Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buffalo overkill

For years, people have poked them, set their dogs on them, run them over, even slashed them for fun and the buffaloes suffered in silence. No action taken.

Then people go too far and a maddened buffalo fights back the only way he knows how. His mistake was not to go for the one who had provoked him but an innocent member of the same species.

Immediate action. Kill the buffalo. In fact, kill all buffaloes as you never know which one might attack again.

Next time someone provokes a buffalo, can they be "euthanised" too?


Article from The Standard

Anger after buffalo destroyed

Natalie Wong

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Three water buffalo in Mui Wo were destroyed yesterday, days after a man was tossed and gored.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said that after receiving complaints about Saturday's buffalo attack, veterinary officers put down two on-site and one while it was being transported to an animal management center.

The action immediately drew condemnation from buffalo lover and conservationist Paul Melsom, who reported Saturday's attack by a young bull on a man at Silvermine Beach.

"I feel absolutely sick on how they handled the matter simply by killing the buffalo. They need experts who have the welfare of animals at heart," he said.

Melsom, who has lived in Mui Wo for 14 years, said the small herd is in harmony with the locals and they do not want the animals to disappear on Lantau.

The department spokesman said its animal management team targeted three bulls that appeared to pose a public threat.

The officers intended to send them to New Territories North Animal Management Centre but put two down because they could not be loaded on to the truck as the location is "too remote."

Another was euthanized in a government truck after suffering complications due to delays during transportation, he said. The department will "continue to monitor the situation."

Lantau Buffalo Association director Ho Loy said there is no proof the animals destroyed were involved in last weekend's attack.

"Instead of killing innocent ani

mals as preventive measures, castrating them can calm them down and guard against more incidents effectively," said Ho, who along with a vet tried to stop officers from loading a buffalo.

Rupert Griffiths, welfare research and development manager of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said large animals have a greater chance of suffering complications during transportation.

"They must be anesthetized before being loaded onto a vehicle. But it is difficult to accurately determine the dosage used on large animals," he said.

Islands District councillor Andy Lo Kwong-shing said Lantau residents have long urged the government to relocate stray buffalo as they cause a nuisance.

The gored man, named Li, in his 40s, left hospital on Monday after being admitted on Saturday with leg injuries.

Fifty-three buffalo were caught last year. There are about 200 in rural areas with about 70 percent on Lantau.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New ferry timetable

I didn't realise the ferry tender was up but thank goodness, NWFF has won it again – I was worried I'd have to go on the smaller HKKF ferries.

Anyway, they have some changes to the ferry times but nothing too drastic.

The good news is they have changed some ordinary ferries to fast ferries, especially returning to Mui Wo at night (10pm fast ferry whoo hoo!).

Here are the new ferry times and press release.

Buffalo attack (updated)

The Lantau water buffaloes are normally placid beasts used to humans so this attack by a rogue buffalo is very unusual. It's usually the case of them suffering at the hands of humans rather than the other way round.

I hope the authorities will allow the Lantau Buffalo Association a chance to do a thorough investigation as to why the buffalo charged first rather than cull all the animals as a "preventive measure".

From The Standard

'Spooked' buffalo gores beachgoer

Natalie Wong

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A young bull buffalo that gored and tossed a man visiting Mui Wo on Lantau Island may have been spooked by people trying to hitch a ride.

The man, named Li, left hospital yesterday after being admitted on Saturday with leg injuries.

Eyewitness Paul Melsom said the man had not provoked the animal.

But the water buffalo covered at least 30 meters of Silvermine Beach in charging at Li and his three-year-old daughter near the Wang Tang River at 7pm on Saturday.

Li, in his 40s, was gored in a leg and then hurled into the air and "tossed about like a toy," Melsom said.

"It was something you might see in a bullfighting arena. The man couldn't move. He was in a lot of pain and bleeding heavily from a deep gash in a thigh."

A Lantau police officer said Li was conscious after the attack, while his daughter was unhurt.

He was taken to a clinic in Mui Wo and then transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung.

Witnesses called an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department hotline to offer details of the attack. Ho Loy, director of the Lantau Buffalo Association, said it is highly unusual for water buffalo to attack people unless they are provoked.

"The attack might be associated with the repeated spooking of a pair of male buffalo aged about three years by groups of visitors earlier in the day," she said, drawing on accounts of people in the area.

"In particular, an unidentified individual was seen trying to climb on the back of a young bull.

"Buffalo of such age are active and sensitive to their surroundings because they are approaching full maturity."

Ho also linked the attack to development. Recent construction has reduced the beach area by half, she said.

This comes even as construction projects disturb Lantau's natural habitat, forcing buffalo from inner wetland areas to busy beaches.

Attempting to guard against more incidents involving the two young bulls that were on Silvermine Beach on Saturday, the association has arranged for a vet to castrate them this morning.

The association notes that the young bulls are among six stray buffalo around Mui Wo. All are the offspring of working animals abandoned by farmers in past decades.

Mui Wo Rural Committee vice chairman Cheung Chee-hung worries there will be more attacks.

He wants authorities to relocate the beasts. "Local residents are already fed up with the nuisance they cause - their excrement and problems for traffic when they stray on highways."

An AFCD spokesman said officers visited the scene and found four stray buffalo around the scene of the attack.

They could be rounded up if they appear to be a nuisance, he said.

There are around 200 buffalo in rural areas of Hong Kong, with about 70 percent on Lantau.

The photo and the statement is from the Lantau Buffalo Association:

LBA was deeply concerned to hear of the terrible incident on Silvermine Beach, Mui Wo last night when a member of the public was seriously injured by a male water buffalo. Our thoughts and best wishes are with him and his family for a speedy recovery. We would also like to express gratitude to Mui Wo resident Paul Melsom for his courageous intervention with vital First Aid.

Lantau residents have coexisted with Buffalo and Cattle for many years. It is highly unusual for water buffalo to attack humans and we are trying to find out what may have caused this individual buffalo to behave this way. We are investigating urgently and talking to vets, SPCA, AFCD and the police.

Since the mass cull of the Mui Wo buffalo herd in early 2007, a small group of just four or five male buffalo has survived in the Mui Wo area. There are no females, therefore no breeding has taken place. This means that there is no normal herd social structure. Nevertheless, there is no history of aggression in this group up to now, though it is reported that a new male has joined recently, which may have disrupted any emerging hierarchy.

Major drainage works and other construction activity in the area have greatly disturbed the Buffaloes' habitat in the last couple of years, causing them to roam far away from the inner wetland areas.

Mui Wo beach has been very busy with visitors recently, more and more of whom reportedly like to engage the animals. However, repeated attention from large numbers of people may cause them to panic. Another theory is that the animal in question may have been alarmed by a flash from a camera in the twilight. Further, the engineering works on the beach have reduced the open space by about 50%, making it a very crowded area. We would be grateful for additional information from anyone who witnessed the incident and can shed any further light on what happened.

LBA is currently undertaking a herd management programme in conjunction with SPCA and AFCD, desexing male bovines across Lantau, to humanely reduce breeding and testosterone, with the aim of minimizing potential for bovine/human conflict. All male cattle in Mui Wo for example have been desexed already.




Thank you
Lantau Buffalo Association


Email from Paul Melsom:

Hi all,
Please pass this on to your groups.
A warning for everyone to take care with the Water buffalo on Mui Wo Beach especially with young children.
This saturday evening (26 March) about 6.45 p.m. I and many other people witnessed a man (tourist) being attacked by a water buffalo on on Mui Wo beach; location where the Wang Tong Stream reaches the sea. The man did not provoke the water buffalo. The water buffalo charged him and his 3 year old daughter from roughly 30 to 40 meters away. He was lifted by the horns of the buffalo and his leg gored by one of the horns. He was hurled into the air and tossed about like a toy, several times. It was something you might see in a bull fighting arena. The man couldn't move, was in a lot of pain and he was bleeding heavily from the deep gash in his thigh. He was taken to hospital fairly quickly. Luckily his daughter was safe but it was a near thing for her too.
Prior to this two males were sparring further down the beach and one of these was the one that charged the man. It may just be this one individual that is the problem.
I like water buffaloes but the water buffalo experts need to follow this up before anyone else or a child is attacked.
regards Paul Melsom

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Support your local Japanese place

I sent Buffalo Wilbur an article from a local newspaper about how Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong are hurting because of the radiation food scare.

He emailed back: "Let's go support Pui O Delicious."

I never turn down an offer to visit the restaurant because I love the food there so today, we did our usual Mui Wo-Pui O hike and were there by lunch to have our favourite sukiyaki and stir-fried beef rice.

In case you're wondering, Pui O Delicious gets all its stuff from places outside Japan, including the US and Australia.

The only food items they import from Japan are the scallops and ice-cream but the stock is pre-quake so most of it has sold out anyway.

It has also added a new snack menu, which I was too full to try. But I am definitely eyeing that deep-fried Japanese cheesecake (which I'll bet won't be from Japan). Yums!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hidden costs

Mui Wo property looks cheap in comparison to places like Tung Chung and Tsing Yi and people often ask me: "So what's the catch?"

Easy: Ferry fares.

You are dependent on the ferry as it is the fastest way to get to Central. So if you have to get into the office every day, you must factor in transport costs if you're planning to move to Mui Wo.

Here's the latest on ferry fare rises from The Standard today: "Fares on six ferry routes to the outlying islands will rise, the first as early as next week.The fare from Mui Wo to Central will increase from HK$13 to HK$14 while the express fare will go up from HK$25 to HK$28.80. The fares hike will be effective from Friday."

Already my monthly commute costs me at least HK$2,000. With the fare increase, transport can easily be HK$4,000 to HK$5,000 for a two-person household - something you should factor into the rent/mortgage.

But at least places like Mui Wo, Cheung Chau, Peng Chau and Lamma are "proper" towns, as compared to developer-led Discovery Bay so ferry fares are still subsidised by the government.

I wonder how much the fare raise for the Disco Bay ferries is going to be?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oh give me a home...

...where the buffaloes roam!

This little (well, little in comparison to others of his kind) fellow totally enchanted those of us getting off the ferry last night.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mad March weather

March really can't seem to make up its mind.

When I left for the ferry this morning, the coastal fog made it look like mid-winter. Now the sun is out, the temperature is 26C and it looks just like summer.

But I can't get rid of my fleece yet because the weatherman says a cold front is approaching tomorrow which will send the temperatures plummeting again.

I don't mind the hot/cold fluctuation so much as the coastal fog, which really screws up my work schedule (I have a strict boss who makes sure I clock in nine hours a day, to the minute).

And it can be unnerving sitting in the ferry in the morning, surrounded by white nothingness and hearing the mournful sound of the foghorn.

Especially when the waves suddenly get bigger, you see a flash of light... and realise a 20-storey container ship has just pass less than 1km in front of you.

Buffalo Wilbur keeps reminding me that all the ships have radar so it's not as scary as it looks.

But I don't and it's really unnerving feeling like a sitting duck.

Should I ask for a personal radar for my birthday?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Irrational radiation fears

I went to get salt just now and this is what I saw. All the salt was gone; the only ones available were non-iodised table salt.

Panic buying and totally irrational.

Think about it: firstly, it is highly unlikely that any radiation from Japan is going to hit Hong Kong and secondly, taking iodine cannot ward off really harmful stuff like caesium anyway.

Besides, one teaspoon of iodized salt contains at best 400 micrograms of iodine so you're going to have to eat a whole kilogram of salt to make the exercise worthwhile.

Which means you may survive radiation but die of high blood pressure instead.

The panic buying feels even more petty when you consider the real fears of Aoso from Renge House.

She comes from northern Japan and has not been sleeping well since the quake and tsunami struck her country last week.

Her immediate family are all safe but she is sure she has lost quite a few of her friends from her hometown.

Sure puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Here kitty, kitty

Buffalo Wilbur and I are cat people and we just love that the cats roam free in the villages.

Am a bit worried about the poisonous rat baits being put down around the area, though.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

More EVA naughtiness

What is it about Pak Ngan Heung square that screams "park here illegally" to drivers?

More heritage info

I've always wondered about that huge mansion and swimming pool that looks like it belongs in Love is a Many Splendored Thing. So now I know, it's called Yick Yuen and used to belong to a rice businessman.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

HK$3m to renovate a village house?

If you have lofty ambitions of buying a cheap village house (not that there are any "cheap" ones available these days) and converting it, SCMP today has some sobering news. Check out the article:

Floored beauties

Village houses: dream homes or money pits? There's a certain allure to the idea of heading to pastures greener, where the air is cleaner, more space is available and, at least until recent times, prices are cheaper.

But bargains aren't always what they seem. Architects who specialise in village house renovations say there are almost always structural problems that need to be fixed before reaching the fun part of interior design. They don't say don't do it, just approach a makeover with your eyes and chequebook wide open - ideally before you sign the contract to buy that New Territories house of your dreams.

Adrian McCarroll of Original Vision says older village houses, those built in the 1970s and 80s, can be problematic because of poor construction quality. Since the 90s, materials and building techniques have improved, he says.

"Older houses tend to be of column and beam construction, with the possibility of internal columns, which results in a compromised layout and reduced headroom," McCarroll says. "More recently, the practice has been to leave village houses column-free, with a thicker floor slab. This gives architects a better chance of achieving a decent layout."

The flip side to newer houses is that, because the external walls are structural, windows are often made too small to allow in much natural light, and there is never enough access to the outside. Both of these problems can be resolved, but the cost needs to be considered.

Village houses do tend to leak, McCarroll says. "In almost every single village house we replace the roof, regardless," he says. "Even if it's not leaking now, it's going to eventually. They're also never insulated, so replacing the roof provides an opportunity to add this energy-saving feature."

Leaky walls are another common problem, because of the porosity of the old brick infill. The solution is to strip all external walls bare and add a waterproof membrane. "We tend to replace the windows wherever possible, and put in double glazing if the budget allows for sound and thermal insulation, and to help prevent condensation."

McCarroll advises factoring in the cost of replacing the plumbing, drainage and power. He says it's a false economy to skimp on these when village house infrastructure was never meant for today's energy hungry households. (The power supply itself may need to be upgraded and that's not always possible, depending on the village; CLP Power can advise.)

Staircases are often in odd positions that don't allow for an economic layout. "It's the first thing we look at in terms of design," McCarroll says. Moving a staircase is costly, but if you don't it could scupper the whole aesthetic. Besides, who wants clunky old concrete stairs in their living room?

Edward Billson of MAP Architecture and Planning agrees that staircases are the biggest design problem with village houses, and the single biggest value-add of any renovation project. But that's only the start, he says. Next come new bathrooms and kitchen, realigned bedrooms, new walls and some new external windows. Billson says a full renovation of 2,100 sq ft can cost between HK$2 million and HK$4 million. He says to allow for HK$3 million "for a comprehensive renovation of middle quality."

Do-it-yourselfers might expect to pay less. Sai Kung resident Chan Keng-siew had a limited budget, so she hired architects on a freelance basis and did some of the design work herself - not always successfully. "I wish they'd made more suggestions because I'm not a designer and I didn't always come up with the best use of space," she says. Chan paid her contractor about HK$500,000 to revamp two floors (1,200 sq ft). Fittings, such as tiles, wood flooring and kitchen appliances, were extra.

The project took six months. Because the contractor was busy with other jobs, he sometimes only had one workman on site at a time. The verdict? "It was a huge headache and I will never do it again," says Chan, who lived onsite while the work was taking place. "But I do now have a home I love."

Billson stresses the importance of spatial planning. "A HK$1.5 million budget may not stretch to stair relocation but this points to the biggest problem with village houses, which is the planning of the house and its relationship to the external areas and amenity," he says. "You buy a village house because you want to have less density and more outdoor living."

If you have a garden, even a small one, you'll want to use it or at least see it. By replacing expanses of ground-floor external walls with folding or sliding glass doors, the extremity of the garden becomes the boundary. When you only have 700 sq ft inside to play with - the maximum footprint of most village houses, which are two or three storeys high - every bit matters.

Covered outdoor space is the other big value add, Billson says. It increases the feeling of space and can create the illusion of a ground floor area that is twice the size. "Covered pergolas can be approved under the terms of a Short Term Tenancy by the Lands Department through the new STT self assessment system, and if you are building over in-deed land, then it is less of an issue for the department," he says.

There's a lot of living to be squeezed into 700 sq ft per floor, but architects have solutions. "Owners should start with a detailed planning analysis of the opportunities presented by the site and the orientation of the house structure," Billson says. "The rest of the issues will all shake out as a result of optimising the planning response."

One couple who have done it twice concur that design magic can happen when an architect is given free rein. At their first house of 2,400 sq ft in Pak Sha Wan, the L-shape construction with six half-floors and a central staircase "allowed us to develop some really interesting spaces". Rooms were opened up to create a combined kitchen/dining area with a folding glass partition. The double height lounge provided scope for a mezzanine gallery and study area. The steep garden "wasn't much use", but became so with the addition of a timber deck extending to the perimeter wall, with a small swimming pool in the middle. They sold it for "a substantial profit".

Their second and current home, in Ngau Liu near Sai Kung, also required a full makeover. Ground-floor walls were removed to open up the space, with a piano recess created in a staircase nook. Upstairs, bedroom numbers were reduced to provide more spacious rooms. A glass partition in the master bedroom and bathroom allows sweeping valley views.

But the garden is the reason why this couple love their village home. Large by Hong Kong standards at 4,300 sq ft, it has a patio with dining area and sofas, a covered outdoor kitchen/barbeque and a swimming pool.

His advice to those looking to renovate a village house is to engage a project manager. A contract with the builder is essential and should include a day work schedule stipulating agreed costs - for instance, how much per square metre to replace a wall. This clarifies costs when, inevitably, you want to make design changes.

The owner is a project manager by profession - so he saved money by managing the works. The renovation for both homes cost a little over HK$2 million each, including the pools and his architect's fee of about 15 per cent of the total price. Contrast this with neighbours who became so frustrated with the cost blowout and poor standard that they now rent it out, too disillusioned to live there.

"They fell out with the builder over late completion, costs and quality," he says. "They also failed to impose the defects liability clause, which allows you to withhold payment on any works if it is not to an acceptable standard. If you get the wrong builder or fall out with him you will be in trouble. Recommendations are important."

He also stresses the necessity of having a penalty for late completion. "Many builders will try to avoid these clauses (which are normal in major construction projects) - called Liquidated Damages Clauses - whereby you can deduct, say, HK$2,000 a day for late completion against the original programme.

"Without this clause, you are at the mercy of a builder who can save money by putting only one trade at a time on the project, which is more cost-efficient for him but very slow," he says.

Weighing up the cost

Estimates of works typical in a renovation of a village house:

  • Replacing the staircase At a village house in Sheung Yeung, Original Vision replaced a clunky, crooked staircase that was jerry-built 25 years ago with open-tread timber stairs that are now a focal point of the room. Cost: HK$125,000
  • Low ceilings At one home in Clear Water Bay, Original Vision took away half of the ground floor ceiling. The resulting atrium lobby created a feeling of spaciousness. Cost: the cost here is giving away floor area.
  • Leaky roof and walls Replacing the roof on a village house involves stripping off the roof finish to bare concrete and adding insulation, waterproofing and a new finish on top of the existing structure. Cost: HK$120,000.
  • Inadequate windows Replace windows, ideally with high-quality powder-coated aluminium frames with double glazing, and install exterior opening doors on the ground floor. Cost: HK$350,000
  • Building infrastructure Be prepared to replace the plumbing, drainage and electrics. Cost: HK$250,000

Approximate costings provided by Original Vision, 22/F, 88 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai;

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mui Wo FAQs - Property

In our spare time, we like to walk around the villages pretending we're Warren Buffet and pick out distressed assets (ie houses) we would love to buy.

So far, we have not agreed on one we both like - thank goodness because we don't have the money anyway.

I always go for the most unloved houses, the ones property agents would call , with fake enthusiasm in their voices, "original condition, ripe for renovation."

Buffalo Wilbur, being the non-DIY person that he is, always goes for the ones in best condition, all glass and aluminum, without a rust stain in sight.

It's a wonder we managed to agree long enough to plonk our money on our present place.

I often get people asking me, when they find out we live in Mui Wo, what are their options if they want to move there.

Renting is not a problem: If you don't like it, you can move when the year's up. But buying is a commitment, so more careful thought needs to be put into it.

Well, here's a short FAQ for potential buyers in Mui Wo:

What kind of property can I buy in Mui Wo?

"Normal" flats are the kind you see in the town itself. They're all housed in buildings not more then five stories high (there's a height restriction in town) and range from 200 to 800 sq ft. You can get a 70-90% mortgage on them, just like any other flat in Hong Kong. Check out the HKMC website for more info on 90% mortgages.
They're close to all the amenities. Drawbacks: Concrete everywhere (a friend once asked me: "What's the point of living so far out in Lantau if you're still surrounded by concrete?"), small spaces, close proximity to your neighbours.

Village houses are three stories high and up to 2,100 sq ft in total. They're usually divided into three flats (500-700 sq ft), with the ground floor having exclusive use of the garden and the second floor having private access to the roof. Everyone aspires to buy one but, be warned, though they look cheaper than the ones in town, you will need loads of cash for the downpayment (between 30 and 50% of the price). The big banks like HSBC and Hang Seng are only slowly getting used to the idea of giving mortgages for village houses and even the smaller ones like Wing Lung and Wing Hang may only give you a 50% mortgage.
Fresh air and wonderful views. More space for less cash. Drawback: Upkeep of the building is at the owners' expense so you better hope you get along well with your neighbours. And have you seen the snakes in Blogger 8's blog?

Buyer beware
Does the building have a lift? If not, it may be considered a "tong lau" (or old building) and not come under the same mortgage terms as a normal flat. We considered Amy Court, only to be told by the banks that that was considered a village house.

Is the vendor legally allowed to sell his house? There are such things as licensed houses, in which only the licensee is allowed to live there. You may be handing over the money and stand the risk of having the whole thing taken away from you. Some people have done a deal with the licensee (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) without any problems but we don't have that kind of risk appetite.

Lantau Link has a good summary of the places available.

Transaction prices?
Ricacorp and Centaline have latest Land Registry transaction records for the normal flats in town. For village houses, I'm afraid you have to ask the real estate agents or pop into Tom's Cafe for the latest gossip.

Do I need a mortgage broker?
Yes, if you need someone to take you through the intricacies of mortgage application in Hong Kong. No, if you are prepared to do some legwork. We found the ones recommended by our agent kept steering us towards a particular bank and were clueless (or pretended to be) about the rates for others. And they couldn't get us more favourable rates than the ones we were offered just by walking into the banks and talking to their officers direct.

It's amazing how fast buying property can be in Hong Kong. The whole procedure, from provisional contract to completion, takes only six to eight weeks.

Here's the breakdown:
  1. Check valuation. Banks will not lend above valuation so you may have to fork out the difference.
  2. Get bank to give you in principle approval. This will save you loads of sleepless nights worrying if you have to forego your deposit if you can't get the mortgage.
  3. Make offer. Wait for vendor to hum and haw and claim he prefers to rent out/sell to relative/sell his kid than take up offer. Be strong and you will prevail. This takes the longest time.
  4. Get lawyer. Sign a provisional/preliminary agreement for sale and purchase. Hand over 5-10% of price as deposit. Get your own lawyer, don't trust the "standard" S&P the agents will thrust on you. We managed to get our lawyer to put in a clause that all monies will be refunded if HKMC doesn't approve our application for mortgage insurance.
  5. Go to bank with provisional S&P to arrange mortgage. This will take anything from a fortnight to two months. Don't forget that if you back out now (eg can't get mortgage), you forfeit the 5-10%. That is why you need your own lawyer to look after your interests.
  6. In the meantime, your lawyer will ask you to inspect the property to make sure it is vacant possession/with tenant according to agreement.
  7. Lawyer will call you when bank has approved mortgage. Sign formal S&P, hand over the remaining 90-95%. Get the keys.

Hidden costs?
Don't think so. The whole process is quite transparent: 1% commission for estate agent, stamp duties according to price, lawyer's fees... There have been whispers of under-the-counter transactions for desirable flats but we never encountered any such problems.

Click on text for more on:
Mui Wo real estate agents

Monday, March 14, 2011


I woke up to find the ferry pier had disappeared in a white out.

The ferry was delayed today and there was a special "go slow" requirement because the visibility was less than 2km so the journey took about 45 minutes instead of the usual half hour.

Kudos to the ferry crew. I wouldn't have driven, much less sailed, in this weather - even if my vehicle was equipped with the latest radar systems. It was like sailing into a dense white cloud.

If only I can get Paul McCartney's song out of my head. All together now: "Mull of Kintyre, Oh mist rolling in from the sea..."

Sunday, March 13, 2011


We don't need to go to the supermarket to get fresh produce.

At the pier, there are always two regulars – I call them the Vegetable Lady and the Banana Uncle because I can't communicate more than "How much?" to either of them.

And sometimes, when the weather's good and the tourists spill out from the ferries, there is also Vegetable Lady 2.0, who sets up her stall outside the McDonald's.

Her vegetables are always so fresh that they catch the eye of many home cooks.

When I was there buying her beetroots (HK$13 a catty in case you're wondering), a couple stopped by and got some too.

Because I brought her luck, and translated for her, she gave me two stalks of spring onions. I'll definitely be back!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Heritage info

Lately, I've noticed more information boards springing up around town.

They look like they're put up for tourists (check out the Japanese version) but they're also great for people who live here – like us – who are curious about the local history but don't know enough Cantonese to find out more.

Here's one about the watch tower in Chung Hau – turns out it's called Yu Tak Lei Yuen watchtower and was used to spot pirates coming up River Silver.

There are others scattered around the area but I haven't gotten round to taking photos of them yet. Will post more when I do.

Sunny day

For the past few months, the beach hasn't been much of a draw. The water looked cold and the sand, dirty.

It didn't help either that much of it was cordoned off with ugly plastic barriers and cones for drainage works.

But today, the sun is out, the cold has abated (for a bit) and suddenly the beach looks inviting again.

And there are crowds coming out from the ferry again. Mui Wo is a holiday destination again!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring buffaloes

Spring is here and the buffaloes have taken their babies out for an airing in the lovely cool weather.

Isn't that calf just adorable?

Buy local produce

Rub unpeeled beetroots with salt and thyme, drizzle with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar, bung in oven at 200 deg C for 45 minutes... yum!

Feeling hungry yet? This Pui O farm next to the buffalo field has fresh beets for sale: 9261-4472.

By the way, don't throw the leaves away. Boil then up with some sliced pork for a nutritious vitamin-packed Chinese soup.

Mangrove good

Numerous studies have shown that mangroves and coral reefs play a big part in protecting the coast from tsunamis.

But mangroves are less valuable than residential land in the eyes of developers... so many of the protective vegetation around Mui Wo have been removed to make way for houses.

There are only patches of mangrove left, the most notable being the ones outside Wang Tong village.

I really hope they don't get rid of those yet in the worship of the great god of concrete.

Tsunami in Japan

When we first told my mum we were planning to move to Mui Wo, her immediate words were: "Don't get a first floor terrace. What if there's a tsunami?"

We were in Asia during the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and we knew friends or friends of friends who had been killed in that one.

So I must admit tsunami was one of my concerns when we found a flat less than 100m from the sea. But Buffalo Wilbur showed me how many islands there were protecting Silvermine Bay so I was soothed... partly.

Thankfully, the tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake has given Hong Kong a miss – although it did create some swells in the sea (if you can tell from the crappy video I have taken above of the Star Ferry pier from the Mui Wo ferry).

But I must say I still heaved a big sigh of relief when the ferry pulled into Mui Wo and I saw the building our flat was in was still standing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

International school in Mui Wo... please?

No demand? Not enough kids? Two words: International school.

I was talking to the folks at Hong Kong International School recently and they said that demand is as high as ever. Even during the financial crisis, the waiting list didn't get shorter.

There is a reason why Discovery Bay International School has the longest waiting list of all the international schools in Hong Kong and why the YMCA Christian College in Tung Chung is talking of expanding rather than cutting down on classes like most government schools.

There is a demand for an international secondary school in Lantau both from the expat and the local community.

The number of potential students for an international secondary school is definitely higher than the number of former drug addicts, I should think.

So why does no one look at the most obvious solution to this problem?

From SCMP Feb 9, 2011:
Report a blow in battle against drug centre

There is not enough demand to justify reopening a secondary school in South Lantau, a study shows, dashing the hopes of Mui Wo residents fighting a drug-treatment centre's bid to use a former school campus.

Residents strongly objected last year to the proposed relocation of Christian Zheng Sheng College to the site in Mui Wo, saying it should reopen for the use of Lantau children.

But based on the population projection and patterns of parental choices in the secondary school place allocation results, it is insufficient to justify the setting up of a new public sector secondary school in South Lantau at this stage, an Education Bureau paper submitted to the Legislative Council says.

The college, which helps students overcome drug problems at its base in Ha Keng on the Chi Ma Wan peninsula on Lantau, hoped to relocate to the former New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School. The school closed in 2007 due to low enrolments.

The college has room for 30 students but has enrolled more than 100.

Based on statistics and parental choices, the bureau projected that only 33 Primary Six pupils, or two-thirds of the South Lantau pupils participating in the allocation system, would enrol in secondary schools in the Islands District.

It is also projected that the number of children aged six to 11 would drop from 9,800 in the 2010 school year to 9,100 in the 2013 school year before rebounding in 2014. The number of those aged 12 to 17 is expected to drop by 15 per cent, or 1,700 students, between the 2010 and 2015 school years.

The bureau said existing public secondary school places were sufficient to meet demand.

College principal Alman Chan Siu-cheuk said the figures reflected the demand in Lantau. "We really hope the government replies to our application on Mui Wo as soon as possible, as many of our students, at least 24, will need to sit public examinations under the new senior secondary curriculum next year,'' Chan said.

But Islands district councillor and a member of the Mui Wo Rural Committee, Wong Fuk-kan, said there was an increasing number of school-age children in the district.

Property porn

We first saw this cluster of houses in Shap Long about three years ago on our usual Mui O-Pui O walk and fell in love with them.

Despite the financial crisis then, there was no way we could afford them. And of course, there is absolutely no way we can afford one now.

I saw a listing for what looks like a corner house in luxury realtor Sotheby's website recently: HK$12 million.

Definitely suck-on-your-teeth prices for Lantau but, considering the prices in Midlevels these days, quite reasonable for something like this.

For us, though, the only way we would be able to view this is by perve-ing the realtor photos.

Whoo hoo the big ferries are back

After a week or so of small fast ferries, the big ones are back for the morning commute.

Regulars breathe a sigh of relief as they head for their usual seats. But somehow the break has resulted in some shuffling of favorites.

Personally I don't care which seat I get now, as long as I don't have to eat my preserved sour plum by the bottles to ward off seasickness.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Restaurant updates

A visiting friend once noted" "Mui Wo does have many restaurants!"

As far as we're concerned, the more the merrier. If it begins to resemble Stanley (which is what the official plans for the town was inspired by) then so much the better.

And it looks like we're getting more.

The Italian restaurant below Scenic Crest has already applied for a liquor licence, so hopefully that means it's on target for opening soon. And the gossip in town is that the place beside BEA is going to be a barbecue restaurant (yums!).

The existing restaurateurs are not resting on their laurels.

The newest kid on the block, Deer Horn, has tweaked its menu so it has interesting new stuff like the Nepali Khana Set (HK$95 I think) – which is a little like an Indian thali (curry, rice, dhal, veg) but with a totally different taste. The sharpish and salty mango pickle really perks up this dish.

Can't wait to see what the new places will be offering.

Spring is in the air

You know the seasons are changing not by the leaves on the trees but by the appearance of fresh bedding plants all around town.

Pity though. I liked the colourful flowers they had put in during the winter. I think they were pansies and marigolds but I'm afraid I'm a total townie when it comes to identifying plants.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mui Wo FAQ for tourists

I started this blog to record our life in Mui Wo and community happenings for our family and friends.

But I have been pleasantly surprised to get some comments and emails from strangers from abroad who plan to come over to Hong Kong for holiday and want to know what they can see and do around here.

So here are a few quick FAQs about Mui Wo and Lantau Island:

What sort of accommodation does Mui Wo have?
There are hotels. Silvermine Beach Hotel is the largest and closest to the ferry pier. It is run by the Miramar Group. The new wing is nicer than the old one but has only side sea view.

Further down the beach are Seaview Holiday Resort (Tel: 2984-8877) and Mui Wo Inn (Tel: 2984-7225). Be warned: Don't expect a lot of frills but the hotels do have a sort of retro charm (if you can convince yourself it's 1970s ironic and not a haven't-been-updated-for-decades look).

Off the beach but closer to the River Silver is the Silverview Resort Holiday, which looks like low rise flats cobbled together to make a hotel. The rooms look pretty basic but you can get a 400 sq ft apartment from HK$480 a night.

There are also holiday flats to let – a lot of them are in Wang Tong. You can ask any of the estate agents in town or check out the kiosks (Tel: 2984-8982) showing photos of the flats available at the ferry pier and next to the seafood centre.

What is there to see/do in Mui Wo?
Well, there's the beach, which is what makes Mui Wo popular with day-trippers. Behind the beach, past Wang Tong village, is the Silvermine Waterfall.

There are also lots of hiking trails. Or you can hire a bike from one of the three bike shops around to explore deeper into the villages.

There isn't much touristy shopping in town but you can grab a Mui Wo T-shirt from the pier or the stalls next to the seafood centre. On Sundays, a T-shirt seller sometimes sets up his stall outside Park N Shop. There's also Renge House, which is my present addiction.

Photo ops?
Plenty in Chung Hau village, and the surrounding area. Don't forget to get the prerequisite photo with the dragon at the entrance to the beach.

One public toilet next to the seafood centre as you come off the ferry, one in the Mui Wo municipal building, a couple along the beach and one at the entrance to Wang Tong (next to the Toilet Bar). McDonald's and China Bear has toilets too. If you eat at any other restaurant, you will have to ask for the key to the patrons-only toilets.

There is a shop offering Lantau tours beside the McDonald's but it is quite easy to get around on your own as long as you have an Octopus card, which you can buy at the pier.

There are three main bus routes you must know: The 3M to Tung Chung (for cheap cheap outlet shopping at Citygate mall), the 2 to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha (for the Po Lin Monastery, vegetarian meal and photos to remember your trip by), and the 1 to Tai O fishing village (for old Hong Kong, cheap seafood and souvenirs – that hat-wearing puffer fish is a hoot).

Other tourist necessities
Mui Wo is a cash-only town. The money changer is at the pier there are two ATMs (BEA and HSBC) which have Cirrus. For insect repellent, emergency beer rations, etc, there are two supermarkets and a 7-11. The stalls along the beach also stock stuff like plasters.

Can I do Lantau in a day?
Sure! My suggestion: Take the ferry to Mui Wo, get a dimsum/local breakfast at the seafood centre, mooch around the beach for a bit, then hop on the bus to Tai O for lunch. After lunch, take the bus to Ngong Ping and then the cable car to Tung Chung.

From Tung Chung, you can catch the MTR back to Central. Or if you still have the energy, catch a bus to Discovery Bay for dinner and then a ferry back from there to Central (if you spend above HK$100 per person at one of the designated restaurants, you get a free ferry ticket).

I have left out Disneyland as you need a day to do justice to that.

Is it convenient for Disneyland?
Ironically, no. Disneyland Hotel has a pier but Disney can't get an operator/permission (depending on who you ask) to operate ferries direct to the resort.

Disneyland and Mui Wo are on South Lantau but you have to go all the way to Tung Chung in the north to catch the MTR to Sunny Bay and then the Disneyland express to the resort - about one hour each way.

More info
Those thinking about making Mui Wo their home can look up my other FAQs about the amenities here.

Wellcome's Mr Lam is retiring

When we first moved to Mui Wo, we had a lot of new-home necessities to stock up on.

As most of you know, it is a pain to shop in an unfamiliar supermarket because you can never find the stuff you need.

Luckily, Mr Lam, Wellcome's cheery manager, could always be relied upon to lay his hands on even the most obscure of items.

So we were quite sad to find out that Mr Lam will be retiring at the end of this month.

He was supposed to have retired three years ago but they've been extending his contract. This time, however, they've said no.

Tom from Caffe Paradiso said he is getting a card for Mr Lam so maybe you could pop on down and sign it.

But that's not the last you'll see of Mr Lam, thankfully. The long-time Mui Wo resident who lives above Park N Shop (oh the irony!) is intending to enjoy his retirement pottering about and fishing by the pier.