Tai O fishing village goes from a working community to a tourist trap

Tai O fishing village goes from a working community to a tourist trap

For Hong Kong's fishers, Tai O has gone from being the home of their livelihood to a tourist attraction

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These days, the villagers of Tai O fishing village rely more on tourism than fishing to keep themselves afloat financially.
These days, the villagers of Tai O fishing village rely more on tourism than fishing to keep themselves afloat financially.
Photo: May Huang

When I arrived at Tai O fishing village after a 50-minute bus ride from Tung Chung, the first thing that hit me was the pungent odour of salted fish. This smell captures the essence of local fishing communities, but it will soon be extinct in Hong Kong.

A villager in Tai O, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that Tai O is now "a tourist area, no longer a fishing village". Indeed, trawling activities in Hong Kong waters have been prohibited ever since the trawling ban came into effect in December 2012. A whole lake that used to be populated by fishing boats now only offers boat tours that take tourists around Lantau Island or to see dolphins.

Following the ban, the government paid fisherman HK$100,000 to HK$200,000 each in exchange for their trawlers. But what support is given to the younger generation in Tai O?

According to the villager, who sells traditional Hakka Tea dumplings on Shek Tsai Po Street, most of the schools in Tai O have closed down. "There used to be more schools here," he says. Now, only CCC Tai O Primary School and Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial College remain.

So it's not surprising that most of the villagers who still live in Tai O are from the older generation. As Tai O villager Kitty Chan reveals, "my kids go to school in Tung Chung, which is a 45-minute bus ride away". The education there is better than that offered in Tai O's schools - but admission is not easy.

Nonetheless, the teachers in Tai O's kindergarten and primary schools continue to offer free tutoring lessons outside of class so that their students do not miss out on their education.

"I always tell my kids to study hard," says Chan, "because my husband and I work difficult jobs. I don't want them to end up like us."

Chan's daughter was one of the lucky students who scored well enough on her test to attend primary school in Tung Chung this September. The long commute from Tai O to school, however, can be a chore in the morning.

Students have to get up at 6am and walk to the bus terminus to catch the public bus to Tung Chung: no school buses are available.

"My husband and I are considering moving out of Tai O to make life easier for my kids," says Chan.

"It would make travelling to school more convenient, and finding a job easier."

If she were to do so, she would indeed be making what is now a popular and practical decision for Tai O residents. With the trawling ban firmly in place, becoming a fisher is no longer an option for Tai O children.

Chan's daughter's favourite hobby is reading - not fishing.

But that is not to say that all of Tai O's youth are leaving behind what was once Hong Kong's busiest fishing village.

When I asked the young men working behind the counter at the Tai O Cultural and Ecological Integrated Resource Centre why they chose to stay in Tai O, one simply said: "I am native to Tai O and my family is still here."

Time and modernity have transformed Tai O fishing village into a tourist spot. But as is printed on a poster in the Tai O Rural Committee Historic and Cultural Showroom, there will always be those who want to stay to "maintain their culture and their sense of community by helping to preserve the material heritage of Tai O".

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Life for a fish out of water

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