Salvaging Tai O in Hong Kong

Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — One of the city’s tourist attractions for its centuries-old stilt houses and salt pans, dried fish and seafoods, Tai O screams out for salvaging.

Despite a decreasing population of nearly 3,000, Tai O had survived typhoons, landslide and big fire in 2000.

Such oldest existing fishing village in Hong Kong has remained steadfast, as villagers thrive to beautify the old and rubbish.

Since fishing ceased to be the villagers’ primary livelihood, tourism has provided a source of income for vendors and business owners. In 2000, the village had a total of 300,000 visitors, 90 percent of which were Hong Kong citizens, according to a 2010 study.

But, massive influx of tourists and development projects in the village have caused the destruction of habitat for marine plants and animals.

The big motors in their modern boats tell how far they need to sail to catch fish.

Garbages found under the stilt houses, in small canals and vacant lots show the persisting problems of solid waste disposal and household discharges.

As their backyards and street corners gather up scrap metals and old appliances, their traditional architecture and implements have slowly been eroded from their daily lives.

An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old.
An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
A fisherman in Tai O starts up his motorized boat on a Wednesday afternoon. The village had been flooded many times by storms but despite the threat of coastal flooding, it has not fully developed a strategy for coastal flood management, according to a 2013 research[1]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Some Tai O villagers buy fish from the fishermen to put salt and dry in the sun and sell in the market for a meager income. Most tourists from Hong Kong visit the village for dried fish and seafoods. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The stilt houses in Tai O, locally called Pang O, have existed since 200 years ago [2] to respond to the practical need of fishing people to have a land-based residence. They are designed to protect them from high tides, but the impacts of climate change pose coastal flood risk[3]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The traditional hats, which have a round brim and crown that distinguish the Tanka people[4], the major ethnic group in Tai O, have almost lost touch in their daily lives. Only seen being used by street sweepers, the hats can be bought at HK$40 from a store owned by two old women who made the hats themselves. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Old boats, like other unused implements in Tai O, found their places, unmoved and unintentionally serving as an artifact of a fading culture of the village. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The people in Tai O continue to pass on the skills in boat-making to the young generation, especially crafting the traditional dragon boats that also provide a source of income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The Dragon Boat Festival is a parade of Tai O’s dieties in long traditional boats made by the villagers to drive away “water ghosts” that caused epidemics hundred years ago. Today, they continue to make boats also for dragon boat racing that has been a popular water sport event, not only in Hong Kong, but also in other Asian countries. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Villagers keep scrap metals and other old items in their yards either to find new usage or make money by selling them. They bring life to their places by planting flowers and vegetables in used boxes and pots. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

[1] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[2] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

[3] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[4] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

Like the waves

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Big Wave Bay in Hong Kong Island turned into a collage of colored umbrellas and tents this past Easter holiday. Hundreds of people sunbathed while their children were digging in the white sandy beach with plastic toys.

Swell rarely happen in the bay after winter, but Typhoon Maysak made the waves favorable for surfing. Waves at 0.6 meters high appeared every 11 to 12 seconds with a speed of 6 to 8 knots on April 6, according to Magicseaweed’s forecast.

Some 20 surfers paddled up as a wave chased behind them. Before the wave broke out into white foams, one of them had already pulled off a surfing stunt.

Wearing a black rash guard and striped board shorts, a 39-year-old Scottish woman was sitting on a surfboard in the inner part of the swell.

It was easy to find her in the crowd when she still had dreadlocks, said Julie Barrass, a European headhunter, renting a house in Big Wave Bay. She has known Jacqueline Donaldson and most regular beachgoers since she moved here eight years ago.

Barrass was smoking cigarette beside the lifeguard tower when Donaldson came out of the water carrying an 8-foot blue fun board.

Donaldson’s former dreadlocks once saved her life during a surfing accident in 2011 by cushioning the blow as she landed on the seabed. She suffered only a spinal compression fracture.

Having worn dreads since 2009, she considered removing them, but felt guilty “like killing a pet or betraying someone who’d saved my life.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON
Jacqueline Donaldson surfs with dreadlocks that saved her life from a surfing accident in 2011 in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

Changing her style, she took out her dreadlocks in Thailand early this year.

After washing up, Donaldson tied her shoulder-length hair and sat with some friends, lounging and sipping beer with upbeat songs from a tiny portable speaker.

A Filipino born in Hong Kong, Anton Pelayo, 29, joined her, laying down his surfboard. He met Donaldson when “she was doing cinematography video stuff and teaching drama to kids.”

Donaldson took film and photography at the University of Wales College, Newport in United Kingdom.

The two friends had their late lunch at a restaurant facing the beach. It was packed mostly with foreigners.

“I’m going to get the anchovies pizza… Put lemon in my beer please,” she told Pelayo and headed to the toilet.

“She’s a very friendly outspoken lady,” Pelayo said.

PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Jacqueline Donaldson in pink shirt relaxes with her friends after surfing in Big Wave Bay, Hong Kong Island on April 6.  PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

Donaldson first came here in 2001 from trips in Pakistan, India, and Nepal and back to Pakistan, her favorite country next to New Zealand. She saw Pakistan before the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“Of course, now it’s not that safe there anymore,” she said.

After seven months in Hong Kong as English tutor, she travelled to China and Southeast Asia. She tracked wild Orangutans in North Sumatra with a friend. Then, she came back for a year and travelled around Australia and New Zealand.

Settling down here since 2007, she had taught English through drama and pop-culture programs, and took different film projects for free to build up her cinematography skills.

She works as a fitting model and cinematographer on corporate video and independent films, while managing her company, Media, Theatre and Modeling Consultants.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE DONALDSON

“Did you see the documentary about the Jonestown massacre? I sent you the link,” she excitedly told Pelayo, who was at the time devouring his burger and fries.

Donaldson was hooked into cult documentaries, exploring similar ideas to document in Hong Kong.

She got permanent residency here in 2014. Foreigners can get a legal status of permanent resident if they have lived here lawfully for seven years.

Itching to travel again, she planned to celebrate her 40th birthday in Hawaii by the end of the year.

After lunch, Pelayo asked if she wanted to surf again.

“I don’t like the waves today. But, I want to get more,” she replied, as her turquoise eyes widened.

Having invested here for 15 years, Donaldson wanted to keep Hong Kong as her base at the moment.

“You never know what will happen in life, love or family. Maybe, one day, I’ll have to move somewhere else.