Not long ago I was introduced to a new book. This is no ordinary book and the author himself is perhaps out of the ordinary. My first surprise was that the book is not for sale. It says so very clearly in the endpapers. The book is self-published, as far as I can see unsponsored. The quality of the work is high, from text to illustrations, from layout to materials used. You won’t see it but the word ‘passion’ is stamped all over it. The author is Daniel Chan and he set himself the added hurdle of producing a bilingual offering. In his modest fashion he apologized to me for my poor English and grammatical mistakes found all over the pages. In reality Daniel’s English would put to shame most native writers.
The cover describes this as a Book of Memory. Its genesis lies in a series of blog posts that Daniel has made, now turned into the book Unforgettable Tai Long Wan. Tai Long Wan is located within a country park at the Eastern end of the Sai Kung peninsula. Daniel introduces it as surrounded by green hills and blue sea, embraced North and South by the headland of Fung Head and the hills of Sai Wan Shan. Since he first went there with his school he has been in love with the place.
The book walks us through in some detail the features that attract hikers and lovers of the countryside to Tai Long Wan. The beaches, the peaks, the headlands, the waterfalls, the inlets and caves. And the villages and villagers that remain. You can easily use this as a guide book. The level of research is remarkable. Daniel demonstrates a wide and deep knowledge of his subject. He deals as comfortably with history as he does with natural history and as well with geology as he does with geography. He uses his own photographs extensively. He is clearly a man of many talents and has taken the trouble to ensure they are well reproduced.
In addition to the expected, indeed mandatory map of the area he has included an illustrated flora of Tai Long Wan, details of accommodation and transportation and a thorough index.
The key to understanding why this book is so important is to understand the recent conservation battles that have been fought over the area. Incredibly the threats have come not just from the greed of private developers but also from the lack of sensitivity of the local administration (most notably the Water Services Department is singled out) to the desire of the people to preserve the pristine habitat at Tai Long Wan. Yet Daniel refuses to take cheap potshots at the local villagers, many of whom were tempted to sell up in the absence of any prospect of economic revival in the fortunes of their community. He takes a very balanced view of the issues and whilst coming down firmly on the side of the conservation arguments he understands the need to compensate others for their ‘losses’. If the law is flawed and the development actions legal, at least in some respects, then a compromise solution needs to be found.Daniel recreates the atmosphere of the conservation campaigns with raw emotion showing through. He analyses and discusses the planning issues and where right and wrong lie. In stark contrast to the closed minds of the antagonists Daniel examines the arguments with sympathy, drawing a sensitive picture of some of the older inhabitants such as Uncle Lai. He explores how the advent of social media has revolutionized the ability of the conservation movements to form new action groups within days. This contrasts not only with the slothful reactions of politicians and administrators but also the yet faster speed with which irreversible damage can be done by a bulldozer. The protesters have bought time but they cannot turn the clock back. Daniel knows there are further and possibly bigger battles to come. Reading this book you know that the author will be at the heart of the fray campaigning for the best possible outcome.
Sadly there are other Tai Long Wans in Hong Kong. A battle raged for many years over Sha Lo Tung for example and now the developers threaten Nam Sang Wai. The pressures on the territory grow ever more intense. Every development action it seems brings a howl of protest and counteraction. There are no easy answers and Daniel Chan acknowledges this but there are few areas that merit preservation as highly as Tai Long Wan. It is heartening to know that there are people as committed to the cause as Daniel. This book should be read by politicians for educational purposes, by lovers of Hong Kong’s wild places for sheer enjoyment and by all those who appreciate that even in today’s materialistic society there are still people who have true passion for what really matters. I hope this book gets the audience and recognition it deserves.