In Hong Kong, One Paradise Lost

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From the Department of Gripes:

You might not think of Hong Kong as a trove of natural serenity, but actually, the seven million people living here are squished into a remarkably small area. We all live piled on top of each other and jockey for space on impossibly narrow sidewalks while about 75% of the land of the Special Administrative Region is undeveloped, lush countryside, full of creatures like wild cows, (dog-eating) pythons and aggressive monkeys that I advise you not look in the eye. From an evolutionary perspective, humans are really losing the battle in this little semi-autonomous chunk of China.

Personally, I like it that way. So it was with a heavy heart that I picked up today’s South China Morning Post (Hong Kong’s big English daily) to read a front page story on the desecration of one of the finest untouched corners of the city. Tai Long Wan beach, whose Cantonese name translates roughly as “big wave bay,” is a sweeping crescent of white sand lapped by clear blue waters. It takes some serious effort (and, in summer, an unspeakable amount of sweat) to get out there by subway, bus, taxi and foot, and that is what, until now, has kept it so good. That, and the fact that it’s part of Sai Kung East Country Park, an area set aside for nature conservation.

Or so we thought. Through a zoning loophole, the SCMP reported today that a large private residence is now under construction directly behind Tai Long Wan. Local businessman Simon Lo Lin-shing, chairman of Mongolia Energy Corporation and Vision Values Holdings, has acquired several plots of an abandoned village for a total of about $2 milion in a small area that falls outside the park zoning laws, and therefore is not subject to planning regulations or EIAs.

The bulldozers he has hired to start building there have already started clearing land. An unnamed spokeswoman for Vision Values Holdings told the paper that there were no plans for any “large-scale works,” and that because the owner was “very green” himself, the land would be developed in a low-profile way.

Sigh. There’s nothing illegal necessarily going on here, but it’s always depressing when loopholes like these can be found at the right price. It sounds like the property buyer worked fairly hard to piece together this land from its original owners, and it’s hard to imagine that at some point along the way, his efforts didn’t come to the attention of somebody in public office who could have raised a red flag. It’s particularly bleak news when a totally separate scandal involving the wheelings-and-dealings of the local property market has been unfolding.

Anyway, this is not the first project in Hong Kong to crop up in areas that should be under stricter development laws, and it won’t be the last. But let’s hope it is the last unspoiled public beach that somebody with enough cash gets to put in their own backyard.

The monkeys, for their part, are not going to be amused.