26 October 2016
Thomas and Lauralynn Goetz, have lived in a century-old Hakka-style house in Pak Sha O Village, Sai Kung, since 1995. Photo: HKEJ
Thomas and Lauralynn Goetz, have lived in a century-old Hakka-style house in Pak Sha O Village, Sai Kung, since 1995. Photo: HKEJ

Expat dedicated to preserving century-old Hakka house in HK

Pak Sha O Village, Sai Kung, is one of the few remaining well-preserved Hakka villages in Hong Kong.

The century-old village now houses only 19 residents.

Surprisingly, they are mostly people from abroad.

The indigenous Hakka people have gone overseas.

An American couple, Thomas E. Goetz and Lauralynn A. Goetz, settled here in 1995.

They rent a traditional Hakka-style house and have been keeping it in good shape for its owner, who lives in Liverpool, England.

The historic house has a pitched roof built with timber rafters, purlins and ceramic tiles without the use of a single drop of glue.

Not many builders know how to make such sophisticated roofs, Thomas said admiringly.

“The rent is attractive, but we have to bear the maintenance fees all by ourselves,” he said.

A property developer has been eyeing Pak Sha O Village for a few years, acquiring and accumulating land title to properties from the indigenous villagers.

“This is a beautiful Hakka village. The government should barter land for land with the property developer,” Thomas suggested.

He is deeply concerned about Hong Kong issues.

He wasn’t very happy to hear of a senior official in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) who filed applications to build five 3-story houses at Tai Long Sai Wan in Sai Kung and even dubbed it his “ancestral property”.

“He is supposed to protect the environment, isn’t he?” Thomas said.

How old is Pak Sha O Village?

Thomas estimated that it is more than 150 years old, given that missionaries arrived at this village in 1841 and built a church on the hilltop in 1880.

“Because of the villagers, the missionaries came,” he said.

The Goetzes’ home is like a museum of heritage, decorated with Hakka peasant hats and antique furniture.

Although it is a century old, it has fresh water and electricity.

The couple have subscribed to dial-up internet access to keep in touch with the outside world.

The only disadvantage of their home, they say, is that access is difficult.

No supermarket is willing to provide delivery service to the remote village.

And the retired couple is doing part-time English teaching in Tuen Mun, meaning they have to travel from the easternmost part of Hong Kong to its westernmost part.

“Can you imagine how long the journey is?” Thomas said.

“We first take a ride to Sai Kung Town Center. Then take bus No. 299X to Sha Tin, and then take another bus, No. 263, to Tuen Mun. But we need another bus ride on No. 53 to get to the school.

“It takes us at least two hours for a single journey!”

Despite all the struggles, Thomas finds Pak Sha O to be the best place he has lived in among his 36 years of residence in Hong Kong, especially after returning from Vietnam, where they had briefly stayed for six or seven years.

“It is just shocking to see property prices [in Hong Kong] skyrocket,” he said.

“Lauralynn’s parents’ home in South Carolina in the United States costs only HK$1 million. But it has three bedrooms with two bathrooms and a garage.”

He found it hard to fathom why Hongkongers would rush to pay millions of Hong Kong dollars for tiny flats.

Thomas and Lauralynn say there is no place like Hong Kong, their home.

For instance, they say that MTR Corp. — the rail operator that has been the subject of public complaints recently for everything from budget overruns to its banning of large musical instruments from its trains — is quite efficient when it comes to providing on-time train service.

Hong Kong’s a city where corruption is fought by the government.

Business people are honest and as good as their word.

It was a completely different story in Vietnam, Thomas said.

Hong Kong is a safe city, as well, Lauralynn said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 9.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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There are some other expatriates living in Pak Sha O Village as well. Photo: HKEJ

Lauralynn (left) enjoys a gathering with friends at home. Photo: HKEJ

The couple replaced some of the traditional roof tiles with glass to introduce more natural light. Thomas holds a pair of luo, a traditional Chinese percussion instrument. Photos: HKEJ

Thomas and Lauralynn Goetz decorated their home like a heritage museum with Hakka peasant hats and antique furniture. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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