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Pok Fu Lam

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Pok Fu Lam Village is one of 2 ancient villages left in Hong Kong. It is 200 years old and surrounded by mountains and high rise apartments. The striking dichotomy between it and its surroundings really helps exemplify the massive change that urban areas in China have seen, and  how different the cultural customs and closeness of living in a village has shifted now that they isolate themselves behind locked metal doors 30 floors in the air.

With some help from couchsurfing, I was able to find an American guy living in this village. He is the only known foreigner to live in this village, and he is nice enough to open his small home to travellers who want the real Chinese experience. I decided to stay with him because I like to feel what it would have been like to grow up and live in “poorer” areas or parts of the world. I have been blessed with a rather large family and we always stayed in the high middle class status. We never went hungry, we always had a big home, 2 or more cars, and while we didn’t take many expensive vacations or have name brand clothes, or expensive toys and electronics, we typically got whatever we needed or wanted growing up. When I moved to China in 2010 my eyes were opened to a whole new way of living. I decided to photograph the “real” China, in hopes to show my very spoiled, and ungrateful younger siblings what the world could have been to them, to help them appreciate what they have and not take the little things for granted. Example 1: sewage and fresh water.

Being 200 years old, the sewage system is very primative as well. You can clearly see that right next to the door of this man’s home is a drainage pipe. I didn’t think much of it at first, until I saw them hose it down and scrape all the toilet paper away from the drains so that it could keep flowing. I hear that in the middle of summer, when the humidity is 97% and the temperature is peaking at 37 C there is nothing more disgusting than choking on the stench of the air outside your door. Example 2: A stable home built with materials not trash.

I saw homes I can’t believe were still standing. i swear you could peel the flimsy metal roofs off with one hand. The inside structure was not any better either. Just 2 days before I arrived, the staircase down to my host’s toilet/kitchen gave out under him and nearly broke his hip. The staircase to his bedroom is just as unstable right now, with one side not being nailed down the base, and the other side clinging on by one terribly placed nail. Example 3: Privacy.

In this village, not only are the doors to each home super close to one another,  sometimes they share the same bathroom or kitchen. When you walk through corridors like the one in the last photo, you really feel like you are walking through their living rooms because on the left they have their bed room and on the right, the bathroom and kitchen. Most of the time the doors are left open and anyone is free to just come in or to say hi. I felt awkward walking past, and didn’t want to risk upsetting anyone with a picture of their private home…even if it felt like it wasn’t private. Example 4: small living space.

Privacy is pretty much nonexistent in a village like this one. These 2 photos were taken of my host’s home. The first is the super small kitchen/ living room/ entrance way. They sit in wicker chairs and pull up small stools to put food on and go outside and down to their kitchen to cook and grab plates to go back and sit in a crowded circle and eat. When I arrived, I was amazed by how many people were living in this 2 bedroom apartment. 3 slept in the bedroom in the last photo, and upstairs one slept on a sofa, one on a mattress on the floor, and one on a bed. 6 people!!! What amazed me most was the kitchen/bathroom that I forgot to get a picture of. The way it was designed, you walked out the front door and across the way to another door that goes straight downstairs into a kitchen, which is just a hot plate and a sink away from being just a closet. The bathroom was too small for me to stretch my arms out in any direction, and the shower head was directly over the toilet. Smallest bathroom I’ve ever been in. The kitchen and bathroom is shared by another family as well, so you often wait a long time to use the toilet.

All in all, life in a village was pleasant, but i doubt I could commit myself to longer than a week. I am so grateful to my host for opening up his home to me so that I could get a taste for how villagers or 200 year old citizens once lived. I appreciate the lifestyle, the openness they have towards one another, the simplicity, and the strong cultural values they still uphold, but I don’t think I could permanently adjust. I am amazed by how untouched it is from the change around it, and I really hope it stays just as it is and doesn’t give way to more isolating high rise apartments, because their is so much we can still learn from its past and what it offers.