8 Jan 2018
Lai Chi Wo Village, Hong Kong
A placid chill crept into the room as I stirred myself awake. Cosily wrapped up in the bottom bunk of my host family’s back room, I gathered the courage to leave the bed. Baskets and crates of freshly picked turmeric balanced in piles against the wall. I layered on leggings and socks and jumpers, with a rainjacket and scarf to complete my winter armour. It was my first morning at Lai Chi Wo village. The young couple that I was staying with agreed to house and feed me for a week, in exchange for my help in their section of the village’s organic farm. A hands-on farming experience was high on my Asia to-do list. Despite the crispness of the early morning, I was excited to get to the field.
Gardening gloves, gumboots and a hat added themselves to my farming attire. We left the house and walked through the noiseless alleys of the village until we reached the expanses of farmland. Hardly anyone lived here anymore. Lai Chi Wo village was virtually empty since the Hakka inhabitants left to the west, many generations ago. Although the village has accepted new farmers to revitalise the land, the majority of the houses remain vacant.
Projects to establish an environmentally-conscious way of living here are underway. This will hopefully encourage more people to leave the high pressure and consumerist city, and try their hand at a simple life close to nature. The village remains as it was 300 years ago, making it a beautiful bubble of Hong Kong’s history. Few locals and even fewer tourists know about Lai Chi Wo village. It is truly a hidden wonder to find and learn from, and well worth the venture from main Hong Kong island.
A farmer for a week
One week is not a lot of time to really get stuck in when it comes to farming, but I still learnt many things in and out of the field. I began to identify different plants and herbs with little effort or doubt. I learnt how to use a water pump and effectively shower the plot of land in one hour – before the battery runs out. My hands became delicate enough to weed between sprouting seeds and strong enough to dig and prepare new garden beds. I washed ginger root for the farmers market, dried out bunches of lemongrass in the sun and planted new seedlings and rows of baby tomatoes. We indulged in delicious homecooked meals using only organic ingredients, much of which was plucked directly from the field.
During the second half of the week, my host family went back to main Hong Kong island. They needed to visit family and friends, as well as get more groceries and attend events. On these days my only task was to water the farm twice a day. The rest of my time was my own to enjoy the sights and sounds of Lai Chi Wo village. I explored their hiking trails and spent hours beside a stream, soaking up the winter sun.
Disconnected from cellphone signal and without other company, I was left alone in the most beautiful way. I devoured my host family’s bookshelf and watched many great Hong Kong-made films on their projector. When it was time to cook a meal, I’d blast their Very Best of Enya double disc album out loud, religiously. I was alone without being lonely. Unable to leave, but incredibly free. It was one of my favourite weeks yet.