The case for a Tai Po retirement


Lately a few people have mentioned that while they like Hong Kong, they wouldn’t want to retire here. While I understand the desire to retire someplace quieter than Hong Kong or to be closer to family, I think Hong Kong retirees have a globally enviable knack for spending time outside engaged in whatever interesting personal hobby they damn well please regardless of how bizarre it might appear to others.

Do they care that the sound of Cantonese opera or ABBA blaring from the radio strapped to their bike handlebars might bother you? No. Do they mind that you think it’s odd for them to practice tai chi with badminton rackets? Not at all. Are they worried that you think their open air singing is off key? Couldn’t care less.

They are ingenious at discovering what they like to do and then doing it to the fullest. In the past few months I have encountered the following Tai Po-based seniors winning at retirement:

A man and his special pet. Running along a busy pedestrian walkway, I dodged and jumped just in time to miss stepping on something greenish-yellow. I initially thought it was a drifting plastic bag, but quickly realized that it was a large tortoise. The tortoise’s elderly owner look on contentedly as streams of shoppers going to and from the Tai Wo MTR station weaved around his slow moving pet.

fullBench Buddha. Christmas music was blaring from the nearby Tai Po Mega Mall, but this elderly man was still too hot. He reclined on a bench — clad only in shorts and sandals — and watched the world go by. His bald head matched his bare belly: both well-tanned and round. This guy was not meditating, but he had totally mastered inner peace.

Damn the color, I love my fat-tire bike. A large fraction of American men can be fussy about colors and avoid pastels, not so for this Tai Po cyclist. He not only rode a mountain bike with massive fat tires on a smoothly paved bike path, his bike frame was also painted entirely bright pink and purple. Further he rode his unique bike while wearing cotton shorts and flip flops as if to taunt the young, spandex-clad cyclists passing him on their road bikes.

Reverse palm tree kung fu. There are many Hongkongers who walk backwards for exercise or walk while slapping their upper arms and face. (The former is apparently good for the knees and the latter good for circulation.) There is only one Hongkonger, however, whom I have seen standing with his back against a palm tree and then repeatedly slamming his body into it. Contra shadow boxing or a means of harvesting palm fruits?  Only he knows.

Dragnet fishing. Imagine a morning conversation between two old guys:

“What should we do today?”

“We could fish?”

“Yeah… I guess. But can we try something a little different? I’m so tired of casting into the Lam Tsuen River.”

“So how else are we going to fish wise guy?”

[15 minutes of silence while they watch the world go by.]

“I’ve got it! Let’s get a net and fish like we used to do when we were boys before every water way in Tai Po was concreted!”

“You mean drag a net around the bottom of the Lam Tsuen River and see what we can catch?”

“Yeah, exactly!”

“Ok! I’ll go borrow some rubber boots from my cousin who works in the wet market.”

And so they then spent the afternoon dragging a net between them up and down the concreted bottom of the Lam Tsuen River. Every pedestrian in Tai Po (including myself) stopped to watch this unusual sight and to see what these two smiling guys caught: lots of plastic junk and a handful inch-long fish.


Being outside with friends doing whatever strikes your fancy without giving a damn about the oddness of it. If that’s what retirement is in Hong Kong, I want in.


11 responses to “The case for a Tai Po retirement

  1. Ha! I love your depiction of the Bench Buddha. Aptly named and image perfect. I can see it clearly in my mind. With such a serenity mindset what more could one ask for during one’s retirement years?

  2. I love your observations. I admit that I think I am probably the least observant and then have the worst memory to remember cool things like this that happen around here. Keep making me laugh 🙂

  3. Elderly neighbors in Dianmennei hutongs would fold and refold their fishing nets, and spend hours repairing them in the alleyway. Never seemed to have any fish to bring back from Houhai or the Grand Canal nearby, but they had a good time of it.

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