Lantau: where high-rise living, compact living, works
CAME back recently from a twoweek visit to Hong Kong with my companion Mary, who knows the region well. Her son and family live there.
It was my first visit and while I was not surprised by what I saw on Hong Kong island – apart, that is, from finding it was two-thirds dense forest – I was surprised by an adjacent island, Lantau.
So rather than discuss that familiar pile that is Hong Kong and nearby Kowloon (there’s more infrastructure there, I think, than all South Africa’s inner cities combined), I want to tell you about Lantau, a “suburban island” twice the area of Hong Kong island.
That’s where we stayed in a 14th-floor flat overlooking the South China Sea.
We could see Hong Kong’s toothy cityscape in the distance; a 25-minute fast ferry ride away.
Lantau is the largest island in the region which was a British Crown Colony until ceded to China 17 years ago.
On Hong Kong itself, beyond that
Ifamous skyline, I saw towering 70-storey soulless blocks of flats packed tightly liked bamboo clumps – thousands of families compressed into thousands of tiny flats. I recalled Robert Fulford’s remark about megacities: “I have seen the future – and it doesn’t work.”
By contrast Lantau, where widely spaced “towering villages” of high blocks sprout from deeply forested hills, high-rise living works just fine.
We stayed in Discovery Bay in the north-east where small clusters of blocks (up to 24 storeys high) rise from the hillsides – an amphitheatre of landscaped parks looking down on “The Plaza” – a huge, Mediterranean-type “square” (it’s round actually).
It is busy with children scooting or riding their bikes; parents and off-duty Filipino “domestics” drink coffee and passengers hurry to the ferry terminal or to the spotlessly clean buses that provide a 10-minute service to each of the bay’s complexes.
One is aware of children – hundreds of them. And dogs. The Chinese, who represent 88 percent of the population, love dogs as much as the expatriates do. They walk them morning and evening, disposing of their droppings in special bins.
Even along Lantau’s many paved nature trails, there are dog latrines.
There are no privately owned cars in the quiet bay, just golf carts. Shops ring the plaza. So do restaurants catering for the tastes of about 30 nationalities, including many South Africans. (We even found, not far away, a South Africanowned beach café called The Stoep.)
But whether Asian or “gweilo” (meaning “ghosts” – the slightly derogatory name for whites), most who fill the regular rush-hour ferries are white-collar workers, smartly dressed and brisk of pace.
We sometimes caught a rush-hour ferry and, on arrival on Hong Kong island, were swept along with other passengers from other ferries to be absorbed into the great pile of gleaming buildings, many linked by skywalks.
The glue that holds Discovery Bay’s disparate communities together is partly the vibrant plaza where children mix and, by default, families meet but also its large, socially aware International School and its magnificent club with its many sports facilities. There’s almost no litter and no theft. In a nearby “village” is a huge, colourful facility with a score or more activities for children – trampolines, slides, climbs, games of skill all well supervised where children can be left.
Lantau’s success is due in part to its highly participative stratum of professional people, but also because it avoided the overwhelming waves of dispossessed rural Chinese who fled communism and swamped the rest of the Hong Kong region. The concern now, throughout the territory, is how soon Beijing might stifle political freedom and regiment Hong Kong’s vibrant cultural life and businesses.