Walking down the sunny main street of Tai O, the beauty of the emerald green hills and village houses on one side and the famed stilt houses standing in a row over the bright-blue sea on the other side is captivating. But what is even more enchanting is the smile of the elderly as they greet passers-by while sitting in front of their homes looking after family businesses.
As the road turns up on a hill and ends there, a stately white colonial building looks onto the village guarding it. This is the building of the Old Tai O Police Station, which has been carefully revitalised and turned into a hotel by Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation Limited, a non-profit organization established by the Ng Family, Sino Group’s major shareholder. It used to guard the village from pirates and illegal immigrants; now - in the truest form or revitalisation - it watches over the villagers’ wellbeing.
“We want to sustainably develop the economy of Tai O, and conserve the ecology of this place. We are very grateful for the support of Tai O villagers. Only with their support can the hotel operate smoothly,” says Frankie Lui, General Manager, Tai O Heritage Hotel. He explains, how the hotel relies on the help of villagers and how, even at the construction stage, they involved the villagers, inviting those who knew the history of the police station for some happy reminiscing to learn more about the past.
On the other hand, the hotel also contributes to the local economy by creating jobs, bringing in more tourists, using some local products in their cooking and sponsoring some of the traditional activities, such as the dragon boat festival.
“With the growth in tourist numbers, some young people have come back to the community, set up a business or helped their parents to set up a business,” Lui says.
It is exactly this aspect of mutual support which captivated many of the secondary school students who recently visited Tai O Heritage Hotel as part of the Sino Junior Reporter Programme 2015, which has given 48 students the opportunity to receive journalistic training given by an experienced journalist, a visit of the hotel and interview with the General Manager.
This is the second year the programme organised with great success and has also been taken to Singapore where students visited Fullerton Heritage Precinct revitalised by Sino Group.
“Through a field trip and interview with our executive, we hope the students get to understand the heritage efforts more. We hope that the conservation efforts resonate with them and spark a desire for learning about the history of our city and things around us,” says Nikki Ng, Group General Manager, Sino Group.
Students then entered a competition with an article written about heritage, and get published among the top five entries in Young Post, which was the co-organiser of the event.
“They even adopted the policy of hiring locals and making use of local products. This surely contributes to the local economy and the strong bonds [the hotel has developed] with the local community,” says second runner-up Amber Chan Wing Kiu from Pope Paul VI College.
Originally finding “heritage” something difficult and boring, many of the students found the programme had changed completely the way they used to think about heritage.
“After the visit, I understood that the spirit of Tai O is just as important as the hotel building itself. While the building is restored and preserved, it's important that the spirit and culture of Tai O is passed to the next generation,” says Cheng Wai Ching from Cheung Chuk Shan College, who was awarded merit.
Champion Jacky Chan Ho Hin from the Hong Kong Chinese Women’s Club College says “The cultural heritage deserves public attention,” pointing out that heritage conservation and economic development are not mutually exclusive, while first runner-up Bonnie Choi Yuk Wa, student at the University of Hong Kong, adds, “Cultural heritage is important as it has far-reaching impact on the collective memory of Hong Kong citizens.”
See below for the top five winning articles:
Grand Prize Winner: Jacky Chan Ho-hin, Hong Kong Chinese Women’s Club College
1st Runner-up: Bonnie Choi Yuk-wa, The University of Hong Kong
2nd Runner-up: Amber Chan Wing-kiu, Pope Paul VI College