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【Lee Yuk Ying Introduces the Cultural History of Kat O to Visitors 】

“There are pleasant landscapes and accommodations in Kat O, and I can eat fresh fish whenever I like. I couldn’t bear to leave!” These words show how attached 76-year-old, Kat O native Great Aunt Lee Yuk Ying is to Hong Kong’s northernmost outlying island, which measures only 2.4 km2. Reputed as the tourism ambassador of Kat O, she walks around the Tin Hau Temple every day and introduces the cultural history of Kat O to visitors.  

Kat O is located to the west of Mirs Bay and east of Sha Tau Kok, facing Yantian and Dameisha of Shenzhen across the bay. Boat visitors in the Northeast New Territories Sedimentary Rock Region of Hong Kong National Geopark can take a break and have lunch in Kat O to enjoy the delicious authentic seafood and visit the Tin Hau Temple, which is about 250 years old. You may come across this smiling, energetic Great Aunt decoding the Tin Hau Temple “password” for visitors.

“I enter and leave Tin Hau Temple at least twice every day,” says Great Aunt. Besides knowing all about the Tin Hau Temple, Great Aunt is a great help at the Kat O Geoheritage Centre.  

After the establishment of the Geopark, Kat O villagers, non-governmental organisations and the government jointly set up the Kat O Geoheritage Centre, which was converted from a village house near the Tin Hau Temple. The village house was earlier used as a primary school and then as the village office. In addition to rock and fossil samples, the Centre displays precious cultural relics donated by Great Aunt and other Kat O villagers, including a Tin Hau patrolling sedan and apparel, sacrifice examples, traditional daily necessities of the villagers in the past, and special Kat O cuisines, so that tourists can get familiar with the history and culture of Kat O, while also learning about the geology of the area. This is the original meaning of geopark: a unique natural area of special geological significance, with natural landscapes and cultural heritage worth preserving.  

Great Aunt describes the cultural relics of Kat O as though she is listing her family valuables: “This Tin Hau patrolling apparel was made with exquisite workmanship. I could not bear to see Tin Hau in dull patrolling apparel… How beautiful the figures in the sedan are! No craftsman can make them like that now.” Great Aunt cherishes everything about the traditions of Tin Hau.  

What sorts of questions do tourists ask about the Tin Hau Temple?

“Most people ask how old the temple is”, says Great Aunt. Then she leads the group forward. “Come and see our ancient bronze bell!” Great Aunt points to a bronze bell and shows them the words engraved on the bell – “28th Year (1763) of Emperor Qianlong’s Reign”. This indicates that the Tin Hau Temple is at least 248 years old.  

Also interesting are some Shiwan ceramic sculptures on a beam in the temple. Looking at the figures, Great Aunt sighs, “The figures were repaired during the reign of Emperor Guang Xu. Some of the damaged figures were supposed to be repaired in recent years, but we no longer have craftsman who can do this.”  

What are the stories behind the sculptures? Great Aunt “decodes” them for us immediately. She points to the sculptures in front of the altar and says, “The black-faced figure is Lord Bao, who is interrogating Guo Huai; this is Tang Bo Hu Dian Qiu Xiang, and Tang Bohu is hiding over here while peeping at Qiu Xiang, who is accompanying Mrs. Hua; ‘The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea’ is divided into two pictures, with four immortals in each one; and this is ‘Brotherhood Forged in the Peach Garden’…”

 

Great Aunt tells fairy tales to pupils in front of the altar Great Aunt takes care of Tin Hau Temple

Great Aunt tells fairy tales to pupils in front of the altar

Great Aunt takes care of Tin Hau Temple

Great Aunt explains, “There are two Tin Hau statues: one is a Static Tin Hau, who stays in Tin Hau Temple; and the smaller one in front is the Moving Tin Hau, who stays in the temple on ordinary days, but patrols on the birthday of Tin Hau (the 23rd day of the third moon) every year.” Great Aunt also shows us the existing sedan for the Tin Hau procession, and she says frankly that the figures in the wooden sedan are not as good as those in the past, because the craft has been lost.  

Why is Great Aunt so enthusiastic about telling tourists the stories of Kat O and the Tin Hau Temple? Though quite robust now, Great Aunt was severely ill several years ago, lingering between life and death. After recovery, she came to the Tin Hau Temple to thank Tin Hau, and knowing that the temple was short of hands, she, along with another elderly woman, decided to take care of the temple. In 2006, which marks the decennial On Lung Dajiu, Great Aunt, who had participated in the Dajiu many times, felt duty bound to dictate the procedure and details of the ceremony so that Village Head Lau Chi On could record them for the reference of the descendants of the original inhabitants.  

 “My primary school was next to the Tin Hau Temple,” says Great Aunt. “I often played in the temple, so I am familiar with the stories here. If I don’t tell the younger generations the stories, nobody will know them after some time.” .

Why do people call her Great Aunt? She is the aunt of Village Head Lau, whose sons and daughters call her Great Aunt, so everyone else follows suit.  

Regarding the changes in Kat O over the past decades, Great Aunt says, “Tour companies only started organising tours to Kat O in the last ten years or so. Tourists have brought new life to Kat O, so the villagers welcome them. However, it would be better if they didn’t cause trouble such as climbing up the tree of love to take photos and littering everywhere. We can only ask the tour guides to remind them not to do these things. However, things have improved in the last two to three years, because most tourists are well-behaved.”  

“We are lucky to be Kat O natives! Though we are poor, we have had no bad people. The people are simple and honest, and they help each other. We are united, as is reflected by the smooth process of the Dajiu, when thousands of people come back,” says Great Aunt proudly.

This autumn the village will celebrate the Yajiu ceremony, which is held every five years. Though it is not as grand as the decennial On Lung Dajiu, Great Aunt will still be awfully busy. She hopes to find a successor during the preparations to undertake the next On Lung Dajiu and carry forward the valued cultural traditions of Kat O.  

 

Great Aunt in an interview

Great Aunt in an interview

Great Aunt and foreign visitors

Great Aunt and foreign visitors

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