Chopping firewood, cooking without a stove, and getting water from a creek—this is the everyday routine of Mok Ho-kwong, a 36-year-old man who’s chosen to live a simple and green life in the outskirts of bustling Hong Kong.
Mok, who calls himself “Yeah Man,” a play on the Chinese words for “wild man,” started living off the grid 13 years ago.
“I studied leisure management at the University of Hong Kong, but I learned a lot about nature and the environment outside school,” he says. “I realized the harm we’ve done to nature and didn’t want to continue living a lifestyle that creates a lot of waste and pollution, so I chose to live off the grid.”
His parents and friends opposed his decision at first, insisting he move back to Hong Kong’s urban center and get a proper job.
“My parents thought that with my college degree, I could live up to their expectations and get an office job,” Mok says, “but I don’t want to live the rest of my life like that, knowing it will go against my values.”
Despite his parents’ disapproval, he started renting a house in Pat Heung, a rural area in Hong Kong’s northwest.
“I love my lifestyle,” he says. “It’s healthy, environmentally friendly, and I can protect animals as a vegetarian.”
He met his wife, Cheng Pui-shan, 37, during an environmental protection event in 2003. They got married in 2012. Their wedding ring was made of compostable grass.
“I love living here,” Cheng says. “I enjoy cooking our own meals and spending time with my husband and son.”
Mok grows his own vegetables in a 1,000-square-foot plot of land next to his house. His knowledge of growing plants was all self-taught.
“I learned from books and asked farmers for advice,” he says, while watering the plants with his 2-year-old son, Mok Ki. “It’s very fulfilling to eat what you’ve planted.”
The family gets their electricity from solar panels installed on the roof. Mok says they only need to pay about $4 per person for electricity.
They also strive to live a zero-waste lifestyle. About 90 percent of the things in their house are recycled, including washing machines and chairs. The remaining 10 percent are things he made himself using the garbage that other people threw away.
“Garbage is a resource,” Mok says. “The things are not as worthless as people think. If put in the right place, they can be useful.”
He notes the table in his workshop made from parts of a kitchen door and pieces from abandoned beds.
“People throw them away thinking they’re useless, but that’s not the case,” he says.
“Some people think it’s impossible to live off the grid in Hong Kong, but that’s not true.”
Mok now spends half the week running public workshops about green living. He’s taught people how to build treehouses and plant fruit.
“Some people think it’s impossible to live off the grid in Hong Kong, but that’s not true,” Mok says. “People can implement 90 percent of what I’m doing right now in their daily lives. The essence of green living is learning to appreciate nature, valuing the resources we have, using less chemicals, and recycling as much as possible.”
“I often make toys for my son using materials that I collected from garbage stations,” Mok says. “Like this wooden car here, I used a bell from an abandoned bike and wooden boards from old beds.”
He smiles as he watches his son play in the wooden car.
“I wanted to give my son something from Mother Nature,” he says, “not toys from a department store that encourage lavish spending and consumerism.”
Mok is not worried that his son will be different from other kids.
“Maybe he’ll choose to live in the city when he grows up, and I’ll respect his decision then.”
“He will study in a kindergarten like other kids, but I want to raise him in an environment that is close to nature,” he says. “He helps me water the plants every day, and that’s how I want him to know and experience things by himself.”
“Maybe he’ll choose to live in the city when he grows up,” Mok continues, “and I’ll respect his decision then. But for now, I want him to live close to nature.”
Adapted from an article by Ivanka Lou first published in the South China Morning Post.