Hong Kong is certainly not the only large city to have an abundance of green space and parks, since that is true of most of the very large cities I’ve visited. What I can say is that Hong Kong is the first metropolis I’ve visited in a sub-tropical climate. I was there in early September, which is the tail end of their summer and typhoon season. It was almost unbearably hot at times. It was a different sort of summer heat than I experience in Seoul. In Seoul, whether it’s the close confines of the buildings trapping the heat, or it is farther from the sea, I’m not sure, but during the height of summer, I could walk outside for a short period of time and literally have sweat pouring down my face and body (it doesn’t help that I sweat very easily). Hong Kong is definitely hotter and more humid, but in some strange way, it was more tolerable. Maybe it’s because, except for half a day, there were clouds in the sky that protected from the most brutal of the sunlight. Or maybe it’s because Hong Kong is on the water, so you can often get sea breezes to cool you down.
But in any case, there are plenty of parks to enjoy. Hong Kong Park fascinated me, because it is a small, green space right in the middle of the financial district. So you would be admiring trees and plants and fountains and look up and see a super modern building towering over you. But what always caught me was the sub tropical plants that you don’t see in Tokyo, Seoul, London or New York City parks.
One of my favorite parks is actually in Kowloon, and it is the Kowloon Walled City Park. Nowadays the park is located in what is nearly the far north of Kowloon Peninsula. It’s most easily reached by taking the subway (called Mass Transit Railway or MTR) green line (Kwun Tong Line) to Lok Fu station and walking 15 minutes from there, or taking the number 1 bus from the Star Ferry stop to the park bus stop. But what is now deep into Kowloon Peninsula used to actually be right on the water. It really does help visualize just how much of Hong Kong is built on reclaimed land within the past 150 years.
Back in the day (meaning around 1847 after Britain took over Hong Kong Island), Kowloon was a lot smaller, and what is now the walled city park was actually Kowloon Walled City, which was a small garrison the Chinese used to defend Kowloon. The walled city fell into a governmental limbo in 1898 after Britain took over the New Territories, but the Chinese didn’t consider the walled city to be part of those territories. So for decades, the walled city sort of remained ungoverned and just developed its own lifestyle and set of laws. Along with that, the walled city became a boon for the drug trade and unlicensed dental clinics. People built up and up within the walled city, but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of building regulations or health standards and the walled city was sort of an unregulated slum within the middle of Hong Kong, even though the Hong Kong government made attempts over the years to raze the walled city to the ground. It finally happened in 1993 and the walled city was converted to a park. Below is a diagram of what the park looked like when it was an actual walled city. The park has a permanent exhibit talking about the history of the park. It’s small, but it shouldn’t be missed, because the history is really fascinating and it’s amazing to see pictures of what life used to be like in the walled city and compare it to the green, tranquil park before your eyes.
Now it is actually a very pleasant park filled with trees, walking pathways and small hints here and there of the structures that used to exist in the walled city. You can see remnants of the Old South Gate that was excavated after the demolition.
Even though very few historical sites remain in the Walled City Park, it is still calm, quiet and you see people walking or doing tai chi in peace. Even though as you can see, this park is not in some isolated corner of Kowloon, but rather right in the middle of a collection of high rises (like pretty much the rest of the city).