- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

HONG KONG — For most Hong Kong residents, shopping for groceries means taking the elevator down to the lobby and walking a few blocks to a supermarket.

Chui Kam-kee, 71, has to hike through the mountains for 45 minutes, then ride a ferry for 15 minutes to town. Then it’s back on the boat before trudging with heavy bags up and down the slopes.

Mr. Chui and his wife are among two dozen families who live in an isolated corner of Hong Kong — the remote village of San Shek Wan on the northwestern shore of outlying Lantau Island.

Younger people have all left for the better-known sprawl of urban Hong Kong, and the sleepy village looks likely to die off as soon as its inhabitants do.

But the end could come even sooner, the villagers fear.

Officials in Hong Kong and neighboring Guangdong province have agreed to build a $2 billion bridge to link Hong Kong with the gambling enclave of Macau and the mainland industrial city of Zhuhai, and the route could run right over San Shek Wan.

That would spell the end of one of the few remaining pockets of a simple, quiet lifestyle reminiscent of the small fishing community that Hong Kong was before the British arrived in the 19th century.

Mr. and Mrs. Chui have no air conditioning, so they sleep under mosquito nets. They burn wood to heat the bath water. But it’s the only home they have known for decades, and it has its charms.

“The air is fresh. It’s very comfortable when the sea breeze blows on my face,” said Mr. Chui, who grows papayas and herbs outside the stone hut he built more than 50 years ago after fleeing mainland China.

Mr. Chui found work in a tungsten mine that has long since closed, then he turned to farming and raising pigs.

The government is studying San Shek Wan and nearby areas of Lantau’s northwestern coast as a landing point for the 18-mile bridge that is the territory’s biggest infrastructure project in recent years.

Officials envision the bridge to China’s booming Pearl River Delta region as a way to revitalize the territory’s struggling economy through better integration with the region’s manufacturing areas.

Although the government says it has yet to decide the exact spot for the bridgehead on Lantau Island, the villagers fear they are in the way and are trying to figure out how badly it might disrupt what is left of their rural lives.

The tranquility of San Shek Wan and a nearby village, Sha Lo Wan, already is being disrupted by the roar of jetliners that began flying past when Hong Kong opened Chek Lap Kok airport on Lantau five years ago.

“I can hardly sleep at night when the northern winds bring the smell of aircraft fuel into our house,” said a resident of Sha Lo Wan who identified herself only as Mrs. Fung. “My bed will shake if a cargo plane takes off.”

Mrs. Fung and others say the airport has done great damage to life in Sha Lo Wan, where some villagers still farm and fish.

“Of course I don’t want the government to build a big bridge near us,” Mrs. Fung said. “But who am I to speak up?”

Modern amenities are mostly out of reach for the poor, elderly villagers of San Shek Wan, who eke out a living by selling homegrown produce or rely on their children for support.

One man, Tam Ming, 77, who lives alone in a dilapidated house, had been hoping the government would build a road to the area so it wouldn’t be so cut off and his son and grandchildren could visit more often. But a huge bridge wasn’t what he had in mind.

“The noise from the airport is already very annoying, and the bridge won’t benefit us,” Mr. Tam said, glancing up from a newspaper he had bought during a trip to town a few days earlier.

On the other hand, he said, “I’d probably be dead before they finish building it anyway.”

No firm timetable has been set for starting work on the bridge.

Mr. Chui isn’t concerned about traffic noise from a bridge, only about being displaced. He sees the chance for some benefits.

“Cars won’t be as loud as airplanes,” he said. “We hope they’ll compensate us and that there will be better roads to connect us with the outside world.”

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