November 18, 2009
I hadn’t been to Hong Kong for quite a while. There are plenty of shiny new buildings to marvel at, far too many shiny shopping malls, and the harbour gets narrower and narrower as they reclaim more land for building. (I always wonder where the ‘re’ comes in. ‘Claim’ is more like it. Or just ‘grab’. Soon the splendid old Star Ferries will be redundant; you’ll be able to jump to Kowloon).
What I hadn’t expected, and was thrilled to see, was the amount of gardening that is being incorporated in the midst of all this expansion. The Botanic Garden is well established, planted on the site of the old Victoria barracks and dotted with the dignified mansions of military top brass, one now the tea-ware museum, another the city’s wedding office, usually decorated with young brides and their attendants in candyfloss finery.
A really busy Botanic Garden, with appreciative crowds going about their business, taking photos and even reading tree-labels, is an energizing sight. There is a handsome waterfall into a rocky lake (the waterlilies are labelled, too); by the lake reclines a fat stone frog, legs akimbo, the very spirit of Chinese hedonism.
Fun with plants doesn’t end with the Botanic Garden, though. You can wander on through groves of trees and follow winding paths through beds of ferns, brushing your knees beside a rushing rocky stream – this at the foot of I.M. Pei’s gleaming Bank of China. Indeed the view inland, up towards the Peak from these many-storied glass palaces, could convince you that the forest was advancing on the city.
Most of Hong Kong Island is more or less wild country. If the city itself is like a shinier and more modern Monaco, the east, west and south coasts are a sub tropical Côte d’Azur; cliffs, capes and bays like deep green fretwork around the busy sea.