By: Our Correspondent

Photo by Andrew James

ferrypierPak Kok, a
tiny village of two-storey villas and narrow paths nestled in a
small, verdant corner of Hong Kong’s Lamma Island, is home to
exactly one convenience store. It sells what you need: vegetables,
toilet paper and beer. Outside the store, at a simple table under a
canopy, two prematurely weathered Brits in their 30s sit drinking
Tsingtao. Fat drops of condensation run down the tall bottles,
forming a spreading puddle that is obviously multiple-bottles old.

Richard
and Richard — though the one with a chipped tooth and a shaved
head prefers to be called Tin — are catching up with each other
for the first time in 10 years. Tin has been AWOL in Lapland,
Finland, Iceland and numerous other frigid-sounding lands. The other
Richard has been on Lamma the whole time. The two are in good
spirits, despite what could be a fraught friendship. Years ago, the
details are a little fuzzy, one took over the other’s
restaurant job after he was fired. They confess to being “derangedly
drunk” as my friend and I chug Ribena and enjoy the
entertainment that only two happily intoxicated Brits can bring. It’s
just after midday.

The two
beer drinkers are only slightly exaggerated emblems of what the lazy
life on Lamma can do to a person. God knows how they earn their
crusts — the closest Tin gets to telling us is that he plans to
do something about fixing boats and writing defamatory articles. The
other Richard answers our questions only by asking what we do. He
lives in isolated Pak Kok, accessible by ferry only to Hong Kong
Island’s less-frequented south side. The cheap rent might have
something to do with it.

More
expats are to be found at Lamma’s main village, Yung Shue Wan,
a 30-minute walk north. There, cheerful drunkenness is equally
present, chiefly among the expats congregated around Spicy Island,
an Indian restaurant and the handful of bars and cafés during
lazy evenings at the end of the work week — which for most stretches from approximately Wednesday through Tuesday. The local Chinese
are more restrained when it comes to drinking, but it isn’t
hard find a sociable bunch in shorts and singlets enjoying a few
pints at day’s end.

vistaWhenever
Lamma (population: 6,000) comes up in conversation in Hong Kong,
people speak of its chilled-out vibe, great food, hiking and biking.
That’s all credit well deserved. To step off the Yung Shue Wan
ferry from Central is to be forcibly relaxed. The gentle breezes at
the pier carefully brush off the stresses of the city, the waterfront
seafood restaurants offer the best and freshest in the SAR and the
many accessible trails take walkers and cyclists to quaint villages,
pretty beaches, and summits that afford views of vast stretches of
ocean and skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island. Of course, it is still
Hong Kong, and if you look closely enough you can see endless streams
of trash stalking to shore like invading battleships. Because of
this, swimming at Lamma’s beaches can be an exercise in waste
management.

Over the
hill from Yung Shue Wan, in the fisherman’s village of Lo Tik
Wan, a detritus of chip packets, dead fish and plastic bags lie thick
on the beach — but that doesn’t stop a man dressed in a
shirt, long pants, straw hat, glasses, and gumboots wading out to
chest-deep waters to lay out a net. After securing the net with rocks
on the beach, the fisherman picks up an eight-foot-long piece of
white piping and thwacks the shallow waters, sending small fish
jumping towards his trap and several steps closer to a wok. After a
series of thwacks, the man gathers his net and picks out bits of
trash before carrying the net ashore, where he dodges washed-up
polystyrene chill-boxes on the short trek back to his home.

“What
have you got?” I ask, as he passes by.

“Fish!”
he says.

They look
too small to make a decent meal.

“For
eating?”

“Yes,
they are okay to eat. Ha ha!” he says, before adding, “Just
for fun!”

I’ve
encountered that friendly attitude a lot in my one month on Lamma. My
first night on the island coincided with the first birthday for
“Kath’s Bar” — no one seemed to know its
actual name, but if they craned their necks a little, they’d
see a sign above the door that reads “Banyan Café.”
A spread of free finger food adorned the tables while the chirpy
hosts served pints at half the price you would pay in the city. Three
guys with guitars played Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and other sing-along
classics. I knew one of the guitarists from Transnoodle, a popular
local band named after a takeaway shop on Yung Shue Wan’s main
street. I requested he play one of his band’s better-known
numbers: “Spicy Island.”

“Since
you’ve been gone,” he sang, with just a hint of slurring,
“I’ve been missing all the curries that we used to have —
at the Spicy Island.”

I
listened, happily, and proceeded to get derangedly drunk.