The people of Lantau are just as amazing as the place! Inspirational individuals in the community share their stories.
Owner of Discovery Bay’s local watering hole, the bar and restaurant Hemingway’s, Gary Stokes is also an instrumental individual in Hong Kong’s maritime conservation scene. He was the Asia Director for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for five years, and has now co-founded the marine conservation organisation OceansAsia, whose mission is to investigate and research wildlife crimes by exposing and bringing to justice those destroying and polluting marine ecosystems.
“When I was a child, I grew up in Malta and Cyprus–two beautiful islands surrounded by the sea–where I spent virtually every afternoon swimming, snorkelling and windsurfing, spending every moment in the ocean that I could. It was only when I went back to Malta after about 24 years of being away that I realised the oceans were in trouble. I went to the little bay where I’d snorkelled every day as a kid, and everything was gone. I was doing a lot of underwater photography at the time, so I started using my camera to tell the story of what’s wrong in the oceans.
My underwater photography took me to Tonga in the South Pacific to film humpback whales.
One morning there was a mother and calf, and normally they have a large male escort to protect the mother while she’s nursing her baby. But they didn’t have an escort. The mother looked exhausted, but she couldn’t sleep because she was alone with the calf. We had a small boat and at first the mother and calf were both with us. After about half an hour of swimming with the whales, the mum went fifteen metres below us, and went to sleep. I guess she thought we weren’t a threat, and would protect the calf. So we ended up babysitting a baby humpback whale.
When she awoke there was a moment when the mother came up, looked back and forth at me and my friend Paul, and her eyes were just like our eyes, you know–white with a dark pupil. There was a connection, a trust shared between two different species.
When I got back to Hong Kong, Japan decided to put humpback whales on their kill list. I got really angry and I wanted to do something about it. So I joined a Sea Shepherd anti-whaling campaign to Antarctica and we saved 863 whales. We chased the Japanese whaling fleet all the way to Chile, and our actions drove them home six weeks early. That year the whaling fleet only killed seven percent of their quota.
When I came home I wanted to keep up the momentum. Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson asked me to set up a Sea Shepherd branch in Hong Kong since I was already involved with conservation efforts here and we were doing lots of work on shark fins. Sea Shepherd grew fast and we acquired more ships, but ships are expensive to maintain and operate. So the decision was made to close down the Asia chapter and direct all funding to the Sea Shepherd ships.
However, I still had a mission, so I set up my own organisation, OceansAsia, to focus on the unique conservation issues for the oceans in Asia.
There’s the saying that one person can make a difference, and I know it’s a cliche but I like to think that it’s true. I think I’ve made a difference, just as one person. Everybody can make a difference just by what they do in their ordinary life; what they put on their dinner plate or what they do with their plastic consumption. That can all make a difference. You don’t have to get out on a ship to Antarctica to do that.”
Nic Tinworth is the co-founder of the annual Country of Origin 30km Trail Run on Lantau. The race was started in 2015 and is unique on the Hong Kong trail running scene as its focus is on building community by introducing people to Lantau’s trails in a laid-back (yet competitive) environment. Every year, the race raises money for the Hong Kong-based charitable organization RUN, which helps rehabilitate vulnerable refugees through running and other sports. Nic has recently battled cancer and, as a result of complications from a brain biopsy in 2018, had to learn how to walk again.
“From an early age, I’ve enjoyed making my own path. I started running in school while I was growing up in Hong Kong. Cross-country appealed to me far more than track did, which felt like running around like a hamster in a ball. I liked the solitude and easygoing nature of running cross-country much more than team sports. It didn’t hurt that the faster I ran in cross-country, the farther away I got from school. That said, while I appreciate the serenity and peacefulness of trail running, I also really value the strong trail running community in Hong Kong.
Struggling with cancer made me realise how blessed I am to have my family and friends, and it’s prompted me to reframe aspects of my life in a more positive light that I have previously seen negatively. It’s been over a year since I started recovering from cancer and I’m still not able to run on technical trails. But I’ll take what I can get and I just try to keep moving, and stay present in the moment; just be happy to be out there wherever ‘there’ is. My priority now is to be the best that I can be for my partner, Nia, and the best dad to my daughter, Aelwen.
Cancer recovery can seem like an insurmountable obstacle, but I believe that we all learn and grow as people by failing, so it’s not acceptable to not try at all. Just like when I started running as a kid, I still think that you have to walk in your own footsteps. You should always take the trail less travelled as there’s a lot more to explore and more adventure to be had. How can you expect to accomplish anything if you stay nicely wrapped up in the bubble of your comfort zone all the time? Get outside it, challenge yourself, and learn what you are capable of because you can do so much when you’re outside of it!”
Winner of the 2019 Woman of Inspiration award in the performing arts category from the Women’s Empowerment Forum in Hong Kong, 25-year DB resident Jane Engelmann founded the Unsung Heroes choir in 2014. The local choir is composed entirely of foreign domestic workers and has been featured on CNN, Al-Jazeera, and in the documentary, The Helper.
“The attention I’ve received is a result of the choir’s message. I ‘head up’ the choir simply because I can arrange for them to perform in many different places. But they have the talent. They have the power.
I’d always had this idea to put together a choir of domestic helpers because I’d heard them sing and I love the power of people singing together. This was also a way for me to say ‘Thank you.’ Domestic helpers make an incredible sacrifice to leave their homes and families to come to Hong Kong to work, and their story has a human element that touches all of us. We all have people we miss and, at some point, nearly all of us in Hong Kong have employed a domestic helper. We are surrounded by them; we see them in the streets sitting on their cardboard boxes on Sunday. And the mother-child connection really speaks to everyone… It’s just a story that was waiting to be told. It made everyone realise it was time to wake up.
In the beginning, the dynamic was all wrong in the early choir rehearsals. The first draft I wrote of our song, ‘I Wish I Could Kiss You Goodnight,’ was just empty words. So, I went back to the drawing board, and I remembered the shattered feeling I experienced when my children left home for university. If I felt this way, how did these women leave their children in the Philippines, in Indonesia? What they were giving up must be…It really resonated with me. And it made the final version of ‘I Wish I Could Kiss You Goodnight’ more honest. So the song became more real to the choir because it was coming from a place they all understood.
We have big plans for the future. We’re working on a new song, ‘A Voice from Home,’ and a binational visual presentation involving child singers in the Philippines. It’s been met with great enthusiasm!”
Tags: discovery bay, community, lantau island, island