Just a few steps away from the quintessential Sun Hung Kai (SHKP) bay-view luxury complex on Ma Wan Island stands a particularly ramshackle village. Its low-lying (mostly two-story) buildings sprawl through a wide expanse. The rooms are dated but not dirty, perhaps because the frequent gusts of wind blowing through what used to be windows and storefronts would not permit the dust to settle. It is almost completely uninhabited save one family, their dog, and the odd security guard.
Behind this village is a tale of commerce and crime validating the conflicted emotions of post-Handover Hongkongers. Ma Wan was a quiet fishing village in the 1990s accessible only by boat. That physical and political quietness changed with the arrival of the Chep Lap Kok Airport. The Lantau Link was built over the island, with the Ma Wan Viaduct providing vehicular access for the first time (Lam, 2014). Political conflict ensued as P.R.C. State Council apparatchik Lu Ping denigrated the airport as a British attempt to drain Hong Kong’s coffers (Lo, 2001). The serene Ma Wan village, representing the memories of a bygone Hong Kong from simpler times, was suddenly embroiled in politics.
In the years leading to the 2006 debut of the fancy Park Island complex, SHKP began evicting inhabitants with a 2,100-square-feet village house each as compensation (Lam, 2014). Some were disgruntled (Grundy, 2018). Later, it was found that SHKP damaged a colonial-era gable wall but was let off the hook. Hongkongers recalled the memories of the past, wishing for the perceived collusion between the government and the developers to end, as demonstrated by the numerous protest boards in Ma Wan.
Neighboring the village and the complex is SHKP’s failed theme park Noah’s Ark. Ironically, an internal memo later revealed that it was no more than an excuse to evict villagers and that SHKP intended to minimize the park’s costs (“Ma Wan park an excuse,” 2014). That memo led to the corruption conviction of the Kwok tycoon brothers and former HKSAR Chief Secretary Rafael Hui in the Court of Final Appeal (HKSAR v. Hui Rafael Jr and Others).
The abandoned village along Ma Wan Main Street encapsulates not just the conflicts between the villagers and the developers, but perhaps more importantly Hongkongers’ conflicting feelings of hope from reunification with the mainland and despair from fear of rising corruption. It serves as a living reminder of the roots of numerous societal issues ravaging Hong Kong today, from the ever-growing wealth gap to proliferating instances of alleged corruption amid the government’s “white elephant” projects.
Yet, the streetlamps on Ma Wan Main Street still light up in the evening, and incense sticks still glow in the shadows of the small Tin Hau temple—a faded glimmering of hope.