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"Green lungs" in Hong Kong.

IT USED TO BE THAT THE completion of a factory or the opening of a shopping mall or hotel was big news in Asia's capital of commerce. Lately though, the biggest news in Hong Kong has been the opening of a number of parks that the city's Urban Council calls "our green lungs."

One of them, Hong Kong Park, is built on the 25-acre site of the old Victoria Barracks on the edge of Hong Kong Island's Central district. Officially opened two years ago this month, it has been a hit with locals for a number of reasons.

Hong Kong is a city with little room to grow; it's hemmed in by the South China Sea on one side and China on the other. Neighborhoods in Kowloon rank among the most densely populated in the world, and on Hong Kong Island, nearly every buildable site has a high-rise on it. Because shade comes from buildings, and pavement--much of it choked with traffic--stretches wall to wall, urban parks are now a necessity.

Hong Kong Park has a dramatic walk-through aviary and a conservatory (one of Asia's largest). While these two attractions alone are worth a visit, the park itself offers a pleasant respite from the colony's bustle.

TROPICAL BIRDS AND PLANTS

Draped with a fine stainless steel mesh that is nearly invisible from the inside, the Edward Youde Aviary is designed to give visitors the feeling they are walking through the treetops.

Nearly 500 feet of elevated walkway meanders more than 35 feet above the stream-fed grounds, among the branches and leaves of trees common to Malesian forests--one of the world's most diverse bird habitats. Sharp eyes may spot many of the more than 90 species of tropical birds nesting and feeding among the treetops. Some of the "trees" are actually concrete, built to support the walkway as well as provide nesting and feeding stations for birds. Early morning is when birds are most active; the aviary is open 9 to 5 daily.

In the walled garden next to the aviary, early morning is also when you will most likely see locals going through the slow-motion exercises of t'ai chi. Climb the 105 steps to the top of the observation tower for a dramatic view of the park and the sculpted-glass high-rises surrounding it. The striking, two-story Greek revival building in the far corner of the park is the oldest (1846) Western-style building in Hong Kong and now the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. The closer building is a restaurant where you can enjoy a cup of tea.

From the Chinese walled garden, a winding path leads down to a dramatic glass-enclosed conservatory. The dry hall contains cactus from the world's deserts (including the American Southwest); the wet hall is filled with rain-forest tropicals. A third hall houses temporary exhibits.

GETTING THERE

To get to the park, take the red double-decker Peak Tramways shuttle bus (free) from the east side of the Star Ferry dock in Central Hong Kong. From the tram station bus stop, cross under the elevated roadbed (Cotton Tree Drive) to stairs leading into the park.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Phillips, Jeff
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:519
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