Picturesque village

Hong Kong fishermen keep their old ways, 25 years after the handover

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HONG KONG — Ng Koon-yau calmly pilots his small fishing boat through the azure waters of the South China Sea. The 79-year-old has been fishing since he can remember.

Ng and his 76-year-old brother, Ng Koon-hee, came to Hong Kong from Taishan in Guangdong province, across the border from the Chinese mainland, when they were young in the 1950s. So did many others who moved to Hong Kong after the communist revolution of 1949, when the territory was a colony of Britain.

The move to Hong Kong was so long ago that the Ngs can’t remember exactly when they arrived in Tai O, a remote and picturesque fishing village on the west of Hong Kong’s Lantau Island.

They have worked side by side throughout, largely unmoved by decades of political change, including campaigns that have at times spilled over into the territory from the Chinese mainland.

Many in Hong Kong fear that communist-ruled China will exert more and more control over semi-autonomous Hong Kong, contrary to Beijing’s promises to respect Hong Kong’s civil liberties and its semi-autonomous status for 50 years. after Britain ceded the city to China 25 years ago on July 1, 1997.

But Ng Koon-yau agrees with Beijing being in charge.

Hong Kong is part of China, and I never thought of moving anywhere else,” he said. “I hope China will make Hong Kong a better place where everyone can thrive. For us at Tai O, we wouldn’t think of moving to live elsewhere.

Tai O’s houses, perched on stilts above its small harbour, are a picturesque remnant of Hong Kong’s skyscraper-studded past. Hundreds of years ago, before the arrival of British settlers in the mid-1800s, fishing was a way of life here and in other villages in the Pearl River Delta region.

But small-scale coastal fishing is a dying industry in Hong Kong.

The Ng used to sail the seas in a large ship, catching thousands of fish a day. Now they only keep a small boat and carry small catches.

“Now there are fewer and fewer fish to catch. The waters in the Pearl River Delta and around Guangdong are so polluted that there are fewer fish,” said Ng Koon-yau.

Young Hong Kongers are moving on.

“In the 1960s, there were over 10,000 people living here, but the population gradually declined as young people moved to town to work,” Ng said.

“My sons have gone to work in the city. Now it’s just us old people and only 2,000 to 3,000 live here,” he said.

Tourism is now an important activity for the remaining residents of Tai O, selling snacks made from dried fish and shrimp sauce to visitors and operating tourist boats. One of the attractions is spotting a pink dolphin. Diminishing like the villagers of Tai O, some of the special dolphins are still present, sometimes breaking the surface of the sea in sight of the city’s skyscrapers.