As part of a new series, All That Junk highlights Hong Kong’s upcoming neighborhoods. We continue our exploration on one of Hong Kong’s many outlying Islands, one of great character and umm infamy…
By Steve Karlsberg
1) We Know How Awful We Sound When We Talk About Lamma
If you don’t live on Lamma Island, and you make the mistake of asking someone who does where they live, you’ll probably be forced to listen to at least five minutes of conversation about how lovely Lamma is, how it’s so nice to have a place away from the noise and pollution of the city, and yet only be a 25 minute boat ride away from Central, about how we’re all constantly BBQing and paddleboarding and having late night sing-songs around a campfire down on the beach. I get it. It’s incredibly obnoxious to have to listen to, and it makes Lamma Island sound like some shitty hippie commune blissfully unaware of the fact that it’s just another part of one of the most brutally capitalist cities ever built. But we can’t help ourselves. I hate hippies just as much as the next contributing member of society, but if you’ve found a nice place to live, it’s hard to talk about it without sounding like a dick.
2) Lamma People Are Often Really Fucking Grumpy
Despite often claiming to live in paradise, there’s nothing Lammafolk enjoy more than a good grumble. This might be because there’s quite a few British people here, and British people love to complain, or it might be because there’s actually shitloads to complain about. Whether it’s illegal waste dumping, constant construction work, the pointlessness of the new bike park or the timeless classic “I’m shocked and appalled that this island isn’t exactly the same as it was when I first moved here”, we Lamma folk sure know how to moan. That last complaint is definitely the most frequently aired; there’s a Facebook group for Lamma residents that can be particularly bitchy, but that’s mostly because it’s filled with old people who don’t know how to behave on the internet (I’m mostly referring to one notorious racist old fossil). But despite how grumpy things can get online, it’s a very bad idea to make enemies on Lamma. Not because Lamma Island is run by gangs of shady triads (although many people have told me that it is), but because you kinda have to get along with people you see all the time. This enforces a level of vague politeness that keeps things under control.
3) We Don’t All Know Each Other, Except We Sorta Do
The way relationships work on Lamma is mildly odd. There’s obviously a higher proportion of gweilos and expats than in other parts of Hong Kong, so outside of your friendship groups you get to know a lot of people by face, just because you see them around the village or on the ferry. Maybe you assign a nickname to them. There are at least three people on Lamma who are generally referred to as “the guy who looks like the dude from Breaking Bad”. The fat white kid who’s always screaming at his helper? “Dudley Dursely”. So after a while, you begin to think that you can recognise most people on the island by face, and then you meet someone you’ve never met before, and it turns out they’ve lived here three times as long as you have. Or you take a ferry at a different time to usual and you don’t recognise anyone. The only person EVERYONE knows is Nick the Bookman (the guy with the big white beard who sells books on Lamma Main Street. Having a 45 minute long chat with Nick about the secret societies that really run the world is a crucial part of your initiation once you move to Lamma Island.
4) The Power Station Is Our Friend And Protector
The most obviously non-utopian thing about Lamma Island is the power-station. How could it not be? It’s an enormous, three chimneyed, coal-burning monstrosity carefully positioned so it can be seen from almost every nice beach on the island. It’s utterly dystopian, impossible to avoid looking at, and without it we’d be doomed. Why? Because the power-station is what makes Lamma the way it is. It was built back in 1982, and if you want to imagine what Lamma would be without it, have a look at Ap Lei Chau. That’s where the facility that provided power to all of Hong Kong Island used to be, before they moved it to Lamma. And now Ap Lei Chau is covered in so many identical blocks of flats that it’s literally the second most densely populated island on earth. If Lamma didn’t have the giant industrial turd of the power-station fucking up our feng-shui, we’d look like Ap Lei Chau. Or worse, we’d be Discovery Bay, and that is a fate worse than death. The power-station keeps our rent down, keeps the beach right next to it open for dogs, bonfires and ceremonial effigy-burnings, and that’s the way we like it.
5) Sometimes, Lamma Is Trying To Kill You
Ok, so this one might not be a surprise to you, but we share our island with quite a lot of hostile creatures that would quite like us to fuck off, and I’m not just talking about the fat old drunks that shout abuse at people coming off the ferry. I’m talking about nature. We’ve got poisonous snakes, giant spiders, feral pigs, and centipedes so big they could bite your thumbs off. And in addition to that, there’s the dogs. After the previously mentioned conspiracy theories chat with Nick the Bookman, getting chased by wild dogs is the next most important experience to have when you first move here. Seriously, wander too far away from some of the main footpaths, and there’s a decent chance you’ll find yourself being followed by a large group of dogs, anxious to defend their turf. Lamma is easily the best place to live in Hong Kong if you’re a dog owner, but unfortunately it’s also the best place to live in Hong Kong if you’re a really shitty dog owner, and Lamma has plenty of those. If you do find yourself being menaced by a mean-looking mutt, usually shouting at it in an aggressive tone of voice will work, unless it’s that really scary dog that lives down near Luk Chau. If you see that mangy, dreadlocked beast coming at you, run as fast as you fucking can.
6) It’s An Actual Neighbourhood
One of the best things about Lamma Island is that for all it’s problems, it genuinely feels like a bit of a community. When you need some new furniture or want to get rid of something, you usually try to buy or sell to someone else on Lamma. Need help moving a washing machine up to your rooftop? Go ask Nick, he’ll lend a hand for a small fee. Someone’s dog/phone/child goes missing? Check the Facebook group, it’ll probably turn up. If you were lucky enough to grow up in a place that had a proper sense of community, none of this sounds impressive, but so much modern living is designed so everyone can move around in their own little bubble that it’s churlish not to appreciate the nice things when you find them. We got beaches, we got mountains, and everyone has to have a 25 minute sit down before they get here. Lamma is certainly it’s own bubble, but most of the time it’s one I’m very proud to call home. Which brings us right back to point number 1.
7) BONUS TIP
If you really want to annoy someone who lives on Lamma Island, just refer to it as a suburb.
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