Hong Kong Part 3 : Tai O

Alright...finally...the special Hong Kong adventure:

Saturday afternoon (Aug 23rd)  found us on a ferry for an hour...then on a bus through the mountains for another hour...and then...finally...in a surreal little village called Tai O on Lantau Island.

Tai O is a fishing village comprised of very rustic stilt houses and one community market.

(These are terrible shots...but I didn't have my camera, my iPhone was dying, and it was blazing sunny. All I can offer are a few over-exposed shots of mostly-scenery-with-a-few-stilt-houses. But, this gives you a general idea of the setting. You can see the stilts on the right in the second picture.)

Tai O is inhabited by a population of fishermen/women who sustain themselves through fishing, salt farming and various off-beat jobs presented by foreigners. Visitors from the mainland (especially foreigners) venture to Tai O in hopes of spotting one of the pink dolphins that regularly make an appearance relatively close to the shoreline. Visitors also typically do a quick tour of the daily town market which is located right at the entrance to the village.

Tai O market vendors prop their goods (which range from dried fish to not-dried fish) on anything they can find: bicycle carts/old boxes/folding tables and chairs/etc.

                                                    Here are a few scenes from the market:

There are also a few restaurants on the outskirts of the market... all of which are simply shacks with a few folding tables and chairs. They all sell the same things:beer, dried fish and a sampling of Asia's yet-to-be-identified 'foods' (which all come in dried form...because apparently drying disgusting things makes them more appetizing. Insider secret.)

Boz and I toured the market, stopped in one little shop for a beer, and then took the plunge into the belly of Tai O. Out of respect for the residents, I didn't take any pictures, but I will try to provide a thorough description.

There are no cars in Tai O (and no need for them), so the dirt alleyways between the rows of  houses are extremely narrow and lined with the old, beat-up bicycles people use for transportation. The housing itself consists of a maze of ramshackle huts butted up against one another. There is intentionally zero space between the houses so they are all better protected in the event of a hurricane. The flooring in each house is simply the earth...with a few cardboard boxes or old t-shirts standing in as rugs. Some of these dwellings have actual doors while others just have a piece of tarp nailed over the entryway. Every resident of Tai O knows everyone else and they all work together to acquire the necessary elements of survival. There is no need to lock doors or secure belongings as the villagers consider the entire community 'family' and theft is inconceivable. Walking through Tai O feels like walking through someone's living room. It's just so intimate. And it's so intimately impoverished.

Upon entering the village, visitors are met with a sign describing the mindset of Tai O residents. It clearly describes how they feel fully satisfied with life (and the available provisions) in Tai O and comforted by the extremely close relationships binding their community. I read the sign...so...like...I should have been fine on our self-guided tour. But I was definitely not fine.

Boz and I boarded a bus bound for another destination after a few hours in the village. As we settled into our seats, B chatted away about something while I stared (silently) out the window. This is THE polar opposite of the normal Vegetable environment, so Boz immediately realized something was amiss. (Ok, that's a lie. It's not THE polar opposite as that would require me to stare out the window while thinking about sports or the stock market. Neither of those things will ever happen, so this was as close to opposite as we'll ever get.)

After spending the customary 10 minutes or so claiming everything was fine, I finally opened up. I think my exact words were "Promise me we're never going to live in Tai O"...which, thankfully, was met with zero surprise as Boz is quite familiar with my very, very real...and very irrational...list of fears. We spent the rest of the bus ride discussing my concerns.

Here's the thing: I completely believe the sign. The residents of Tai O do seem satisfied and content. I'm also quite certain every culture/tribe/community is put here on Earth for a unique purpose and we are definitely not supposed to be living the same experience under identical conditions. However, while B and I were roaming Tai O, we passed a group of people examining the sole wheelchair in the village. It is stored in a little locked shed and only brought out when necessary. The residents of Tai O consider themselves incredibly lucky to have this wheelchair. This just rocks me. I mean...what happens in the villages that don't have a wheelchair?? I can't even...

So I know this post is a little weird for a travel recap, but I'm putting it up because RV is our scrapbook (of sorts) and I feel like Boz and I are near a turning point. Lately we have been  talking...constantly...about how incredibly freaking lucky we are to travel so extensively, live in an awesome high-rise in the center of Tokyo, and enjoy any and all cultural experiences that come our way. But we are also 100% certain these experiences should come at a cost. So we are actively analyzing how and where we want to serve...and how that should fit into our other life plans. As the Hong Kong experience is only 3 weeks old, I am currently leaning towards buying 4 million wheelchairs and distributing them to islands in the Pacific...but we're still in the brainstorming phase of this operation. If anyone has any creative thoughts on this, we would love to hear them.

And lest we end on a semi-depressing note, I will comfort you with a progress report: We spent last weekend continuing this discussion in the 37th floor cocktail lounge of the Conrad in downtown Seoul. I mean...ya gotta keep it real, right? ;)

Peace, friends.