Hong Kong, April 2018: When one needs to find some sightseeing options, Google maps is often a good starting point. Turn on the satellite imagery function and use street view to discover whether a place looks worth a visit. Today, Pok Fu Lam (Google Map) has caught my attention. A small town or perhaps a large village situated on the western flank of Hong Kong Island with an area of dwellings somewhat out of character with the rest of the Island architecturally speaking, so I reckon its worth a look. Google maps, helpful as ever, gives a few public transport options and today I’m going with the number 22 green minibus from Exchange Square – this of course means another ride on the Star Ferry, oh isn’t this travelling lark tough!
About half an hour meandering along the back streets of Hong Kong’s downtown before arriving at Pok Fu Lam. One has to hike backwards since I missed the intended bus stop but its not far and pretty soon one is at the settlement spotted on Google maps earlier. From here it looks like an original village, built on layers up the hillside – could this be Hong Kong’s very last village I’m wondering? Flanked on the right with public housing towers and on the left with swanky condominiums and a mall under construction. Right in the middle, we have what initially looks like a squatter camp. One has to stop and look a while to see that the place has all the hallmarks of an original community.
The more one looks, the more one gets drawn in by the view of the stacked dwellings and questions begin to circulate. Questions like, why hasn’t the place been bulldozed, who’s living here and whats it actually like right in the middle of it all? well, only one way to find out, but later. Right now I’m on a mission to find some food and as luck would have it, I’m standing right opposite the door to a shopping centre which is leaking a cacophony of food aroma. So, following my nose to what looks like the local cafe and hopefully a good nosh up.
£3.20 gets a good bowl of noodle soup, 3 dumplings, a chicken wing and a mug of tea – marvellous value for money! Its tasty too, even the tea seems tastier than normal. Before heading into the settlement lets take a quick look around the modern side to Pok Fu Lam and having discovered the local cafe, the rest of the shopping centre has a definite local flavour and character, thus far isn’t found among the metropolis’s townships.
Outside on the centre’s terrace and one is treated to a view of Lamma Island and would make a nice photo. Today though its a little hazy and the light isn’t good for scenic photos.
Modern Pok Fu Lam Village with public housing towers, a school and sports facilities…
So having had a quick look around Pok Fu lam’s modernity, time to head over to a more traditional scene and explore what I presume is the original village. A densely packed 1/2 square mile of prefabricated units of corrugated aluminium, rusting and dilapidated is some cases. Elsewhere, well kept and maintained houses, some of brick with tiled roofs give the village a distinctly continental European atmosphere. Narrow lanes barely wide enough for two big mamma’s to pass leading to stone steps as the constructions extend uphill.
For the most part, its a pleasant stroll around the place. The lanes are in good condition and no-one here seems to mind me aimlessly walking around snapping photos here and there, infact its very quiet, almost like everyone’s gone to church on this late Sunday afternoon. I guess Hong Kong Island would have had several villages such as this once, before the idea of bulldozing everything was implemented. Here is a great example of how it was then contrasting with how it is now and I’d say well worth a visit. One cant help but wonder how far away those bulldozers are from here, how long will Pok Fu Lam survive?
Some background to Pok Fu Lam gleaned from the ever knowledgeable folks at Wikipedia.
‘Pok Fu Lam Village is a historic village, which has existed since the beginning of the 17th century. Local residents in the past have repeatedly asked the government to give indigenous inhabitants of Pok Fu Lam the same recognition as residents of the New Territories. These claims have been rejected by the government which also threatened demolition of the village.
In the Kangxi period (late 17th century) of the Qing dynasty, approximately 2,000 people seeking asylum from turmoils in mainland Chinareached this village. The early villagers, mostly with the surnames of Chen, Huang and Luo, were farmers. The “Xinan County Journal” of 1819 mentioned that Pok Fu Lam Village was one of three villages on Hong Kong Island (the other were at Stanley and Wong Chuk Hang). It was described as “built alongside the hill and the creek, its structures are quite elegant”. After the Second World War, the massive refugee influx seeking asylum from mainland China reached Hong Kong, resulting in the village population increasing from 20-odd households to more than 100 households. The original vegetable gardens were replaced by houses. It was not until the 1980s, when the Hong Kong economy experienced raid growth, that the village population began to decrease, but many villagers remain in the village today’.