Island life

18 07 2016

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Since I was staying in Hong Kong for the summer I decided to take a little “staycation” and explore a (very) different side of the city. I hopped on a ferry and relocated for a few days to the neighbouring island of Lamma. Lamma moves to a much (much!) slower pace than the “city”. There are no cars for one thing, and just two main “villages” with a handful of hamlets in between, dotted around green hillsides and scenic beaches and linked together by walking tracks.

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Its an intriguing mix of cultures, played out on a small scale: locals descended from fisherfolk, with their ancestral shrines and little shops selling salted seafood, HK and mainland daytrippers, wealthy (often quite hippyish) expats and a strong contingent of their Filipino, Indonesian and Sri Lankan helpers who often lent the island a Southeast Asian air.

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The charming main port of Yung Shue Wan has a narrow main road (alley, really) lined with Western cafes and seafood restaurants for the weekend crowd, organic groceries and a resident sitar player.  Its an appealing mix of cosmopolitan and hyper-local: low rise, low key and exuberantly tropical. Walking slowly into town, birds twittered in the palm trees and charcoal smoke blew on the breeze. Hong Kong island suddenly felt a long way away.

I fantasised about joining the expats on the island, many of whom commute into their offices during the week, to return to their roomier bungalows in the evening, where they can listen to the waves lapping on the rocks and the frogs croaking in marshy fields. In fact, the trip had been planned as a reconnaissance mission; what would it really be like to be a  Lamma local?

I was staying in the heart of town on a small hill near the pier, with the friendly Taiwanese male couple who run the island’s only gay Air B’n’B, and spent my days – well, not doing much really.

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I had leisurely breakfasts, one in a cafe playing Vietnamese pop music and selling jars of tamarind sauce and shrimp paste, and the other at a place where hearty English fry-ups were served at a glacial pace by a pair of “island time” Filipinas . I walked along the shady pathway to the “next” village of Pak Kok, under banana trees and past overgrown fields, through hamlets where elderly men in their underwear sat on the porch listening to jazz music and past million dollar beach homes. I hiked up to the island’s “wind farm”, a single giant turbine, along a winding forest path lined with lianas and jungle flowers. I swam at the pretty (and popular) beach by the island’s other – much bigger, coal burning – power plant, past the famous “tofu grandma” selling soy desserts under a flowering tree and tables set up by the footpath from local shops shops selling Indonesian crafts and plastic toys and pork belly satays on sticks. At night frogs hopped around outside the apartment and a gecko scuttled up the wall.

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After three days my wind was whirring with the possibilities. I was feeling rested and re-energised by the island lifestyle, and yet the city with all its comforts and conveniences was only twenty minutes away on a ferry. I wondered if a return to my old Kyneton country/city lifestyle might be on the cards…

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