Hong Kong Homies is a series where we get deep real fast with Hongkongers.
Au Yuen-yam, Photographer
I moved to Hong Kong from the mainland when I was seven years old. My parents chose Cheung Chau because it was cheap. The island was nothing like it is now – it used to be all wooden houses and barren, unpaved ground. People sold things like peanut oil and kerosene in a basket that they carry around on their shoulders. A bowl of congee cost 10 cents.
The streets were lined with gambling stalls. It was said that every policeman dreamed to be assigned to station at Cheung Chau, because there were no rules here – you could do whatever you wanted.
The fishermen families owned the best houses – those closest to the pier. One fishing trip was all it took to earn their down payment.
I studied in Cheung Chau until I was 11. I had to leave the island and work in Hong Kong, while going to night school in the evening.
Maybe the city was prosperous and fun and exciting, but the Hong Kong I knew was about working a lowly job for $30 a month and then studying at night. It was difficult. All I looked forward to was my monthly visit back home at Cheung Chau.
I’m old now and I’ve worked in many different places. But I’ve never thought of leaving Cheung Chau. Nowhere else in Hong Kong is comparable to Cheung Chau.
I do think outlying islands residents are different from Hongkongers. They are less suspicious of others, don’t you think? I believe it’s the way we grew up: we knew everyone from the neighborhood.
We help each other, we greet each other, we bring each other food. People are nice to each other. There’s no reason to distrust people.
During the time when I worked outside Cheung Chau, it’s always a treat to meet fellow Cheung-Chauers. We always bond over talking about home.
I became a policeman later on, but I decided to retire when I was 45 years old. I did not want to do the same thing every day. I really don’t know where I got the courage, but I went into sound production.
I did that for about seven years, took a photography course and became a photographer. I was lucky to be able to make a living from it and then had the opportunity to teach photography.
My favorite thing to photograph is the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. It’s so distinctively Cheung Chau. I have photographer friends who complain that every year’s the same. But that’s exactly why it’s fun and challenging.
As a photographer, you take something you know by heart and discover a new way of seeing it. To be able to find a new perspective of something familiar – that’s the most rewarding.