Yung Shue Wan

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).