Island offers haven from stress of Hong Kong

2022.10.21
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Hong Kong's skyline is seen from Peng Chau island, Hong Kong, China. Idyllic lifestyle and low rents in one of the world's priciest property markets are rejuvenating Peng Chau, reversing an exodus in the 1970s as fortunes waned in the area, once home to Hong Kong's biggest matchstick factory. Credit: Reuters photos taken between August-October, 2022

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A woman stretches on the beach during a meditation session.

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Yoga teacher Zero Chan, 36, conducts a session.

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People take part in a reggae music event at a bookstore on Peng Chau. The island offers valuable middle ground for people who seek to leave behind the stress accumulated from events such as pro-democracy protests in 2019, a national security crackdown that followed, and more recently, strict curbs against COVID-19.

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Yoga teacher Zero Chan, 36, prays during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Peng Chau island offers valuable middle ground for people who seek to leave behind the stress accumulated from recent events that has reshaped life in the global financial hub, driving hundreds of thousands to leave for Britain, Canada and Taiwan.

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Craftsman Jesse Yu, 32, works in a workshop in the alley behind his apartment on Peng Chau. "I enjoy doing woodwork because of the freedom," Yu said.

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Stuffed animals and clothes are put outdoors to dry.

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Fish are hung outdoors to dry.

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Yoga teacher Zero Chan, 36, and craftsman Jesse Yu, 32, canoe near Peng Chau island with Hong Kong in the distance.

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A woman lies near the seashore, Peng Chau island, Hong Kong, China.

Peng Chau, a small island just a short ferry ride from Hong Kong's central business district, has become a haven for residents seeking to leave behind stress accumulated from events such as pro-democracy protests in 2019, a national security crackdown that followed, and more recently, strict curbs against COVID-19.

Something clicked instantly for Zero Chan when she first set foot on the island of Peng Chau, a short ferry ride from Hong Kong's central business district, at a time when she was feeling burnt out and recovering from illness.

"People need space, but there's so much noise in the city," says Zero Chan, a 36-year-old yoga teacher and devotee of Buddhism and Zen. "I'm very happy now."

Some experts say a growing trend of alternative communities can be linked to protest episodes in 2014 and 2019 that railed against China's tightening grip on the former British colony.

"These social events are important catalysts," said Ng Mee-kam, a professor of urban studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "In the face of all these changes, all these tensions and all these conflicts, I think it's inevitable that people of all generations have to reflect on what's going on, and what life means."

Newcomers drawn by an idyllic lifestyle and low rents in one of the world's priciest property markets are rejuvenating Peng Chau, reversing an exodus in the 1970s as fortunes waned in the area, once home to Hong Kong's biggest matchstick factory.

Many dilapidated village homes have been renovated, and deserted concrete husks such as the Fook Yuen leather factory have been converted into a "secret garden" art space featuring graffiti and installation works.

Cafes, boutiques and an independent bookshop have sprouted beside traditional Chinese temples, family-run shops and diners.

Yet, despite a growing trend of seeking out quieter lifestyles on islands as well as villages in the rural New Territories, such spaces are threatened by big new development projects, said Ng, the academic.

"The frontiers for the younger generation to have the space to explore these alternative lifestyles is diminishing, so I think we, as a society, need to be very careful," she added.

- Reuters

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