I never thought I’d live in a village. I thought – and still do – that one day I’d live in the bush, but not a real proper village. If you have kids, let me tell you that this is the way to live. Even better if one of your kids is an idiot and you find a village that doesn’t already have a resident idiot. (In no way implying that either of my kids is an idiot…)
Looking for some inspiring quotes about villages tonight so I could properly convey this experience, I struggled to find any that were at all germane to our particular village. These two were pleasing, but ultimately irrelevant:
“A village is a hive of glass, where nothing unobserved can pass.”
(Charles S. Spurgeon, 19th century English preacher)
Not true. I’m napping for two hours every afternoon on non-work days. Do what you like, there’s no chance of me observing it at those times. Contrarily, I appreciate that my neighbours don’t appear to be observing our balcony too closely at night when I can often be seen out there in my bad nightie, trying to get some goddamn phone reception.
“Few things are more pleasant than a village graced with a good church, a good priest and a good pub.”
(John Hillaby, 20th century English travel writer)
We haven’t got a church, a priest or a pub, good or otherwise. If someone opened up a 7/11 up here though, I assure them they would be so well-patronised by my family alone that they would be an immediate going concern. It’s shameful the amount of money we spend on taxis every day to take us to the in-town Sev for Cokemilk for the kids.
Here’s our village, seen on the approach from town – a blessed sight, let me tell you, especially when you’ve spent your last coppers on Cokemilk for the kids and have had to walk up the hill in 95% humidity carrying your shopping.
We have a creek running alongside our village, all the way into town and beyond. It’s oddly dry at the moment. Twice last year it breached its banks and we were found ourselves literally flooded in. Coming from a drought-ridden country where you’re not allowed to wash your car or water your garden, or shower for more than 3 minutes, being flooded in anywhere was way more of a novelty than a cause for alarm. Any observant villagers on those days would have seen us frolicking irresponsibly in the knee-high rapids.
Here is the village noticeboard. We never understand anything that’s posted on it. Periodically there’s a sign posted featuring a big festy rat with green teeth and an evil countenance, and next to it the universal poison symbol. We surmise this either means the area is under threat from diseased rats, or that the local council have spread rat poison around the garden areas. Or both. A toxic threat either way (and one that possibly explains the disappearance of our cat last year).
We don’t have a church in our village, but we do have a temple. It’s guarded by these sweet lions. I know they’re meant to be ferocious but they’re so little and cute!
Our village also features an abandoned house. There’s a magazine in our area which profiles a different village every month. They all seem to have at least one abandoned house. We have two. I’m pretty happy with them. If you look in the window of this one, you can see it still has a washing machine and other appliances, long past working, installed. The postman still delivers mail here every day.
This second abandoned house (here on the right) has an original interior – a wooden frame packed with stones. It looks exactly like the village house I saw at the Hong Kong History Museum, so I think it must be a proper old-style place. There’s an open room at the bottom, and stairs going up to a mezzanine area. The bottom would have been the kitchen and living area, and the upstairs would have been for sleeping. There’s established plants growing all over it now, and the inside is still filled with old Chinese furniture and broken wooden birdcages and ceramic ware.
Last year, a 15-foot python slithered out of this house and into our neighbours’ backyard. Snakes are common here, and can easily be ignored. They aren’t as poisonous as the ones in Australia, so there’s no need to resort to that old Oz trick that everyone has seen their dad do of chopping a snake’s head off with a shovel. But a 15-foot snake is a bit much for anyone to come at, even Aussies, and the villagers did call the local snake-catcher.
Needless to say, the postman doesn’t deliver mail to this particular abandoned house.
If you can get past the humidity and the snakes, the walk into town is absolutely bucolic.
The path is too narrow to walk side by side. There’s a steep incline for part of the walk, and the verge is full of bamboo and tropical flowers that press up against you, nectar and bees, yellow and blue. On the upside of the path, if you push through the growth, are plenty of Chinese graves. There are red ribbons tied to the trees at intervals to indicate the way to the graves for Ching Ming pilgrims (Ching Ming is the day for mourning the dead and cleaning your ancestors’ graves). The noise of insects and birds can be deafening. Further down the path, you walk through the next two villages, past a blossom farm, and then finally out onto busy, smelly Sai Sha Road, riven with speeding double-decker buses, and on to Sai Kung.
But Sai Kung is for another post.
Here is the view from our door. In the distance you can glimpse the South China Sea.
Some memorable features of living in this village:
-Bobby, our neighbour’s dog. He’s one of those orange dingo-type dogs that you find everywhere here, but he’s got the sharp personality of a German Shepherd who’s been trained for three years by the SAS. He’s constantly on high alert and patrols the perimeter of the whole village, seeing off rabid canine interlopers. He’s good at shepherding the herd of wild cattle that roam the area on their way too. Bobby actually appears to operate on a schedule. He escorts people from their houses in the morning down to the carpark, to wait for the school buses or taxis. Then he does a round to make sure everything is in order before taking a snooze in the sun next to his rubber chicken. In the afternoon he returns to the carpark and sits like a sentinel, sanctioning everyone returning home from work/school. Sometimes when I have an early adjournment at work, I catch him by surprise and he’s only just running to his sentry post as I walk over the bridge. I feel bad for having disturbed his nap, but it’s a pretty nice feeling having a dog approve your presence and walking you to your front door.
It was hard to get a good photo of him. Here he is hurrying off to his next checkpoint.
-We have a village chief. I don’t know what his job actually entails but I can tell you the succession strictly follows the laws of primogeniture.
-The postman drives up to the village in a tiny purple and green car.
-The rubbish truck comes on Sunday morning, and immediately after it leaves, another truck arrives carrying about eight people from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department who climb into the skips with bamboo brooms and clean them.
-One of the ubiquitous sights is all the helpers in the carpark every morning cleaning their employers’ cars. EVERY MORNING.
The sky was particularly blue today when I took these photos. But it’s fair to say that, whether the sky is blue or grey, or the creek is low or high, our village is pretty close to the Garden of Eden. (In this version, Eve would’ve had to have been tempted to a salty kumquat).
On the downside, the mosquitos are the size of a 5-cent coin.
But, the advantages of living here go beyond the picturesque setting (and outweigh the supersized insect life). There are only 15 houses in the village. 11 of them belong to locals. Being able to communicate with our neighbours is a pretty big incentive for – and help with – improving our Cantonese. Our kids and their village friends can run from house to house in safety. There’s a sense of biracial community. I could theoretically borrow eggs or cups of sugar off our neighbours, just as soon as I (a) learn how to say “egg” in Canto, or figure out a way to charade it; or (b) develop an interest in cooking. I’ll never have to if someone hurries up and opens that bloody 7/11…
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Another quote that’s not exactly true – but it does seem a bit more special than in a city.
Only one day left to vote in the Circle of Moms Top Expat Blogs competition. Please click on the pink button on the right up there and vote for Jadeluxe. If I could stick the link in Chinese characters on the village noticeboard, I would. That would confound Mr Kong on his way home from mahjong tomorrow morning…