Hong Kong style ecotourism weird n rather sad

Tung Ping Chau is one of my favourite places in Hong Kong. But while I enjoyed the scenery during a recent visit – such as mudstone cliffs and crags, beaches, and quiet hamlets amidst woodland – there was sadness too.             Sadness because the hamlets were too quiet, with the few small stores that usually sold food and drink to visitors all closed. On some buildings and at several sites around the island there were big yellow banners with bold red writing complaining about government actions that had led to stores closing and caused other grievances. Some trails had even been blocked or partly blocked as part of the protests, which had lasted throughout summer.

Though it’s hard for an outsider to discover exactly what is happening with the disputes affecting Tung Ping Chau, it seems they partly stem from government officials rather zealously applying rules that were designed for city businesses. For instance, I was told by some villagers – who return during weekends and holidays rather than live there full time – that they have been forbidden from using Tung Ping Chau water. This is collected rainwater, which had nurtured several generations of islanders, and was used in serving visitors for the past 30 years, yet now it is considered unsafe. [I've had some correspondence with govt departments re issues; may post below.]           

The situation seemed absurd to me. After all, most of Hong Kong is supplied with treated water from the polluted Dongjiang. I sent emails to various people including Chief Executive CY Leung, remarking that the Tung Ping Chau saga recalled officialdom impacting dai pai dongs and other small businesses: not so wealthy nor politically powerful people were becoming snared in red tape. I hoped a satisfactory resolution would be possible.

It took a few days, but I eventually received an anonymous reply from within the Home Affairs Department. This only covered an unlicensed guesthouse that had been “spotted”. After a follow up from me, another anonymous email said, “We will let you have the reply soon.” [Had some more info since.]

While awaiting this reply, perhaps from an actual human being, it’s worth reflecting on Tung Ping Chau – and on ecotourism in Hong Kong. I hugely like ecotourism in the definition quoted by the International Ecotourism Society: "Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This could surely help many of Hong Kong’s rural areas – benefitting wildlife, cultural heritage, and local people – as well as people throughout Hong Kong.

The word “ecotourism” is certainly used in Hong Kong as if it’s a good thing. But Hong Kong style ecotourism can be very weird. For instance, consider the Hong Kong Geopark, which includes Tung Ping Chau.  There’s now an official Geopark hotel, yet it’s a big shiny edifice in southwest Hong Kong Island, relatively far from any Geopark site.

In 2009, I picked up a tourist leaflet titled “Quintessence of Hong Kong Nature”. This covered three places to visit; but can you guess which were supposedly the ultimate in natural Hong Kong?

Maybe you are thinking of somewhere like Mai Po Marshes, Hoi Ha Wan, Tai Po Kau Forest, or outstanding country parks. Wrong! The three places were Ocean Park, Ngong Ping 360, and the Wetland Park.

Yes, really: a theme park with captive animals, a fake “village” whose construction involved damage to a natural stream, and a Wetland Park featuring a gigantic, rather sterile visitor centre combined with small fragments of wildlife habitats – somehow billed as a “world-class ecotourism attraction”.

Some of the “ecotours” operated for local people seem decidedly strange, too, sometimes with leaders using megaphones to herd people around while providing minimal information. Tours have reportedly descended on Lung Mei in recent weeks, with participants taking away and killing marine life, oblivious to the classic ecotourism credo: “Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”.

But does it matter that the ecotourism concept has become so twisted here? Should anyone care that a bunch of islanders who are not even fully resident any more can no longer serve noodles and tea on far-flung Tung Ping Chau?

I believe it does matter, as ecotourism could have a role to play in protecting rural areas, which seem subject to an unrelenting assault across Hong Kong. With small scale community tourism local people can operate businesses that generate income to help maintain houses, sustaining lifestyles and ensuring local people find value in protecting the natural environment along with rural heritage. It just may help safeguard places against waves of development including luxury housing, golf courses, and columbariums.

Well, maybe this is just a dream I cling to; I’ve been trying to push ecotourism for some years now, with precious little success. As you can tell, I believe changes are sorely needed. Among them: recognise Hongkongers are our main ecotourists, appreciate that rules for city places may not be so appropriate in rural areas, encourage and help people who work on ventures that truly deserve to be called ecotourism.

If any of these ideas seem worthwhile, it’s time to start making the changes, before too many more of our rural treasures are trashed. And a great place to begin lies across the sea to the east, on small but splendid Tung Ping Chau.

Written for Ming Pao Weekly; translated version [below] published on 1 December 2012

 

Martin Williams

Comments

Martin Williams's picture

東坪州是我最喜愛的其中一個香港地點。最近一次到訪時,我便十分享受這裡的風景,例如泥岩崖、砏崖、海灘和樹林中寧靜的小村莊,但是,小島上亦滲出幾分哀愁。

 哀愁源於小村莊變得太寧静了,連平時專向遊人提供飲料和食品的幾家小店都已關門大吉。島上一些建築物和不同地方數都拉起黃底紅字的大型橫額,控訴政府行動導致店鋪無法經營,怨聲載道。反對行動在整個夏季中進行,當中還全面或部份堵塞小徑。

外人很難明白到底東坪州發生了什麼爭議事情,但事件似乎有部份源於政府官員太熱衷在這裡實施一些為市區營商而設的規例。例如,有些在周末和假日回來東坪州、平日住在其他地方的村民便告訴我,他們現在被禁止使用東坪州的水。這些收集得來的雨水,多年以來養育著代代島民,過去三十年來也用來為旅客奉茶煮食,現在卻被認為不安全。

 這情形實在萬分荒謬。說到底,香港大部份食水還不是由備受污染的東江而來,只是經處理而已。我向多方人士廣發電郵,包括特首梁振英,表明東坪州事件,令人想起官僚處事如何影響大排檔和其他小本生意:財力有限、政治上人微言輕的星斗市民,在官僚主義中越來越受壓迫。我希望令人滿意的解方法可以盡快出現。

數天過去,我最後得到來自民政事務總署的沒署名回覆,上面只提及一家被「發現」的未領牌旅館。我去函跟進後,再得到另一封沒署名的電郵,上面寫著「我們很快會回覆」。

等待回覆(希望由真人操筆)的同時,也應反思東坪州,以至香港生態旅遊的情況。我特別喜歡國際生態旅遊協會對生態旅遊的定義:「前往天然地點的負責任旅遊,一方面保育環境,另一方面提升當地居民的福祉」。這種定義下的生態旅遊一定可以幫助香港的郊區,令野生動物、文化傳承和當地居民受惠,也令香港各區的市民得益。

在香港,「生態旅遊」一詞似乎是作褒義使用的。但港式生態旅遊卻可以十分古怪。以包括東坪州的香港地質公園為例,現時本港設有一家官方的地質公園酒店,但它卻是位於港島西南部的一座又大又閃的建築物,與任何地質公園內的地點都相距甚遠。

在2009年時,我便看過一份遊遊單張,英文版上寫著「Quintessence of Hong Kong’s Nature[U1] 」(香港大自然的精華),上面包括三個旅遊景點,你猜在哪兒?

如果你以為是米埔濕地、海下灣、大浦滘林又或郊野公園的話,那便大錯特錯了。三個精選景點分別是海洋公園、昂坪360和香港濕地公園!

絕非瞎說:一個囚禁動物的主題公園、一個建築期間破壞天然溪澗的人工市集,還有一個以巨大和乏味遊客中心加上四散的野生動物棲所為特色的濕地公園,在這單張上卻被形容為「世界級生態旅遊景點」。

一些為本地人而設的「生態旅行團」也都以古怪為賣點。領隊總是拿著大聲公帶團,口中唸唸有辭所說卻非有用資訊。據報導,近幾星期有不少龍尾團,不少參加者便拿走和殺害了很多海洋生物,忘記了生態旅遊中的經典信條:「除了照片中景物不要帶走任何東西;除了足印不要留下任何東西」。

但是生態旅遊的概念在香港變成扭曲意義又如何?對於數名甚至不是全時間居於島上的島民不能在偏遠的東坪州上提供麵食和茶水,又為什麼值得關注?

 它們都是重要的,因為生態旅遊有份保護郊區,而香港的郊區正受著冷酷無情的襲擊。小區旅遊業讓當地居民可以經營小生意維生,創造足夠的收入來幫補房子維修、維持生活方式,並確保當地人能在保護天然環境與郊區文化找到價值。小區旅遊可能是守護香港天然地點的最後防線,令這些地方不受豪宅、高爾夫球場和骨灰龕的發展巨浪淹沒。

也許這只是一個我死擁不放的夢想,推動生態旅遊是我努力多年的方向,而且也取得了一些珍貴的小成功。你可能發現我深信香港極需改變,這些改變包括認清香港人是本地主要的生態旅遊遊人,明白市區的規定在郊區不一定適用,鼓勵並幫助那些為真正生態旅遊付出努力的業務。

如果這些點子都值得我們去做,現在就是改變的時候,而且必須在更多香港郊區寶藏變成垃圾被廢棄之前好好進行。 其中一個開始的地方就是在維港之東,面積雖小但優美怡人的東坪州。

  

 [U1]Quintessence of Hong Kong’s Nature: The Campaign was here http://www.oceanpark.com.hk/html/tc/whats-new/news/news06.html  and it has a Chinese name. Backward literal translation: 10% discount on Hong Kong’s attractions in the sky, on the land and in the sea… so I need to keep the English here instead of using the official Chinese campaign name, otherwise the rest of the article won’t make sense to the Chinese reader.

 

Nice read Martin, it's a shame the Government doesn't quite understand the potential for truer forms of ecotourism and that Ngong Ping is classes as on of HK's natural treasures. Here is a link to an article I wrote during my first few months here. I would love to see more initiatives taken by organisations to make ecotourism more accessible to the everyman and more rewarding for locals.. http://ourmaninproject.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/concrete-and-jungle-urba...

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
News and Views: