Relocating to Hong Kong I made it clear to my partner I didn’t want to re-create the life we had when we lived here before. Our first time here we lived on MacDonnell Road in Mid-Levels, had our gym in Pacific Place and I worked in Central. Our world consisted of a small triangle no larger than a kilometer on each side. That was from 1996 to 1999 and it was a great vantage point to see Governor Chris Patten leave his residence for the last time on Handover night.
At the same time it made for intense urban living. I vividly recall walking down Des Vouex Road Central on a rainy Saturday trying to get to Fortress Electronics. As I’m tall I met each passing brolley with my eyes. It’s a busy part of town.
Over the Easter week holiday we unpacked boxes and hung artwork in our new home. This is in a small village in the New Territories – far removed from the rush of the city. This morning through dense fog I saw indigenous fisherman and long-legged birds plying their trade in high tide.
As a newcomer to the Territories I hadn’t focused on the power and politics of the region. Last week The South China Morning Post published a full-page story on the history of village houses. (SCMP only allows subscribers access to the article on 07 April 2012 by Olga Wong). The Hong Kong government provides land grants at discounted prices to indigenous males after their 18th birthday. They are restricted to a 700 square foot building footprint, three stories and no higher than 25 feet overall. This means every village home is 2100 square feet.
That hasn’t stopped some residents from modifying their homes with roof-top rooms enclosed in glass. These illegal structures are the subject of a campaign to “register or demolish”. Again the SCMP provided an article calling on the government to act on laws requiring buildings to comply:
“The Heung Yee Kuk, the rural affairs body that represents New Territories indigenous inhabitants, holds a meeting to discuss whether to comply with a registration system introduced by the government on April 1 as part of its crackdown on illegal structures. Some members of the kuk, which is headed by Executive Councillor Lau Wong-fat, have called for minor breaches, such as small greenhouses, to be tolerated for at least five years. For severe breaches, such as additional storeys exceeding the statutory three levels for village houses, the Buildings Department will order their immediate demolition. Some kuk leaders, including Law Society president Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, have called on villagers to boycott the system.”
It appears in the New Territories the rights of indigenous rights and land usage is a key political issue. For expatriate inhabitants it makes a great deal of difference if your village is cooperative and friendly – or hostile and at odds. Some towns have local families in dispute and that leads to distress for the renters. Others are fortunate – like me – to live in a peaceful enclave with hospitable families.
It allows us to leave the politics behind and enjoy the sights and sounds of life in the New Territories.