Sunday, 5 June 2011

turf wars

I live in a village about a mile from the eastern edge of Fanling. Although I have frequently described the intervening area as ‘fields’, it would be more accurate to designate it a wasteland. Admittedly, it is a fertile wasteland, because it is part of the floodplain of the local river, but it is a disturbed landscape. Crops have been grown here sporadically, and still are, but the population density is extremely low, and most growers live in makeshift shacks of doubtful stability in bad weather.

The resident population is also transient. As one group of people is rehoused by the government, another group moves in to work the land. Once-cultivated plots are abandoned and are soon overrun by weeds, while fresh areas are cleared to grow vegetables. In the past year, the ranks of newcomers have been augmented by an evangelical Christian group from the city, whose plot has been named Ma Po Po Farm. This is not merely pretentious, it is also notably prudish: ‘Ma Po Po’ means ‘horse poo area’, but the area is actually known as and signposted as Ma Shi Po (‘horseshit area’).

Like many city dwellers, the Christians have an idyllic view of farming: although they spent a huge amount of time painting their shack—and very fine work it is, with images of bats and snails painstakingly rendered—nobody seems to have remembered that vegetables require constant weeding. Neglect this and planted vegetables, mainly cabbage, lettuce and other leafy vegetables, soon get choked out. Ma Po Po Farm is easily the worst-kept plot of those I walk past regularly.

This situation has almost certainly obtained for many years, although I’ve been observing it for only the last three. However, the status quo was interrupted at the beginning of April by the appearance of warning signs like the one pictured below. As a rough estimate, there were between twenty and thirty of these signs, although there aren’t as many now, because before I left for the UK I decided to uproot as many as I could find and discard them in inaccessible undergrowth.

“This is private land. No entry or use unless authorized. Trespassers will be sent to court”.

Then, a few weeks later, a series of countersigns began to appear. This is the first I came across:

“Farmland aggressor, give our land back and stay away from us”.

The old man pictured is Lee Shau-kee, the geriatric chairman of major property developer Henderson Land. Although it isn’t obvious, because the superimposed photographs cover the relevant details, Lee is pictured holding his three recently born grandsons. His response to this event is instructive:
I never felt so happy before, much happier than when I earn a lot of money.
He doesn’t look very happy to me. In fact, he looks distinctly uncomfortable: that smile must have taken some forcing, although this is not surprising. Uncle Four, as he likes to be known, is a typical Chinese box wallah, obsessed with making money that, at the age of 82, he is never going to spend. In any case, I’ve always been deeply suspicious of any local who goes by the self-styled sobriquet ‘Uncle’. It suggests benevolence while concealing a shark-like tenacity for exploiting his fellow citizens. Presumably, the manga horde in the lower picture is what Lee is up against here.

All the remaining countersigns are essentially messages of support, in most cases placed directly in front of the original warning signs. Here are some examples:

“Land for farming”.

“Land should continue to be used for growing crops. Land development should give way”.

“When the weather is fine, it is good for growing crops”.

“Support you for ever”.

The Christian operators of Ma Po Po Farm are probably behind this protest, given the content of one message:
The Lord said: “Land developer, please leave the land for people to have a life.”
Other messages include “The land developer’s action is despicable”; “We need to keep growing crops to continue educating our next generation”; and “Give us a way to continue living”. I detect youthful idealism here, but I’m on their side, as you’ve probably already guessed.

Unfortunately, this dispute has already taken a more sinister turn. The following picture is of a row of an unidentified leguminous vegetable. A few days before this photo was taken, the row appeared to be thriving, with luxuriant growth in every direction, but it now looks as if someone has been spraying the plants with a defoliant.

This is the current state of play. Any further developments in this story will be reported as they happen.

1 comment:

  1. Well, verbal conflict is bound to lead to violence if they keep it up long enough. :)


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