Election ’19: Fung Siu Yin, reform candidate
Fung Siu Yin is the challenger in Sunday’s district council poll and a part of a new face in local politics.
Standing for the Lantau seat, she is pro-democratic, green and a member of a new group called Islands Connect, which is ensuring that for the first time democrats contest seats in all four islands in the district.
Fung, 33, has lived in Tung Chung for 20 years. She has worked as a Legco research assistant for the past eight years, and is currently on Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s staff.
She opposes Lantau Tomorrow Vision, which she says has had scant scrutiny from the council. If elected she would call public hearings across Lantau to debate the project.
She has also done a good deal of work on public transport issues, finding that South Lantau residents object to the Sunday fare hikes and want to see more frequent services of both bus and ferry.
Having spent her early career working on senior and social welfare issues, she also advocates expanding community centres and medical services for the elderly and wants to set aside land for a retiree-run community farm.
The vacant Mui Wo high school, the wetlands and the Mui Wo improvement works are also high on her agenda.
Here is a condensed version of Lantau News’ interview with Siu Yin.
Why are you running for District Council?
I have lived in Tung Chung for about 20 years. In 2014 I knew we had big developments coming into Lantau. From that we tried to have some education and oral history documentation to tell people what would happen.
In 2018, the Lantau Tomorrow Vision was announced. In those four years, I had learnt more about Lantau people, and we know more about their needs. There were many problems with elderly citizens, and some education needs.
In our group, Save Lantau Alliance, we discussed the elections and we wanted to have a role, to have more debate in the community to talk about what we want for Lantau’s future. That’s why we are running for election this year.
How do you see the role of the district council?
They get a lot of information from the government, and the government often consults with them on education, bus services, medical services, etc.
The councillors also can vote for the chief executive and one of them can be elected to Legco. They can meet with different government departments, they can share their ideas. They have many ways to work with the government.
You talk about reforming the district council. What would you do?
The Islands District Council has 18 members, including eight ex officio. So many people don’t have a voice. So we want to open a platform. We want the residents in the Lantau community, who care about the community, they can voice out.
For example, the bus company wanted to increase bus fares. They just informed the district council but most Lantau people didn’t know. In May we did a street survey. We found more than 68% of people didn’t know the bus company was applying to increase the fare.
We will have social media channels, like Facebook or WhatsApp. Give people many channels to share their opinions. We think if the district councils are working, then there will be less anger in the community.
Can district councils do anything to address the current political crisis?
We can open many forums to discuss what people are ask for. Is it reasonable or not reasonable, what is the meaning of the five demands, and so on. Because now you are blue, I am yellow, we are totally divided into two colours and we don’t want to talk to each other. It’s not a healthy relationship.
Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a huge project and the government seems determined to build it. What can you do in the district council?
The district council talked about Lantau Tomorrow Vision just once, for one or two hours, and then a show of hands.
If we can get to District Council, we will have an agenda item to discuss Lantau Tomorrow Vision. We want to have a public hearing. It’s not local to Central, so we will have public hearings in Lantau – in Mui Wo, Tai O, and so on, and we can hear people’s opinions.
How to help Lantau’s senior population?
Lantau has a population of about 24,000, of which about 7,000-8,000 are over 50. But we have just one elderly home in Mui Wo. Two years ago, the home in Tai O closed.
The medical system is very important for them. We have just two clinics, with a limited service level, in Mui Wo and Tai O. It’s not enough. Also in Mui Wo the population has risen to more than 6,000. That’s why we ask the clinic employ two doctors, now just one.
We ask for community support service for the elderly. Some of them need help in cooking and cleaning, so they can live in their homes. We would like to set up community care services where they go to people’s homes, help cook and clean.
We also need community centres for the elderly, where they can read newspapers, sing together, have some health checks.
Right now we have a small centre in Mui Wo. In Tai O – nothing. In South Lantau – zero. NGOs provide services from Tung Chung, but that’s not reasonable. So that is why we hope to have centres in South Lantau and Tai O.
Also, elderly people feel bored. They say they would like to have a community garden. They know how to farm. They can raise chickens; chickens can eat waste food that humans won’t eat.
They can provide value in return – food, recycling, education for young people as well. So they become teachers. It’s more positive, right?
What is the status of the Mui Wo school?
The school [the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School] has been closed for 12 years. We want to re-use the school for the elderly services, medical service and also education services – for kindergarten, primary school – so it is not wasted.
In the last few months we have had communication with the residents. Many of the Mui Wo kids are under six years old. They are going to Tai O, Tung Chung or Tsuen Wan for kindergarten. We see here is a need in the community. We have an empty school – it’s a perfect match.
You have done some work on public transport issues. What have you found?
Two months ago we did a survey and held a forum.
For buses, the most important thing people are concerned about is service frequency. People also worry about the safety of the double decker buses. On the upper deck most of them don’t have seat belts. There’s no room for luggage upstairs, either, so they have to put their suitcases in the aisle. It’s dangerous.
For both bus and ferry, people want to cancel the extra charge for public holidays and Sundays. They think it’s not reasonable.
The government gives subsidies to ferry companies. We want to improve transparency and open up the financials of the ferry companies so we know how they are spending the subsidies.
People also care about frequency. We need more ferries at peak times. The bus and ferry companies and residents don’t have the chance to communicate. District council members can create a platform for us to talk – we can hold a meeting once every two months.
The government has made promises over the Pui O wetlands but has done nothing. How can you help protect the wetlands?
We have a law to protect the South Lantau wetlands and also to protect the buffalo. Two years ago the government agreed to update the law, but this year the Chief Executive Policy Address again failed to mention it.
I think district council members can raise this issue again.
In South Lantau and Mui Wo, we have different parties. One will love and care about the environment. They know the ecosystem is very important for the community. The second – they want more development. They have the intention to destroy the wetlands. They also have the intention to move the buffalo and cows.
The first party includes many of the residents. They love the buffalos and love the wetland, but they are scared to speak out. If district council members can collect people’s ideas about the wetlands and how to deal with problems of the buffalo and try to find a way to form a community consensus.
Also we have connections with the FEHD and the EPD, some of them are friends. We ask them what are the problems they face. Resources? Manpower? Rural party problems? We want to know what the problems are and try to find a way to protect the wetland and the buffalos.
I think education is very important. We have some residents who know a great deal about the cattle and buffalo and are willing to share. If more people know how to communicate with the animals and understand their behaviour, that will help.
What is the progress of the Mui Wo facelift?
They call it the Mui Wo improvement works. The first question is: improvements for whom? For tourists or residents?
When we saw the plan from 2017, we didn’t see improvement for residents. They moved the bicycle parking far away, and then moved the restaurants into the ferry pier building.
We collected some opinions. People really strongly disagree with moving the bike parking. It’s not convenient for them. But now the problem is not enough space. That’s why we have bicycles everywhere. So people suggest that we should extend the bike parking because more people are moving here.
So we asked the CEDD for more information. They told us the plan was made in 2017, but can change and they are considering changes. But they don’t think it will happen immediately – maybe it might take another five or ten years to finalise this stage.
For the residents we think that is good, so we have more time to discuss what we need. Hopefully more time to debate and more time for them to change their plan so it works for residents, not just tourists.
The 10th Lantau Beer Dash is the end of an era
Next week’s beer dash, a highlight in the Lantau calendar, marks two milestones.
Officially known as the Lantau International Beer Dash, it will be the tenth time the charity fundraiser has been held.
It will also be the last time that founder Melanie Potgieter will organise the event.
Mel (as everyone calls her) and her family are moving to Hong Kong Island for her daughters’ schooling.
They will be back in Lantau, but Mel has decided it is time to hand over the reins to someone else. Lantau News spoke to her this week.
Q: What gave you the idea with the idea for the beer dash?
In 2009 we had Typhoon Hagupit, which was quite devastating. We were then living at Upper Cheung Sha, and we were friendly with locals down on the beach.
Their whole house was flooded, so we sent out emails to the community to come help and they did. Everybody made donations and we were able to buy them a fridge and TV.
I was thinking that we are very lucky in Hong Kong. Most of us are financially well-off and it’s good to help those who are not.
I thought of doing a fun run like in DB, but one of my friends said: why don’t you do a beer dash? There had been a beer dash in DB some years before but they had stopped it.
Instead of it being a very competitive run we thought maybe we’d just have something fun.
Q: How did you choose the route, starting up by the prison?
Because we had alcohol involved we didn’t want to make the route too far.
I used to walk my dogs along the catchwater. It’s quite a nice flat route – and then goes downhill to the beach.
Q: What are your memories of the first beer dash?
It was quite a process because I’m not a charitable organisation. It was quite hard finding out how to get it going, with the correct procedure and the correct permits, and who to ask. There was a lot of red tape and hoops to jump through.
I think we had 120 runners that year.
A few local restaurants sponsored beers for the different stations. We decided to call it the ‘International Beer Dash,’ because we had a different type of beer at each station. There are five stations, so five different beers.
Q: After nine beer dashes, what are the highlights?
To me the best part of the whole day is how everyone gets on with each other. There must be a million photos taken. Everybody just mingles. It’s people from all over Hong Kong. There are locals, foreigners, tourists and they all just have fun.
The costumes and the amount of effort people put into their costume absolutely amazes me. And we have raised more than HK$600,000.
Q: Who are the beneficiaries?
I was friendly with Okka Scherer, who runs Villa Kunterbunt [a dog rescue organisation]. A lot of the dogs she gets have been left behind by foreigners. I see the dedication of people like her, so I have tried to do more for the animals.
We give money to PALS, Villa Kunterbunt, Lantau Buffalo Association, South Lantau Buffalo Society, Herdsup.
Q: This is your last Beer Dash. Do you have any special plans?
We have made it in memory of Mark Parlett, a board member of LIM, who passed away last year unexpectedly. He’s been at every dash and he’s always been an active supporter.
Q: You are moving away. Will you be coming back?
We’re moving away to Pok Fu Lam to be closer to our daughters’ school.
But definitely we will be back here. We are not going for good, we’re just going for a couple of years.
Q: Who’s going to take over the beer dash?
I have a few people who have contacted me. There’s nothing definite, although Lantau Base Camp have said they might be interested. They run a lot of events already.
Registrations are still open for the 2018 Lantau International Beer Dash. Click here to sign up.
Photo (top): Mel and Bighead Boy at feeding time
The cross-dressing banjo-playing Cantonese era is over
Cecilie Gamst Berg has packed away her wok, hung up her fake breasts and booked a flight for her dogs.
After 27 years, the greatest Norwegian cross-dressing banjo-playing Cantonese teacher of our time is saying her goodbyes.
With her departure, Hong Kong culture loses an unlikely champion and Lantau an outsized local personality.
Cecilie has lived on Lantau since landing here in late 1989 after some months in China and Korea.
She has since made her outsized mark as local cultural guide and teacher, Sichuanese cook and banjo-playing star of manic cross-dressing videos.
“In those days, anybody could come to Hong Kong and get a job. No questions asked, cash in hand,” she says of her early days.
There were plenty of gweilo jobs in English teaching, bars and on filmsets, she says, adding a few pointed remarks about ‘begpackers’.
Cecilie spent several weeks in a cramped unit with seven others in Chungking Mansions before fleeing to Mui Wo.
“I had to take all my possessions into the shower. I was tired of them being wet all the time,” she said.
Her first home was in Pak Ngan Heung, which she shared with two others. She later lived in Tai Tei Tong for ten years before moving to Pui O 15 years ago.
For many years she was an English teacher on Hong Kong Island, schlepping the 75-minute daily ferry commute via Peng Chau.
Her biggest group of students was Japanese housewives. “When the bubble burst in Japan most of them left.”
In the meantime Cecilie, who already spoke and read Mandarin, had taught herself the local language.
She never studied it formally, but picked it up “just talking to people” – people like her Chinese poker partners on the long ferry commute.
Friends began pestering her to teach Cantonese, and that is what she has been doing, in her own unique style, for the last two decades.
Under the indelibly-named Happy Jellyfish People’s Democratic Language Bureau (slogan: ‘Learn Cantonese the natural way – from a Norwegian’) she went way beyond the classroom.
She took students to bars and wet markets and on Shenzhen shopping trips, forcing them to apply their Cantonese in realistic situations.
She also created a body of memorable YouTube videos, featuring her moustachioed alter ego, strap-on breasts and banjo, and an RTHK show and podcast called Naked Cantonese.
It has made her a defender of Cantonese language and culture at a time when they are under constant attack.
“I really like Cantonese – it is so funny. Mandarin is now a communist language for me, but Cantonese is a funny language, a beer and joke language,” she said in an interview last year with Apple Daily.
People often approach her in public or write to her or to express support – although one of her vexations is that few of them do so in Chinese. “They know I can speak and write it but there’s just NO way I can understand and read it!”
A bigger vexation, and the chief factor in her departure, is the “uglification” of the city under its Beijing landlords.
“The uglification of Hong Kong and destruction of Lantau is the main reason. I can’t live among skyscrapers, concrete and fencing anymore.”
One of her biggest piques is the saturation of the city with metal fences.
“It’s such a metaphor,” she says. “People have to be corralled. I am sure the metreage has doubled in the last five years. That’s my observation as I walk everywhere.”
She points to the 300m-long fence at the side of South Lantau Road down to the Mui Wo roundabout.
“I think we have more accidents here because people get trapped on the road.”
She reflects on how Lantau has changed over the years.
“If you think it is out of the way today, it was way off the track then,” she said.
In those pre-airport, pre-MTR days, “there was no fast ferry, no Tsingma Bridge” – just the plodding ferry.
Mui Wo had three bars – the China Bear was called Fixed Crossing- and “it was much more crazy than now. There were lots of singles in 20s and 30s. Now it’s middle-aged and families.”
Cecilie says Lantau appealed because it was an island – as is her new home, Majorca, where she will be working as a writer and cartoonist for a Norwegian firm.
“It’s my dream job.”
When Cecilie flies out she takes with her not just irreverent Cantonese schtick, and not just a bridge between east and west, but yet another slice of the city’s spirit.
Top ten South Lantau stories for 2017
10. Police probe after two vehicles set alight in four minutes
In a mystifying chain of events, vehicles were set alight in identical circumstances ten kilometres apart at almost exactly the same time. The Triad Squad took over the case, but no arrests have been made.
9. Lantau family mourns death of daughter in Beirut
A Lantau family mourned the death of Rebecca Dykes, a Hong Kong-raised international aid staffer in the UK Beirut Embassy. An Uber driver was charged with Rebecca’s murder. The family set up a charity fund aiming to raise £100,000 (HK$1.045m) to continue Rebecca’s work on humanitarian causes.
8. Village chief falls to death near Lantau Peak
A 69-year-old Sha Tin village chief died after falling 30 metres on the treacherous Kau Nga Ling trail toLantau Peak.
7. Remembering old Mui Wo
When David Kam was born in Luk Tei Tong, Lantau had no roads, no ferry to Central and no telephones. He has seen more change in his lifetime than all of his ancestors combined.
6. Calls to investigate ‘suspicious’ Mui Wo rural land deals
Civic Party leader and barrister Tanya Chan and others called for an investigation into the role of a Mui Wo village leader who was directly involved in six village house transactions and connected to another three in the space of two years.
5. Flights cancelled as Typhoon Hato heads our way
The city ground to a halt for Typhoon Hato, which brought floods and 130kmh winds. Residents organised clean-ups to remove refuse dumped on beaches.
4. Plan to build fence around Yi O ‘infinity pool’
The Water Supplies Department proposed building a fence around the popular ‘infinity pool’ near Yi O to prevent people swimming there.
3. Star power shines on Mui Wo
Superstar Chow Yun Fat chilled in Mui Wo for an afternoon. The Village Bakery’s Kit Lau took the opportunity to get a selfie with the screen legend.
2. Great signs for emerging local star Denquar
The breaks are falling the right way for Denquar, a local singer, songwriter and actor now dividing her time between Hong Kong and London.
1. After 18 years on the beach, the Stoep gets new lease of life
The Stoep, a much-loved landmark, closed its doors at Cheung Sha Beach and re-invented itself at Mui Wo. The beachside restaurant became a destination for a generation of Hong Kongers.
Remembering old Mui Wo
David Kam, a 13th generation resident of Luk Tei Tong, has seen more change in Mui Wo than all of his ancestors together.
When he was born in 1944, Lantau had no roads, no ferry to Central and no telephones. Villagers raised cattle and grew rice as they had done since the area was first settled nearly a thousand years ago.
In a history of Mui Wo he co-authored and published last year, David describes Lantau as “a self-contained kingdom.”
He reminds us that it is a collection of 20-odd villages, many of which we know today – Chung Hau, Pak Ngan Hung, Tai Tei Tung and so on. Of these David says Luk Tei Tung is the oldest, with a heritage of 400 years.
Mui Wo’s history goes back even further than that. It was a site for salt production as far back as the Song times. Salt production stopped centuries ago, but the pans remained until the remaking of the old township in the 1980s.
Legend has it that the last Song emperor was crowned in Mui Wo. Though that is likely myth, the imperial court, on the run from the Mongol invaders, spent several months on Lantau and descendants of some of those courtiers live in Tung Chung villages.
David recalls that until very recently, Mui Wo was ‘Lantau’s front door.’ Summertime Silvermine Bay was crowded with Hong Kong holidaymakers.
“As far as Hong Kong people were concerned, the islands included only Cheung Chau and Lantau, and Lantau meant Mui Wo,” David says.
The Mui Wo that David grew up in in the 1950s was a different universe. He was born towards the end of the Japanese occupation, when the only transport connection was a kaido to Cheung Chau.
He had one pair of shoes that he would wear only when at school; he would take them off on the journey to and from home.
His spare time was taken up with work on the family farm. His would tend the family cattle herd, seeing see them off to the mountains in the morning and back down again in the afternoon.
The ties between the humans and their cattle were strong, David recalls. When he was seven years old, his mother decided to sell the family bull to a farmer from Cheung Chau. But when the buyer arrived, she swears she saw a tear in the bull’s eye and changed her mind.
Change came slowly to Mui Wo, and then in a rush.
South Lantau’s first road was built in the 1950s – basically the same coastal road today that connects Mui Wo to Shek Pik. In the early ‘60s it was extended all the way to Tai O as part of the Shek Pik Reservoir project.
It was the dam, not the road, that had the bigger impact. It dried up the flow of Mui Wo’s three rivers, making wetland rice farming impossible. Villagers turned to melons and other fruit.
But those were still good times, David recalls.
“The 1950s to the ’80s were probably Mui Wo’s golden years. Post-war development was fast. It was a self-sufficient era. Farmers were growing crops, fishermen were catching fish.
“In the mornings near the Five Cent Bridge the fishermen would sell their catch and gather for breakfast. There would be barbecue under the famous banyan tree.”
The big changes came in the 1980s, when the government tore down the stilt houses on Silvermine River and built public housing on Ngan Kwong Wan Road.
The Chung Hau market stores – now the site of the playground and the hotel – that were the centre of commercial and social life were also demolished. The salt pans disappeared under the government building and wet market.
Then in 1998, the Tung Chung line opened. Villagers continued to move out and city people coming to Lantau headed first to Tung Chung, forgetting about Mui Wo.
David is disappointed by the current development plans for Lantau, which he thinks overlooks Mui Wo. He has his own vision for Lantau development, involving major reclamation of the sea between Chi Ma Wan, Mui Wo and Hei Ling Chau.
“Since the MTR line opened, the mythology of Mui Wo has disappeared,” reflects David. It’s no longer the front door. “Lantau is now Tung Chung, Ngong Ping and Chek Lap Kok.”
Title: A Hundred Years of Mui Wo – Old Villages, Wild Cattle, People 梅窩百年: 老村、荒牛、人 (Chinese only)
Publisher: Chunghwa Book Co.
Author: David Kam & Yau Yat
On sale: Village Bakery, Mui Wo & online
Excerpt: (In Chinese)
Photo (top): Five Cent Bridge circa 1970
Telling our own stories
Hong Kong’s anniversary celebrations last month set off once again the debate over the city’s identity.
But for local writer Stephanie Han questions of identity – how different groups see themselves and how they relate to each other and to those in power – are at the heart of her work.
Stephanie, who divides her time between Mui Wo and Hawaii, has just released her first book, Swimming in Hong Kong, a collection of short stories set in Hong Kong, Korea and the United States. It won the Paterson Fiction Prize and was a finalist in two other competitions, with some individual stories winning multiple awards, including one from the South China Morning Post.
To quote one review, the book “reflects upon the dynamics of East and West; local and foreign; colonised and coloniser; centre and periphery” and explores how these tensions play out in everyday experiences.
“There are different ways that people interact across cultures,” says Stephanie, who was born in Hawaii to a Korean-American family. “And I think this is important to know. Because fundamentally how we exchange and how we share is what we need to value.”
Hong Kong shares obvious characteristics with China but has its own distinct historical trajectory, she observes. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean this group of people wants to participate in the way that the larger nation of China wants it to participate.
“There are many unique things about Hong Kong, many things that maybe the larger nation of China could learn. I think this is something valuable and should be respected.”
There’s a strong parallel in Beijing’s relationship with the Uighur population in China’s far west. “Now, they are Chinese. But they might want to say, ‘we do not participate, we don’t believe in the structure of the Chinese nation. We want to say we are Uighur people.’
“Here’s a group of people considered and classified in different ways. We have to respect the way they exchange and the way they want to be thought of.
“As time moves on, we can see this with the Hong Kong people. Some of these big nations are failing certain types of population. Maybe we can learn from those small populations.”
As a a more equitable and more accepting framework, Stephanie proposes ‘polyculturalism’, which acknowledges the importance not just of your origin “but also how you exchange.”
It’s based on the musical concept of polyphony in which everybody sings a melody. “If we go to a symphony, everybody is important to how an orchestra sounds. Just because you’re first violinist doesn’t mean you’re more important than the tuba player.
“What’s also important is, when we listen to a symphony, sometimes we listen to different things. Some of us listen to the bass line, some of us the rhythm section. Sometimes we switch during our listening experience. There has to be an idea of respect for everybody’s different roles that they play in society, and how they’re exchanging and sharing and how they want to be considered.”
The topic resonates strongly with her own sense of mission as a writer and creative writing teacher. “Narrative is fundamental to how we see ourselves and how we see the world. It’s important to get your own story straight.”
She ran a writers’ workshop for some years on Lantau, which she enjoyed because “my interest is in helping people tell their personal narrative or to gain clarity about a narrative that they are interested in. Fundamentally creative writing comes from that.”
She and her partner moved here nine years ago because of the space it offered for their child. It wasn’t her first encounter with Hong Kong, having lived here early in the 2000s. Serendipitously, she first visited at the time of the handover, arriving from Seoul.
“I was really blown away. Seoul was a pretty conservative society still. But I came to Hong Kong, and it was something else. It seemed very global, very modern. There was a lot of energy to it.
“But I think the city has shifted. If you go back to Seoul now, to me it has a lot more energy. The dynamic of the cities has shifted. Seoul went on and Hong Kong has just stayed.
“A society that has a healthy arts and creative and environmental community is usually one that’s a little more dynamic.”
Stephanie Han will launch ‘Swimming in Hong Kong’ at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on Monday, July 24
7.00 – 8.30pm
4F Lecture Theatre
Visual Arts Centre
7A Kennedy Rd
Tickets: $110 (Students: $70)