being of Chinese descent, and though an Australian citizen by consent or choice, you can’t help feeling proud that for the first time among the glitter of stars at the Hollywood Academy Award 2001 ceremony were Chow Yun-fatt, Michelle Yeoh Choo Keng, Zhang Zi Yi and of course director Ang Lee of the famed “Crouching Tiger & Hidden Dragon”. It looks like China is finally awakening and ready to pounce on the world scene with its staging of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and its recent entry into World Trade Organization after long and tedious negotiations.
A pavilion on Lamma Island – hikers’ resting place & look-out point
Chow Yun-fatt, in the footsteps of Jacky Chan, is also the star of “Anna & The King ” and who would have thought that he was born in a humble and tranquil place like Lamma Island, a half-hour boat ride from the bustling metropolitan Hong Kong. Through the assistance of a young lady by the name of Claudia whom I met at the North Lamma Island Library we located the house which Chow Yun-fatt stays each time he returns from Hollywood. Accordingly, he is most friendly with a ready smile for everyone, ever ready to oblige with his autographs. The true human nature of a person is never ever to forget his roots.
With the interest of the knowledge of the famous Chinese star’s association with Lamma Island, I spent a week exploring this place not too far from the maddening crowd of Hong Kong. Lamma Island is the second largest of Hong Kong’s 232 islands. It is an island with a conglomeration of villages. The one that Yun-fatt calls home is Wang Long Village. The house is newly built, three storeys tall, and I was told two floors are rented to some Japanese working at the Lamma Island Power Station. Most of the villages, like Tai Yuen Village, Sha Po New Village and Wang Long Village sort of merge into one another, mainly three-storied, sitting on the valleys and rising from the slopes of surrounding hills. Yung She Wan is the main town centre with a galore of shops, many of them opening well past eleven at night. Other villages, nearly 20 of them, such as Tai Ping Village, Yung Shue Long New/Old Village, Po Wah Yuen, Pak Kok, Tai Wan To Village, Sok Kwu Wan and others are all linked by cemented Family Trials. The houses all present an air of affluence. There is no motor traffic on the island except the small tractor-type of vehicle, similar to those I found in China, used for multi-purposes like land ploughing, load and people transportation in the rural areas. In China where bicycle is fast fading from the streets, especially in Beijing, mountain bikes here provide a useful means of individual transportation and rambling up and down the hilly scenery.. It’s a walking paradise under the canopy of trees and greenery. For the more ambitious hikers, there are many more unpaved and challenging trials.
Lamma Island is far from being rural. It’s well built-up and everywhere you turned there are people around. Ever so frequently teams of holidaymakers stream onto the jetty, making their way to such picnic spots like Hung Shing Yeh Beach with its barbeque facilities, shark safety net on the fringe of the bay, and lifeguards on two watchtowers. Some come just to sample its famous seafood restaurants, lining the Yung Shue Wan Main Street with their display of live-seafood of a good variety of fish, crabs, prawns, shrimps, scallops, oysters and other shell varieties. The best seafood restaurants are found in Sok Kwu Wan, particularly Rainbow Seafood Restaurant and Winstar Seafood Restaurant which offer free ferry services to and from Queen’s Pier and Sok Kwu wan or between Repulse bay and Sok Kwu Wan. Like Lei Yue Mun, the seafood speciality place in Hong Kong, this is the seafood paradise on the Island.
The roads made largely for human traffic and small vehicles are cement paved with the narrower ones known as Family Trials. A network of such trials with proper signage covers virtually every part of the island. It’s a pity that the Islands District Office has not established the many lookout points in Northern Lamma for visitors to enjoy breath-taking views. Perhaps following the norm of international signage, brown signs could be displayed pointing to spots of tourists’ interest. On the trial to Sok Kwu Wan, which leisurely takes about one and a half hours, there are pavilions for resting and serve as points for lookout.
The streets are clean and rubbish bins are well positioned and provided. There is a post office, banking facility (HSBC), hotel (Man Lai Wah Hotel), police station and several police report centres, fire station which also houses an ambulance vehicle and primary school. Generally, Chinese are most assiduous in their economic pursuit. Everybody is busy and doing something. Empty lands are covered with vegetable gardening. There is a sizeable portion of European population living on the Island and who made the crowd that frequent the bars at night. Lamma Island can boast of having clean public toilets. Martin Yan, internationally well-known chef, chose Lamma Island as the backdrop of his culinary program.
It may be of interest to folks with rural experience to live in a place like Lamma Island. For the city folks, they might need getting used to be wakened by nature’s alarm clock – the not so familiar cockcrow. Cocks turn on their early musical repertoire as early as 4 am and unceasingly follow it through till the break of dawn. To me this is pleasant compared to the noise pollution of Hong Kong, not just in the streets, the ever-crowded shopping centres or eating in the restaurants. Hong Kong people are so loud! I find the lifts being the only places where people are quiet – not a word is exchanged. Exchanging greeting in the streets is a rare phenomenon. Don’t expect it to be reciprocated! Friendliness is so vital, and the display of hospitality will go a long way to establishing a place like Lamma Island as a top tourist spot. . . . a retreat from the hustle and bustle of hectic living in Hong Kong . . . or just a quiet place to visit and enjoy.
Talking of Chow Yun-fatt having his annual retreat in Lamma Island, what of Michelle Yeoh’s. I well remember her as a young girl living adjacent to Ipoh Swimming Club, Malaysia, playing squash with a group of us. She first came into public eyes as a teenage Queen in our Ipoh Lions Club Motor Show in the 1970s. Hailed as a former Miss Malaysia, she has made it in the glitter world of the big screen. I wonder if she still retains that sweet and friendly nature of her young days. People do change due to circumstances and success and stardom may mean non-association with the past.
15 November 2001