Lamma Island

Message found under the rock

In November 2016 I left a student feedback pack and a letter on the South of Lamma Island, behind Mount Stenhouse (click here for previous blogpost). Two months later, in January 2017, an expedition of students from the Master in International Management of Tilburg University made an attempt to reach the location. They came very close, but needed to abort (rightly so) due to the risk of getting caught in the jungle in the dark. Now, in December 2017, I am happy to receive news from to me unknown fellow hikers in Hong Kong: the letter was found. Both, the fact that they climbed up there and secondly that they had sharp eyes (finding a hidden letter under a rock), makes me think they are nice people. Thanks for mailing back, and I hope we can join for a hike one day when I am back in Hong Kong. Inspired by this, when the currents around the Maltese Island are heading towards the Libyan coast, and the winds are Northerlies, I will also launch a message in a bottle. How anachronistic in the world of instant social media. But it's just nicer.

The cover of the letter I left on Mount Stenhouse, found and photographed by Alex Leung

The cover of the letter I left on Mount Stenhouse, found and photographed by Alex Leung

First week in Hong Kong

Since I have arrived in Hong Hong I have been preparing course material, teaching a class of smart students at HKU, and catching up with friends. The week passed by very quickly, and perhaps I should have scheduled more than a month in town. But we can always come back. Yesterday, we visited my friend Magnus Barlett in his habitat on Lamma Island - the publisher of wonderful books and maps and owner of Odyssey Publishing Company. It is always a nice trip over to the island, specially off the beaten tracks. Sure, there is a bit of melancholy swinging for me when setting foot on the island. There were times I thought I should have never left it, perhaps like the pianist in the movie 1900. We had coffee on his sunny terrace and seafood, as you should never miss it, when you come here. Magnus' parents were painters and at his wall, in his study, he has a painting by his father, showing a bedroom in their house in Greece. It immediately resonated with me, like Chambre a Arles. I like it a lot.

Room in Greece (Bartlett Sr., as taken with a point and shoot camera on Magnus' wall - against the South China sea sunlight coming in from the right)

Room in Greece (Bartlett Sr., as taken with a point and shoot camera on Magnus' wall - against the South China sea sunlight coming in from the right)


I am very sad that Richard (Dick) Jones left us on the night before, peacefully at home, far too early. We shared house and garden and the view on the South China Sea for three years on Lamma Island. Richard, a professional camera man, showed me how to use my video camera. Could not have learned it from anybody better. I really liked him with all his crazy, but at times also very normal sides. Now the island will be more quiet, but far less brilliant. The photo below, taken by Andy Maluche, one of his best friends, ... Richard's sleeping bag thrown from his home's rooftop into the jungle. Once again, Richard is gone with the wind. Take care. We miss you.


Farewell to my island in the South China Sea

After a long journey via the cradle of mankind to the end of the world, I returned back to what became my home for five years: Lamma Island in the South China Sea. Coming this time from Antarctica into the subtropical paradise with sunny mild weather makes you want to stay. But now, I only came to pack and leave again. In the garden I turned back once more to the old house at the seaside. From here I have seen ships passing and rainbows showing their bright colours many times. For five years I have seen flowers blossom, butterflies returning and heared birds singing. Lamma Island is close to Hong Kong, but for me never was a part of it. Too distinct, too colorful is the culture and too different from the buzz of the city and its boring business conformity. The island though still has a free spirit, even not a deep one, which withstood all efforts of covering it under concrete and sporadic police raids. On my last walk through the village, I realized that I have never stayed in a place for five years before, and that I am leaving behind a real home this time. I am wondering how it will look like in years from now when I return as a visitor. The "veterans" here want to keep it the way it is, or even turn it back into what it was in the "good old times". And there is a lot of good to protect. But of course things will change in the periphery of a city of more than 7 million, specially when land auctions to property developers are one of the main government revenues. There is no way to keep Lamma as it is, but at least to develop it as it should be: green, free and friendly. Today, on my ferry ride from Yung Shue Wan to Hong Kong Central our house, our small beach and our tree disappeared a last time behind the hills. Then after the plane took off with the skyline of the city also my life as a Professor stayed behind. But my memories I am taking with me, as they become a part of what is ahead.

Then when I checked into the service apartment late at night, I was greeted with: "You are booked to check in tomorrow". So I looked at my watch: "Okay, wait 30 minutes, then it is tomorrow". We all laughed and finally: "No problem ... Welcome to Beijing".

Qingming festival

Today is a traditional Chinese festival called Qingming (清明节) on which families go and visit their ancestor’s graves. On the Chinese mainland this and other traditional festivals have not been promoted to be celebrated, as they were seen as some kind of superstition since the Liberation in 1949. But also there it is still alive and even having a renaissance as it became again a public holiday in China again in 2008. In Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Qingming is an important family feast and Lamma Island today was full of visitors bringing flowers and little sacrifices and burning “paper money” at the graves. Latter habit kept the Island’s fire brigade at hight alert the whole day, because we had dry weather and the tombs often are a source of large hill fires. 

The Wikipedia entry in Qingming says that the celebration goes back to Emporer Xuanzong who introduced it in 732 to curb the number of expensive celebrations and limit them to one day only.

I went went to the cemetery on Lamma Island up the hill from Hung Shing Ye Beach and wondered about the grave carrying a German name of Gerd Heinz Balke who died here in 2000 at the young age of 51. I found that he was a German engineer and the author of the books Paradise fermenting and Skull dance. He lived in Po Wah Yun which is a village here on the island and the title picture of his book Paradise fermenting, a tattooed dragon, was taken by Bob Davis. Michael LaRocca in an interview speaks about his books and that he suddenly died of a heart attack. I will see whether I find a copy in the Bookworm Cafe in Yung Shue Wan

There were some fresh flowers at his grave today.

P.s. In August 2018, nearly a decade after this was posted, I was contacted though this website by a former classmate of Gerd Balke. They both studied civil engineering at the Applied University of Wuppertal. Kindly, I was also told far more about the life of Gerd and the (for me) mysterious grave on Lamma Island. The classmate also sent me an article with public information on Gerd, which I attach here for download (click here). He was returning from a Silk Road trip, before he passed away in 2000 suddenly. I am very thankful that I was contacted and my little website proofs continously to be a repository for special interests - This Post Scriptum was added on September 19th, 2018 in Tilburg (Netherlands).