They are the boat people of Discovery Bay.
But unlike the refugees who fled Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975, these Hong Kong residents live in relatively peaceful times. In fact, many of them are professionals – expatriate pilots, lawyers and doctors – who live in houseboats in Discovery Bay, which is part of Lantau, one of the outlying islands of Hong Kong.
These residents, comprising about 180 families, have been told to move their boats elsewhere by the end of the year as the Marina Club, where their floating homes are anchored, will be closed for renovation for an unspecified period of time, according to Bloomberg.
The eviction order has prompted them to look for an alternative place to dock their vessels, which is quite difficult, if not impossible, considering that most coves and harbors in the territory are fully occupied.
Failing to do so would see them giving up a less expensive way of living in the world’s least affordable city for housing.
In a city where a millionaire can only hope to live in a humble unit equivalent to no more than two car parking spaces, Discovery Bay’s boat people had come up with a smart, less expensive solution to the problem of ever-escalating home prices.
They figured that instead of renting or buying a shoebox-sized unit worth tens of millions of dollars, why don’t they go for a 60-foot boat, which measures nearly 2,000 square feet?
Their vessels are docked at the yacht club, where all the amenities of modern living – water, electricity, internet connection and other services – are present and no different from those found in a high-rise apartment, except that they live in a less crowded, less polluted environment.
They pay around HK$24,000 a month for parking a 60-foot boat at the marina, which is just fine because they have to pay at least double, if not triple, that amount if they rent a 2,000-square-foot home in Discovery Bay.
Except during days when the weather is really bad, as when super typhoon Mangkhut ravaged Hong Kong in September, they find in much better to live at sea than on land.
But unlike fishermen, they actually work on land, which means that their boats must always be docked.
But their nightmare began when the Marina Club decided to renovate the dock to “meet the needs of Hong Kong’s growing sailing and pleasure-boating community”.
The eviction notice is tantamount to depriving them of a place to stay because without a dock, their houseboats cannot serve as their homes.
They must have felt a sense of being abandoned by HKR International, the owner of the yacht club for 29 years and the largest developer on Lantau Island, for not addressing their residential needs.
Instead, HKR said their Marina Club debentures will be redeemed at face value by the end of the year, and offered no clarity as to when they may return – if ever they can.
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