This is Tai Long Wan, Sai Kung. It’s home surf for us. Worldwide Hong Kong doesn’t really conjure up images of surfing. More like subways crammed like cans of sardines and skyscrapers packed as densely as those cans of sardines. Although the surf here is not attractive to most, it still does the most important thing of all. It puts a smile on our face and we don’t have to go far for it. The most popular spots include places like Big Wave Bay (not big by global standards) on Hong Kong Island and Cheung Sha on Lantau Island although neither are gems in our small community. The jewel of our humble crown, Tai Long Wan, is a two hour hike through one of Hong Kong’s largest parks, Sai Kung East Country Park. An area of 45 square Kilometers, it is managed by the Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD). The AFCD is Hong Kong’s equivalent of the US Parks Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service rolled into one.
Tai Long Wan is an amazing place of natural beauty in Hong Kong and if you are looking for some surf where you have ample space to share with only a few others willing to make the trek, then this spot is for you. Whether you are sitting on your board or catching a wave in, as you look to shore you cannot see a single piece of evidence of human civilization. I cannot think of any other place like that in Hong Kong. Think about it. It’s Hong Kong and yet 360 degrees of nature! The problem though a nasty precedent for the destruction of the natural beauty of this place was about to be set and the instigator was coming from the most unlikely of places.
You see in 1972 the government of Hong Kong set-up a policy to encourage resettlement of quickly shrinking villages in Hong Kong’s rural region called the New Territories, which actually makes up for 86% of Hong Kong’s total land area. This policy, named the Small House Policy, grants males who can trace their roots through a male only family line to a male resident of a village in the New Territories in the year 1898 the right to apply for a free parcel of land to build a small house of up to three floors and maximum 700 sq. ft. per floor. The idea was to motivate what we call Indigenous Villagers to move back from the city and ensure that the villages dotting the landscape do not die off for good. Given at the time of this posting the average rent in Hong Kong for a tiny 400 sq ft apartment is about $12,300 HKD ($1,592 USD) and the median monthly salary is $13,000 HKD ($1,677 USD), it’s a great idea for those lucky guys. Who cares about all the other Hong Kongers toiling away six days a week for meager salaries and living in government sponsored housing unable to save for a down payment on a house in one of the most expensive places in the world. Indeed some of the applications are genuine, but there is obvious rampant abuse of the system by quick minded individuals making their cases about their intention to move back to the villages just so that they can get the land and turn a buck. Instead of moving in and making it their permanent homes, they quickly rent it out or sell it off for a very nice profit given they never had to shell out for the value of the land. Some even sell their rights to developers before anything is even built on the land like as what has happened in Hoi Ha Wan. You’re not supposed to do that of course, but enforcement of rules when it comes to money under the table in Hong Kong tend to move at the pace of an inebriated sloth.
Why does all this matter? Well here is what happened? Recently five applications from the same family all appeared at the exact same time right in the middle of this beautiful land at neighbouring Ham Tin. It turns out the guy leading this campaign happens to also be the Assistant Director of the AFCD (I wonder if that is why AFCD swallowed up Sai Wan village but not Ham Tin). Say what? Yes the exact same AFCD whose mission is to “…conserve our natural environment and safeguard the ecological integrity…” of Hong Kong. Mr. Sit Hon Chung claims he and his family plans to move back to Ham Tin and make it their permanent home. Yes under the Small House Policy he has a legal right to make the applications if indeed he does have an ancestral link to the village (there is some question about that). The problem is, I really don’t think his applications were genuine and the real intention was to just sell off the houses after they were built or rent them to someone as a weekend place. Most importantly, it set’s a nasty precedent. As according to the current reality as outlined in his letter, there still is no road access to Ham Tin. There are no schools. There is no hospital. It’s a two hour hike to the nearest road or one hour by boat to the nearest town. That’s why to this day no one else has ever had an interest in “returning” and only a handful of small single floor dwellings exist. The only residents are those who have a couple small kitchens catering to hikers and campers. Culturally, Hong Kong people highly value living on top of a metro station, not miles out in the woods. I don’t know how he and his family in the other four applications plan on commuting to work. Maybe us tax payers will pay for a government helicopter to pick them up on a daily basis from the helipad that is there. Come on Mr. Sit, who are you kidding? Maybe you should think of your resignation and early retirement first.
Fortunately, Mr. Sit’s applications were refused in April. But, his plans were not the only ones. Tuenbo Group Limited has plans to turn 24 hectares of land there into a “Tai Long Wan Resort and Spa” with an artificial lagoon surrounded by villas and has listed it as an “environmental and conservation” project. Well If that’s a conservation project, I am sure the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River should be classified as one too. You see, Tuenbo actually is a landowner in the area though as far as I understand, legally there is no way for them to have acquired deeds to the land as the property rights of the indigenous villagers are not supposed to be sold off before the villagers have exercised their right to build their small house. Maybe I am wrong. But in true Hong Kong fashion, it is extremely complicated and all comes down to money. Main point, our prime surfing location in one of the last remaining true wilderness areas in Hong Kong is at a risk of one day having people watching us surf from their balconies.
What can you do? Well, it’s hard to say. The Town Planning Board who is responsible for zoning has a habit of rezoning land in order expand village zones to make more space for more men to claim their free plot of land. So, no one can say that because Tai Long Wan is not currently zoned for development, that it won’t be in the future. Mr. Sit’s plans drew a lot of objections from concerned people and green groups. We can add our voice too. As us surfers are perhaps the most frequent visitors to the area, we need to keep on watching and keep on fighting. Anything you notice, please post it to our facebook page. We can keep an eye on it together and when the time comes we can draw up our own plans to ensure our voice is heard about the discussion too. Although he might appear as such, C Y Leung is not totally deaf. Like our facebook page and stay in the loop. You can count on us that we will at least be watching. This is our land and our future generations’ land. It is not C Y Leung’s, Li Ka Shing’s, or anyone else’s to destroy. Enough is enough.