How a pigsty in the wild became a popular bookstore in Hong Kong

Hong Kong (CNN) – Hidden among the farms and hills of Tai Kong Po, a quiet village in the Yuen Long district of northwest Hong Kong, lies an unexpected destination for nature and literature lovers – the Bei Bei Book House.
From the nearest mini-bus stop, it takes 10 minutes on foot. But the path has so many twists and turns that owner Teresa Lee had to put together an explanatory video on how to get there for visitors. After passing through arcades and plant-covered farms – including one with a family of goats – a welcoming hut appears, an unlikely site in this city dotted with skyscrapers.

Assembled with metal panels and filled with hand-dyed fabrics, wood furniture and planters, the eclectic Bei Bei Book House was originally a primitive retirement home project that Lee started with her husband Ringo Tsoi. about six years ago.

Abandon the city for the farm

Six years ago, Teresa Lee and Ringo Tsoi decided to build a retirement home in nature.

Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

The couple started dating in the 1970s, when they were studying to become social workers at the same university.

Lee – small, bubbly and “the one with all the creative ideas” – grew up in the densely populated Kowloon district of Hong Kong, while Tsoi – tall, low-key and “the one who likes to sort things out in the background” – grew up in a rural village not far from where they now live.

“I’m a Kowlooner, a city girl scared of bugs and little critters,” says Lee.

“He always had a deep connection to the countryside. We would visit his parents in Yuen Long during the holidays. I found it quite intriguing, but I never thought I could live here.”

In fact, it took over three decades for Lee to be convinced to move to Yuen Long.

After the young couple’s wedding, they moved to To Kwa Wan in bustling Kowloon. But over the years, every time they moved, they found they had migrated a little closer to the countryside.

“It was probably my plan, to get closer and closer to home,” Tsoi explains.

In 2003, in the midst of the SARS epidemic, the couple paid Yuen Long another visit.

“It was a bit like experiencing the pandemic now – we all wore masks,” Lee recalls.

“As we were sitting on a sofa looking out, I suddenly realized that living in the middle of nature was quite nice. Maybe I could live here.”

But it wasn’t until 2015 that they retired from social work and were alerted to an unused portion of farmland belonging to a friend.

“So many people told us to give up”

Common table at the semi-open space of Bei Bei

The couple, along with a small team of family and friends, built Bei Bei by hand. Much of the furniture was donated by friends.

Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

The couple, now in their sixties, had an idea: they were going to build a space that would allow them to cultivate and store their large collection of books.

“It all started with the two of us, plus Ringo’s younger brother and older sister,” says Lee.

“We figured that after a day of farming we would need a place to sit, read, play music with friends and have a cup of tea. So we wanted to build a vacation home where we could have fun and relax. so romantic, right? “

Shortly after launching their “not-so-big plan,” romance was the furthest thing on their minds.

“Oh, that was such a big challenge – every little and big thing you see here, we had to move by hand,” Tsoi explains, pausing for a moment to gasp while remembering the energy expended in the process. of their many trips.

The only structure on their newly acquired farm was a dilapidated pigsty. So, in addition to their books, they started moving stools and building materials to transform the shelter.

A handyman friend helped them add flooring and install them in electricity. There was no water, so an old well had to be dug again and a pump was added.

“It was just for the four of us and a few friends at the time, so it was pretty primitive,” says Lee.

“So many people have told us to give up. Even if you want to pay a mover or contractor, they might not be willing to do it due to its remoteness. We and a few friends took a long time to move. , slowly adding pieces to the book house. ”

They named the Bei Bei book house after their dog, who also happens to be the CEO. Bei also means to give in Cantonese, inspired by the old Bible verse that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.

An unusual travel destination

Semi-outdoor bookstore

The semi-open book house managed to survive Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018.

Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

Over the years, Bei Bei Book House has grown into an alternative community center, attracting visitors from other parts of Hong Kong as well as travelers from all over the world.

Their popularity skyrocketed after they agreed – with some reluctance – to appear in a magazine.

“We said no to all the interviews, but a friend’s newly graduated daughter just joined a magazine as a reporter. She was looking for a story, so we said yes,” Tsoi explains.

“Once this report got out, it got out of hand. All the media and many other people came, even Chinese tourists.”

Today, Bei Bei has designated areas for different activities. Volunteers and visitors come to share their skills and knowledge, which can cover everything from flower arrangements and gong bath meditation to tea meditation.

“As retired social workers, we want this place to still be able to heal people and remind fast-paced Hong Kong people to live slowly,” Tsoi said.

After some basic renovations, the pigsty is now the dining room, where they invite other readers to share simple, rustic meals together.

There is a book house resembling a library at the entrance. Behind the semi-open area is the ‘Deck’, where guests can sit on the wooden platform under the tree and have tea or meditate.

On the left is a communal table, other shelves, and a stage for musical performances.

The Woody Garden is intended for farming, while the Blissful Land is filled with planters, where those new to farming are encouraged to make “plant crosses.”

“It’s like a cross between books,” Tsoi explains. “Crossbreeding is when people take a sprout home to try and feed it. When it grows, you put a sprout back in the garden so the next person can adopt one.”

Teresa and Ringo with the visitors

The Treehouse took the greatest effort to build. The bar allows visitors to sit and have a cup of tea and enjoy snacks harvested from neighboring farms.

Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

There is also a sheltered and air-conditioned “Treehouse”, which required the greatest effort to build. The walls are lined with shelves. A bar counter in the corner offers tea samples and seasonal fruits.

Visitors can bring a dish or a book and in return the couple will offer a simple and common lunch. Customers can purchase books and items like tea leaves to support the operation.

The couple admit that opening Bei Bei Book House to a wider audience was a dilemma – it meant they would have to sacrifice some privacy and quiet, but it’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Their initial plan for a relaxing retirement playground may have gone astray, but what emerged in its place helped the couple achieve something else.

“When we were social workers, our main targets were the elderly. We think Hong Kong is quite discriminatory towards our seniors. But many of these “young people” can still do so much and can lead very successful and wonderful senior lives. It inspired us. We could also live beautifully and successfully after retirement, ”explains Tsoi.

How to live the dream

Visitors experience the tea meditation on the bridge.

Visitors participate in the tea meditation on the bridge.

Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

Former city dweller Lee has slowly gotten used to his farm life over the past six years.

“I was frustrated with how often things broke and tampered with, and how a day of tidying up was destroyed by nature in a second,” she says. “There are also constantly leaves on the ground waiting to be swept up.

“But the other day, while I was sweeping the flowers and the fallen fruits of our longan, I stopped to admire the beautiful scene, to take a picture, before taking the broom again. I understand that we cannot negotiate with nature. You can only let go. “

Reflecting on their sixth year running a book house on a farm, the two agree that they are currently living their ideal lives.

“We may not have the luxury of going around the world as we prefer to spend money on Bei Bei, but I find everything I need here. I find peace, friends and peace. happiness Living in the moment brings me a lot of joy, Lee said.

When asked if she has any advice for those who would like to pursue their own passions, Lee said financial independence is key.

“It is impractical to rely on someone else’s finances to start your dream. You need courage, money and good friends,” says Lee.

Tsoi adds that endurance and simplicity are also essential.

“Don’t focus on getting huge success at the end, but find the happiness of working hard and solving problems in the process,” he says. “You don’t have to be successful before you are happy.”

Bei Bei Book House, 67 Tai Kong Po Village, Kam Tin, New Territories, Hong Kong; +852 5225 4119. Due to the pandemic hours and capacity may be limited. For the latest tips, contact Bei Bei Book House directly before visiting.

Top image: This bridge takes visitors to the Bei Bei Book House, near Tai Kong Po village in Yuen Long, northwest Hong Kong. Credit: Maggie Hiufu Wong / CNN

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