Hong Kong, Outlying Islands

Photography: Tai O People

What was really amazing in Tai O was the fact that we were there early – not early as in ‘first thing in the morning’, but early as in ‘before the tourists’ arrived. As beautiful as Tai O is, it is a popular tourist destination, often sold in combination with a visit to the Big Buddha. The problem of that is that hundreds of people come to Tai O and it is just very crowded.

However, when we started our Saturday around 10am, after taking the ferry to Tai O and hoping on a quick 20 minute boat trip to see the stilt houses up close and to look for pink dolphins, it was still quiet. It was a good time to take pictures of the locals, who were just going after their routines.

We saw several old men picking up goods from the boats and ferries and just transporting them on their shoulders, in bags or on the back of bikes. Then there were others that were just standing there and having a chat, or just being calm and looking out over the sea, meditating or contemplating over the days ahead or maybe long gone.

What I’ve noticed in Tai O is that there were lots of elderly people out and about in the morning. While this is not unusual, what made it unusual was that there were hardly any other locals. It seems that Tai O has an aging population, which is not too surprising, given that it is so remote (it’s closer to the Pearl River Delta than to some parts of Hong Kong Island) and that there are not many businesses still surviving. There used to be salt panes and a thriving fish industry decades ago – but all that is left is a small shrimp paste factory, a few dried seafood shops and a couple of market stalls and restaurants. Not much to offer to younger people in terms of job opportunities.

There were a few people that were taking their boats either back home or just getting ready to leave for the open sea. We saw a few of them sitting in their boats, like this man, who was wearing a traditional hat to protect his head and face from the sun.

This woman checked the fishing cage to see if it was still working, so I guess she’ll soon be heading out to put some cages out in the bay to capture fresh fish.

Other people were busy preparing the goods to sell at the market stalls. This man above, he was working on some dried seafood. It seems that he was cutting off some pieces of something that looked like dried squid.

Women were already getting the market stalls ready for another busy Saturday. All the goods were already nicely arranged when we passed the stalls, a few locals were already shopping for fresh fish and vegetables. This woman above, she was looking over her vegetables, when I took the picture.

A couple of old men were relaxing in one of the side streets. They looked like they are going to stay there for a while – especially as a few houses down we saw a group of women playing mahjong, so it could be that this was the typical Saturday routine. A game of mahjong for the ladies and a chat for the boys, who were eyeing up everyone who was walking up and down the streets.

We walked through some of the quieter streets and took pictures of the stilt houses, bridges and boats and then decided to walk back to the main street and try some of the famous street snacks in Tai O. Michael saw this stall that sold fresh donuts and he immediately bought one to try – it was still fresh from the kitchen and apparently did taste very nice. In fact, it must have been very good, especially as we came back again to buy another donut for Michael after our coffee break! So the lady was right, as she was telling us these were very good donuts!

We also saw the ‘little chicken eggs’ seller – or what I call him ‘famous granddad making amazing waffles’. He always puts on a show with his small coal-fired stove, the iron skillet and the jug of dough. He is amazing to watch and the freshly baked waffles to taste amazing.

The final portrait is of one of the old ladies, selling grilled seafood. Some of the dried seafood you can purchase in Tai O is for immediate consumption. All you have to do is pick a dried squid piece, give it to the lady, she’ll add some special sauce to it (there must be some soy and honey in it, but also some chili as far as I can tell) and then put it on a small coal-fired stove to quickly heat it up and grill it on both sides. The squid then gets cut into small pieces with a pair of scissors, the pieces are placed in a small paper bag and then you are ready to tuck in. A great snack and very special to Tai O!

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