There exists, or so it seems sometimes, in South Lantau, a currency between neighbours that cannot be counted nor stored in any bank.
It is a currency of kind acts, of neighbourly acts, that makes our community so unique and so great. Not perfect perhaps, but a place where people do what they can to help each other in any way they can.
South Lantau is a place, a community, where neighbours help neighbours on a daily basis. Most of the time, it is through small favours, like picking up a few extra but much-needed screws on a shopping trip to town, or sharing a removal truck to move furniture between villages. But it is these little things, which might not register as earth-shattering acts of kindness, that collectively add up to create something really very special.
On the island, there’s also a great system of paying back someone for their kindness or help. Sometimes payment for the favour can take the form of passing it on. I may not be able to immediately pay my neighbour back each time she drops my daughter off at school, but I can pay it forward by offering a fellow bargain-hunter space in my truck for her furniture that needs to get to the same village. The box of muffins that arrived at our gate the next morning, was a lovely reminder of the neighbourly community my family now finds itself in.
After 20 years of living in Hong Kong my husband and I have not really experienced anything like this. Growing up in the villages of the New Territories, in the 1990s, similar communities existed and no doubt still do. But for years we lived in high rises, often with six apartments to a floor, and we didn’t even know all of our neighbours by sight, let alone by name.
But here in South Lantau, residents make an effort to get to know one another. We reach out to one another, on a personal level, and through our kids – and our animals. Inter-village pleas for residents to watch out for missing pets are not uncommon. By sharing a sighting of a stray dog, we know that someone in the community will step in to give it a home.
We also share the responsibility of looking out for the safety and welfare of our bovine neighbours. New calves are watched over by many different pairs of eyes to ensure they are thriving; missing cows and buffalo are collectively sought, and we report any that are injured.
Sometimes acts of kindness are easy – a comment, a smile, a remembered thank you. Sometimes they are more deliberate – offering a lift, making muffins to say thank you. Sometimes they require that little bit more – stopping to help change a tyre, finding space in your home for a new dog.
When Tong Fuk resident Tracey Cuthbertson lost a wheel from her car as she journeyed along the South Lantau Road recently, she was immensely grateful to everyone who stopped to help. To the people who stayed with her and helped her, as she jacked up her car in the heavy rain, and to those who stuck around until someone arrived to replace the wheel.
Tai Long Wan resident Nicola Reis says she offered Tracey her help simply because she believes it’s what you do when you see someone in need – and that the more people who believe that, the better life becomes.
A caring culture
You don’t have to look far to discover that South Lantau’s is a caring culture. Take the recent success of car sharing through the Mui Wo to Tai O Taxi & Car Service Facebook group, as just one example. With Lantau’s blue taxis elusive even during off-peak times, and its buses increasingly packed with day trippers and tourists, this alternative form of transport fulfils a real need.
Through his new Facebook page, Mui Wo resident Ali Bullock is successfully connecting residents with spare seats available in their cars, with those who need them.
Lower Cheung Sha resident Frankie McYuen regularly offers neighbourly lifts in and out of South Lantau, and the new Facebook page is important to him. “I like solutions to problems,” he says, “and it makes me feel good that my mileage is extended to others.”
South Lantau residents are also quick to offer a helping hand on a much larger scale, getting together to support the numerous events put on annually by local charitable organisations. Our kids make their ‘boxes of hope’ in the lead-up to Christmas, we dress up to take part in the International Beer Dash in April, and attendance is high at charity-driven events, like Imagine Peace in September and May’s Mother Earth Groove. Causes are close to our heart. At the moment, you’d be hard pushed to find a South Lantau resident not actively involved in saving our buffalo and our environment.
Little acts of kindness
While the big gestures matter, little things, like passing on an outgrown car seat, or stroller to someone who can use it, also matter. And in the day to day, they matter the most. These are the very things we sometimes don’t do because we are in a rush to be somewhere, or to do something. Very few of us make a conscious decision not to be kind. But we forget to make the conscious decision to be kind, when sometimes all we need to do is stop the car, and hold an umbrella over someone for a few minutes.
Life in South Lantau is a daily reminder that communities matter – neighbours, and people, matter. And that it is the little things we do that make us human, and make us kind. Living here we can’t help but feel that spirit rubbing off on us. It’s something in the water my husband says, and perhaps he’s on to something there.
Just last night our tap water was running brown, and we read on the Mui Wo to Tai O Facebook page that this was a common problem in our area. Villagers now, we took this in our stride, but even before I could call the Water Supplies Department, a kindly neighbour was on the phone offering us clear, clean water from her own home.
That is why our community is so unique. Because the little acts of kindness – the favours, the lifts, the muffins – are an integral part of our day-to-day lives. They are just what we do. And when someone does something to help you out, it makes you determined and inspired to be kind back.
Images: Terry Chow and courtesy of wikimedia.org and Discovery Mind Kindergarten & Play Centre