Respite from Hong Kong’s combat zone
Hong Kong doesn’t have many parks. There is plenty of concrete, of course, but less green space in its urban heart than almost any city of comparable size anywhere. Instead it has “sitting-out areas” big enough for a squadron or so of pensioners to lean on their canes while trucks and buses roar by a few feet away.
But there is a hidden parklet in Wan Chai, above the retired ersatz Chinese post office that the British colonials built on Queen’s Road East and that tourists, maps in hand, still mistake for the real thing. Wu Chung House, a mega-sized concrete breadloaf built by Hopewell tycoon Gordon Wu, is on one side of this oasis. A flock of sky-high apartment houses surrounds the other three sides. In the middle is a small but striking haven, a sitting-out area with a mini-forest of greenery.
Very few people use it, but those who do constitute a friendly little community in a city where few people even nod at each other. There is the silver-haired woman who walks her Yorkie. There are the elderly couple in sweatsuits, still holding hands after 50 or so years together, who do a bit of qi gong in the morning and make their way up the steep stone steps towards Kennedy Road. A small band of Filipinas, guitars and card decks in hand, drops in on Sunday.
On a Friday night, after a few drinks in the Wan Chai combat zone, it’s relaxing to buy a beer or coke and a snack at Ebenezer’s, my favourite after-hours kabob place, and walk the seven or eight blocks to this little hideout. Climb the 40-odd stone steps up the left side of Wu Chung House and sit down. On clement nights, the park is used by a handful of people who, oddly enough, seem to bed down for the night. They are well-dressed, they play a few hands of cards, they hang out and then go to sleep. (In Hong Kong, nobody is described as homeless. They are “street sleepers.” Homelessness is a western term implying destitution. “Street sleeping” implies choice.)
Anyway, sit there in the soft autumn night and eat your kabob. We take our pleasures where we can find them in this densely packed city. It’s dark enough up here to actually see the sky and the rolling white clouds dappling the windows of the skyscrapers. The tall buildings nearby create a bit of a wind tunnel so that there’s usually a bit of a breeze, even on the most sultry nights. There’s kind of a wall of trees and stone, and it’s far enough above the street so that even the sound of the buses is muffled.
In a way, it’s perfect. Relax and think to yourself, its okay to live in Hong Kong.