CHEUNG CHAU – An Urban Retreat, Hong Kong
Just 45 minutes of ferry from the Central Ferry Piers, the Island of Cheung Chau is one of the last fishing communities in Hong Kong. As a grown up who has come to terms with the ever-changing cityscape of Hong Kong, visiting the island’s narrow laneways, fishermen marinas, historical temples, crumbling buildings, shabby souvenir shops, and cluttered seafood eateries is like wandering in an atmospheric film set of Hong Kong decades back in time. Cheung Chau has always been a highly popular weekend getaway destination among families with kids, teenage groups, young couples, and amateur photographers.
Cheung Chau was one of the earliest inhabited spots in the territory of Hong Kong. Spending most of their lives on boats, the early settlers originated from various fishing communities in Southern China. Living off the sea is no longer the case, but the people of Cheung Chau nowadays still maintain a unique seafolk culture. Perhaps it is no surprise that the island was the birthplace and training ground of Lee Lai Shan, the first Olympic gold medalist of Hong Kong who made history by competing in the sea for windsurfing. A little further back in history, Cheung Chau was also the legendary “treasure island” of pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who roamed the waters of South China Sea with his 50,000 strong followers in the early 19th century. Each year around early May, the people in Cheung Chau is busy preparing for its annual cultural celebration – the Bun Festival.
Life remains casual with a sense of community on the island. It’s common to see public space being taken over by private use. In this case, seafood eateries have their table clothes hanging on the concrete balustrade for drying under the sun.People visit Cheung Chau for various reasons with noon would argue the sense of tranquility in a low dense streetscape on the island is a rarity in Hong Kong.The shabby looking guesthouses along the beaches don’t seem very inviting. Buildings such as this abandoned cinema are in crumbling conditions but preserve a sense of history.There are a number of century old temples on the island where tourists rub shoulders with local worshipers.Traditional street stall selling assorted groceries is still a common sight on the island.
The fishballs from Kam Wing Tai are popular local specialties made on the island.Dry seafood of various kinds can be found everywhere on the island. No visitors would leave the island without feasting at one of the local seafood eateries along the waterfront.The islanders are getting ready for the upcoming multi-day celebrations of the Bun Festival.