The land that time forgot

Friday, July 8, 2011
Issue 1352, Page 5
Word count: 1148
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The continued expansion of the casino industry and the resulting astonishing gaming revenue has given Macau, once a tranquil and simple fishing village, worldwide fame in only a few years.

International media have also played a role in shaping this Chinese enclave into a colourful and glamorous city in the eyes of many of those who were not previously familiar with Macau.

However, it remains true that quite a number of people are still living in a cluster of wood huts and iron shacks on land which seems to have been forgotten by society and hidden by social prosperity – high-rise luxury buildings and five-star hotels.

Between Dr. Sun Yat Sen and the Macau Anglican College in Taipa is a big triangle of land where most would not very likely walk through at night. During the daytime, however, locals and students take the shortcut frequently, even though the old huts, big dogs, tall trees, occasional unpleasant smells and bumpy roads with a variety of stacked up trash may make the short walk a frightening experience.

On this ‘mysterious’ land there are at least two villages – Cheok Ka and Sam Ka – which the inhabitants claimed have existed for many decades before the establishment of the Macau SAR.

Cheok Ka Village came into the public spotlight this week after some of its villagers held a press conference to condemn the developer for ‘forced eviction’ and accusing them of ‘illegal occupation’.

Sam Ka Village, which is located closer to the TN27 affordable housing construction site, may not have been ‘chosen’ by a developer at this moment, but some of the inhabitants the Macau Daily Times talked to yesterday have different views on the matter.

The ‘land keeper’

It would be a very quiet afternoon inside the village apart from the noise from the nearby TN27 construction site. Clothes are hanging on lines under the sun. The huts are separated from each other by wire netting and thin wood planks.

Kuok Hung was peeling some white carrots for dinner in his farmland which is connected by his six wood and iron huts. The 86-year-old and his wife live in one of the huts and leave the other five vacant nowadays.

He says his four children do visit their parents occasionally.

Kuok used to work in the firecracker factory in Taipa, but because it was “too dangerous” he decided to use MOP 300 per year to rent the land from a man called Ung Sai, where he could plant vegetables and breed pigs for a living.

At 32 years old, he built these huts on this land and then applied for his parents in the mainland to come live with him in Macau.

Kuok tells the MDTimes that Ung passed away years ago and his children continued to allow him to remain in the area without paying rent any longer.

“They only want me to help keep an eye on the land as they’re worried that if I leave the government would come and take it back,” he says.

Yet, so far he says he has not received any notices from the government or a developer asking him to leave.

“I would like to move into a public housing unit, but I’ve been told that I would risk losing all my huts because the government would demolish them.”

Pigs can no longer be found in his area now. Kuok says he is “too old” for that but he still plants some papayas on the little piece of farmland.

The huts were not well built but have their own electricity metres. Villagers also installed individual pipes connecting to their huts and the government supplies them with water for free.

“It’s very hot in summer inside the huts and there are also many rats and cockroaches around […] I’m used to it […] But it’s quite safe here, only some illegal workers rented some huts in the village and moved in recently,” Kuok says.

‘It’s their land’

Leading to Cheok Ka Village, Cheang Si Veng is found sitting outside of his wood hut reading newspapers with a microscope.

The 84-year-old says his original hut, which was just about 10 metres away from where he lives now, was demolished by a developer one month and a half ago – but he agreed to it.

“The father of the land owner was a close friend of mine so he allowed me to build a hut on this area at that time,” he tells the MDTimes, adding that afterwards he approached the government to receive construction approval.

“Now his children want to take back the land, its okay for me because it’s their land.”

Cheang worked in Kiang Wu Hospital and lived in the staff dormitory before settling in Sam Ka Village where he began to plant vegetables and flowers for a living 45 years ago.

He now lives alone in another hut, but there is no kitchen or room for a shower.

He says the hut is owned by another man who offered for him to live there with only one condition, similar to the situation of Kuok – to protect the land from being taken back by either the government or a developer.

The 84-year-old says he has applied for public housing but in the past few months the bureau kept telling him that there was no unit available.

According to Cheang, there are perhaps only five to six households remaining who have lived in the village for many decades. Most of the other villagers, he believes, are tenants who are non-local workers from Vietnam.

“They [the tenants] bring a lot of people to their huts on weekends to hold parties, and they make a lot of noise,” he complains.

Nevertheless, he says he is not too worried about the government or a developer coming to evict the inhabitants.

“It’s their land […] And I think they should at least give us compensation.”

Conditions in Cheok Ka Village are seemingly better with cleaner and flat footpaths and houses built by rocks or at least appear more ‘solid’.

Yu Kam Fong was 22 years old when she got the approval from the government to build a two-storey iron hut with four bedrooms in the village 60 years ago.

“In those days as long as you had money and government approval you could build houses anywhere you wanted,” she tells the MDTimes. “Why they [the developer] now say that it’s their land and we’re occupying the land illegally? Where’s the proof?”

Living together with her 90-year-old husband and three of their eight children, she says the family always wanted to move into public housing but they have “no money” to afford it.

Nevertheless, she believes the developer will not use violence and the villagers should be compensated reasonably to avoid a replica of the controversial and sometimes violent dismantling of the Ilha Verde shacks late last year.

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