Sustainable Future, Hong Kong Tales
Life Adrift: LAI Tai, LEE Ah Mui

LAI Tai, LEE Ah Mui
In their seventies
Husband and wife, veteran fishers

“We were born on sea, rolling along on the boat. Fishermen of our age usually don’t know how to swim, nor do we know which year exactly we were born. In the early days, our whole family rowed out to the sea, spreading nets and catching fish wherever we are. When we were small, we sometimes heard the sound of yellow croakers beating against the hull. They sounded like dull drum rolls.

It was not until the age of twenty that we had a motor on our boat. We used both motor and sails. At that time, the Aberdeen harbour was very wide, and boats sailed along with ease. We made most of the fishing tools by hand. We rolled hemp along our kneecaps into nets. The nets had to be boiled in large steam baskets before they could be used. These were handicrafts passed on from generation to generation.

We had our feast on boat restaurants back then. A feast usually lasted a few days, with five to seven meals in between. Large families usually parked their boats near the restaurant and celebrated together. Some rich families even invited Paula Tsui for their marriages.

After our marriage, we divided family property in the year that Bruce Lee passed away (1973). The two brothers inherited the fishing boats, while we got around a hundred thousand dollars. We first began fishing on an old wooden boat. Later on, the fishing stalls lend us money to build a newer boat. When that boat became paired down, we built yet a larger one. Building new boats is similar to mortgaging a flat. We gave our fish to the fish stalls until we paid off our mortgage.

With a new boat we went far and wild. A usual trip lasted ten days. On the furthest west we went to Hainan Island, on the furthest east we went to Shantou and Taiwan. Our fishing nets measured as long as a hundred feet. As soon as we felt the net weighed heavy, we began pulling it back in. We usually caught groupers, yellow croakers, and pomfrets. We once caught so much yellow croakers that we could barely pull the net back in. In the past, we could earn as much as $200,000 on one trip to the sea.

Later on, we faced sterner competition from mainland fishing boats. Some mainland fishing boats even threatened us by throwing stones and glass bottles. We continued going out to sea, but diesel price was high, fish produce was low, and we felt older by the day. We finally called it quits in the late 1990s.

We once met a typhoon head on out at sea. That was the time before Typhoon Wanda (1962). The waves carried us here and there, we were scared but there was nothing we could do. We drifted alongside the waves and typhoon until the sea turned calm again. Somehow, by the end of it, we were still afloat.” 

Issue: #028 - 1 August 2016
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