Life on Cheung Chau
For those of you wondering where I’m staying in Hong Kong, the answer is that not on Hong Kong at all. While I’m working on A Doll’s House, I’m living on Cheung Chau, an outlying island ten kilometres southwest of Hong Kong Island.
Cheung Chau (長洲, literally ‘long island’) is a picturesque fishing village and tourist site that provides a charming contrast to Hong Kong. HK is all glass, steel, and concrete jutting up towards the sky; Cheung Chau has grass and trees and beaches. HK is power suits and high fashion; Cheung Chau is shorts and flipflops. While Hong Kong is all hustle and bustle, the pace of life on Cheung Chau is much more relaxed.
Of course relaxed is a relative term. Any given day on Cheung Chau feels like Steveston on a summer weekend (that should give you an idea of how crazy Hong Kong is!). When I think of Cheung Chau, I think of narrow boulevards, great street food and cafes, and the smell of dried saltfish and conpoy. Above all, I think of crazy cyclists.
Because the roads are too narrow for regular vehicles, the bicycle is the most popular form of transportation on the island. And unlike Canada where we prefer our bikes off the sidewalk, on Cheung Chau cyclist and pedestrian share the same thoroughfares.
Something that always startles newcomers to Cheung Chau is how aggressive the cyclists are. Unlike Richmond, pedestrians don’t have right of way. That means that cyclists, rather than swerving – or, god forbid, stopping – to avoid people on foot, will ring their bells (those bells!) to warn the pedestrians to move come hell or high water.
The amazing thing is that I have yet to see a collision. The truth is, that after a day or two of abject fear, you adjust fairly well to the ubiqitous bikes zooming around you.
Cheung Chau is a popular weekend spot for Hong Kong residents to get away from the noise and pollution. The beaches are packed as are the harbourside seafood restaurants. Perhaps Cheung Chau is best known for their annual Bun Festival in May. I’ve never been to one myself but the seven-day festival is famous for the giant 60-feet towers of buns that people race to climb. I’ve seen videos of this and, yes, it’s as surreal as it sounds.
The bottom line is that I feel very spoiled living in island paradise and still being so close to the world’s most exciting city. Cheung Chau, like Hong Kong, is a place near and dear to my heart.