02 March 2010

Escape to Lamma Island

I moved from Sheung Wan to Lamma Island over the weekend. I have a love/hate relationship with Sheung Wan, Central, and the north side of HK Island in general. Sheung Wan has a great energy to it, particularly around 8pm when I get off work. And it's nice to be so close to Central and the midlevels. But now that I've escaped to Lamma, I can finally be honest with myself about the negatives in the Sheung Wan equation.

During the day, the city wears on me. The noise of the car horns and construction drive pound away at my brain all day. Walking in Sheung Wan is a constant hassle, as I have to be vigilant for both speeding cars and stagnant pedestrians. And nobody smiles unless there's a camera pointed at their face (Filipinas are the only exception to this rule). Five months was long enough for me to figure out that this is just not the kind of environment I can spend all my time in. Nobody likes mosquitoes, but there's something disconcerting about an place that's so hostile to life that cockroaches are practically the only insects that can survive there.

I still work in Sheung Wan, but now I get to go on vacation everyday. On Lamma, I hear birds rather than car horns. I smell flowers instead of diesel smoke. People smile, and dance. And this is joyful, spontaneous dancing, not the dancing-as-status-display that you see in Lan Kwai Fong. People actually go out in public without trying desperately to look "trendy." Maybe this has something to do with the fact that Lamma is completely free of the oppressive advertising that poisons hongkongers minds. There are packs of mixed-breed dogs and mixed-race children happily roaming the streets. It's my kind of place.

But for all it's bohemian charms, Lamma is still the SAR. On the surface, it appears to be the only place in HK where people have some respect for the environment. But there are random piles of garbage along the trails: old toilets and worn out couches dropped in the middle of green spaces. People still look at me like I'm an alien just because I don't want them to give me two pieces of garbage with every purchase. The seafood restaurants, packed with hypocritical hippies, are obviously unsustainable. Those diesel powered Lamma-vehicles are annoying, and make an unreasonable amount of noise. There's still a ridiculous amount of loud construction everywhere. (Why do roads in HK seem to require 10 times as much maintenance, at 10 times the volume, as roads in the US or Europe?) Then there are the three smokestacks, reminding everyone that this isn't really a remote fishing village, more like a fake tourist version of one.

The biggest drawback, of course, is the fact that the last ferry for Lamma leaves at 12:30. But if it were more connected to the city, it would be more like the city. So that drawback is part of the charm. I'm just happy to be able to take my headphones off. And breathe.

wesmcl is the gweilo who joined the team at the Libertines Pub lately. Read his weekly expat rage and love for our Hi-Tech Village here.


  1. i love the atmosphere in lamma for sure....the trail is a gd escape from hk definitely! :)

  2. I have moved to Sheung Wan since August last year and had been loving it. What you said is very true, too, but I guess for the majority of us city-boys-at-heart, Sheung Wan is just what we love and afford. Thanks for the write up, though. Lamma sounds great, if an alternative when I get tired of the bustling HK Island.

  3. Sounds like you still have some of that city-rage in there ;)

    Lamma's part of HK so there are going to be people who will drop trash anywhere because someone else is paid to pick it up so.

    The plastic bags? You must still look like a HK-mainlander. When you're scruffy enough you'll qualify for the "you wan' bag?" with the rest of us.

    Restaurants filled with hypocritical hippies? City prejudice. The last pure-bred hippie on Lamma was deported for visa violations years ago. Look again and you'll notice the seafood slurpers are mainly off-island junk parties.

    And the power-station somehow makes this a "a fake tourist version" of "a remote fishing village"? Again - city thinking. For most Gweilos and many of the HKers here Lamma is just a dormitory suburb of HK island. A good place to relax and maybe raise kids and just difficult enough to reach to keep it that way.

    Think of the last ferry like a drawbridge.

    If you feel it's blocking your path to buzz of HK island - then you'll probably get frustrated and move back to the city fairly soon.

    If on the other hand you see its purpose as keeping some of the madness of the city at bay - then this might soon start to feel more like home.

    The streets are being dug up again for the installation of a sewage system. Everything here is still on septic tanks.


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