Lamma Island will be a hippie haven no more
For some reason, everyone in Hong Kong seems to think that Lamma Island is full of baked hippies.
It may have been last year's drug bust that cemented the image of an island full of crystal-carrying, spliff-toking, free-lovers, but that is certainly not the majority population.
As a two-year resident of Hong Kong's third largest island myself, I do think it is true that most of my neighbors have a hang loose attitude towards life. We value things like lounging on beaches and taking long leisurely walks up mountains more than stressing about getting a table at the latest trendy restaurant.
Besides, Lamma is moving up in the world. The pace of change is set to quicken over the next decade. The island is currently in the middle of a planned eight-year facelift that will thoroughly transform life as I know it. Construction projects will be continuous.
The Yung Shue Wan Main Street will become a pedestrian zone and a seaside promenade on reclaimed land is in the works. A new radio station will be installed. Already, rents are going up.
Hayri Ozen has lived on Lamma for five years and runs a business there: "When I first came I rented a house for HK$4,000, now the same house costs HK$8,000 to HK$9,000."
Partly due to inflation, the rise in property prices are also a reflection of Lamma's growing commuter population, who ironically mainly move to the island in search of a cheaper, community-driven life.
Karen Hui is a banker who moved to Lamma six months ago: "I love being able to escape from the city. Lamma is for people who want a slow pace and calm life."
Big plans, small island
Many residents welcome such upgrades, optimistic that it will draw more visitors and thus more business to the island. Among them are the real estate agents, such as Victor Lau who has lived on Lamma all his life.
"It is better for the local people if a lot of foreigners come to Lamma," says Lau. "It is better for the business on the island and it makes life more convenient -- you can buy a lot of different products here now."
But the relaxed vibe and ramshackle charm of Lamma that first attracted residents -- and myself -- may be threatened by rapid changes and a major influx of new residents.
In fact, if Bobby Li, CEO of King Wong Development, gets his way the island will one day house Hong Kong's first world-class marina, host international sailing races and contain some of Hong Kong's most exclusive luxury residences. In other words, turning Lamma into the kind of wealthy tourist destination that residents tried to escape from by living there.
With one residential development, Lamma 1, near completion and plans for several more already in their final stages, Li is not alone in his Lamma ambitions. Although it might be hard to imagine the island as a glamorous destination, its proximity to Central and acres of undeveloped coastal land suggests huge potential to Hong Kong's zealous property moguls.
An indication of how successful such developers will be in their quest to turn Lamma into an exclusive escape will be seen in the triumph, or failure, of Lamma 1.
Lamma resident Scott Davis thinks it's ridiculous: "It will be a great shame if Lamma gets too developed. People don’t move here for that reason. Discovery Bay is where you go if you’re after a more luxurious life on one of the outer islands.”
Listed on Squarefoot.com.hk at HK$130,000 per month, each of the 11 residences is spread over multiple floors, all of which have sea views and a large garden, communal infinity pool, and private 24-hour ferry.
The exclusive all-night ferry alone is reason enough to ignite jealousy in the rest of Lamma's residents. The actual reaction of locals though is characteristically relaxed.
Ah Kit, shop owner and 15-year resident of Lamma Island, says "A lot of Lamma's undeveloped land could be put to better use, but not too much of it."
Even estate agent Lau agrees: "I think Lamma as it is now is okay. If too much gets built, the look and community will change."
If successfully repackaged, Lamma's acres of undisturbed bush and secluded natural beaches will surely prove too tempting for developers. And that would be a real shame. Not only for Lamma residents, but for anyone who enjoys outdoor Hong Kong. Life as I know it on the island, will cease to exist.