ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “garden

CULTURAL CENTRE AT FORMER EXPLOSIVES MAGAZINE, Asia Society (亞洲協會), Admiralty (金鐘), Hong Kong

In late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the former Victoria Barracks at Admiralty have been torn down to make way for commercial developments, government buildings, and transportation infrastructure. Only a handful of the 19-century structures have been preserved and renovated with modern usage in today’s Hong Kong Park. East of the park, the abandoned Explosives Magazine Compound awaited its fate as rain forest gradually takes over the site. Two decades have passed. In 2002, the site was granted to Asia Society to establish their new home in Hong Kong. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III in New York, Asia Society is an organization that promotes cultural exchange between Asia and the United States. In 1990, Asia Society arrived in Hong Kong to establish its Hong Kong Centre. After granted the site of the former Explosives Magazine Compound, Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were chosen to oversee the design and transformation of the site, erecting new structures and converting four former weapon production and storage buildings into one of the most fascinating cultural venues in the city.

As the New York based architects described, the 1.3 hectares site was overgrown with banyan trees and lush green vegetation despite its central location adjacent to the British consulate and Pacific Place Shopping Centre. In 2012, after a decade of construction work, Asia Society’s 65,000 s.f. new home was opened to the public. Seen as one of Hong Kong’s most successful adaptive reuse and heritage conservation project in recent years, Asia Society regularly host talks and exhibitions. The complex is separated by a nullah into two parts. Where the former explosive magazine buildings are located, the upper site houses a gallery, offices, and theatre. The lower site is occupied by a visitor centre, multi-function hall, gift shop, restaurant, and offices. Connecting the upper and lower sites, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed a double decker bridge that zigzags over the sloped rain forest. The upper deck is a pleasant open walkway offering great views of the adjacent commercial district. Combined with the roof of the visitor centre, the open walkway also serves as a sculpture garden.

The former explosives magazine site was designed for the home of Asia Society in 2002. The project took a decade to complete and opened as the cultural centre of Asia Society in 2012. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
A manmade waterfall marks the dramatic entrance of the cultural centre and draws visitors up to the rooftop sculpture garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Stones from Southern China were chosen by the architects as the main facade cladding. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2015]
The roof garden is one of the main feature at the Asia Society complex. Long Island Buddha, the 2011 sculpture made of copper and steel by artist Zhang Huan, is one of the permanent sculptures in the garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
A miniature Zen garden defines the heart of the roof garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2017]
Chloe Cheuk’s crystal balls installation, named “…Until I am Found”, is an interactive piece offering distorted image of the city’s skyline. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2017]
The double decker bridge is an architectural delight linking the two parts of the site. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2015]
From the upper deck of the bridge, visitors can peacefully enjoy the skyline of the business district of Admiralty. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The lower site is mainly occupied by the multi-function hall where most of the talks and events are held. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Old tracks for weapon carts are preserved at the upper site, where an office, gallery and theatre are housed in three historical buildings. Outdoor artworks are also on display around the site. As contemporary representation of Chinese tradition, Zhan Wang’s Artificial Rock artworks often appear as stainless steel versions of scholar’s rocks commonly found in Suzhou gardens. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Several granite military lot markers were found when the site was taken over by Asia Society. Dated to 1910, these stones were installed by the Royal Navy to mark the boundary of the former Victoria Barracks. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Historical cannons were unearthed at the site during the renovation work. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The former weapon laboratory has been transformed into offices. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Dated from 1880, the former Magazine A has been transformed into an art gallery that feature temporary exhibitions. Recently, a retrospective show of the works of late French artist Lalan (謝景蘭) was on display. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Yukaloo by renowned James Turrell in 2019 was the first show of the American artist in Hong Kong. His powerful LED installations led spectators into a dreamy experience of space, light, colour and time. His works filled the former weapon magazine with an aura of infinity. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2019]
Outside the gallery, a covered walkway leads visitors further into the former Magazine B, which is currently occupied by a theatre. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The fine combination of a small fountain and planter could have been inspired by the traditional Suzhou garden. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Known as a “horizontal building in a vertical city”, the essence of horizontal and sequential movement can be clearly felt. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
The contrasting materials of the canopy and the historical building present no confusion on which is old and new. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Heading back down to the Multi-function and reception hall, we often take the lower deck of the double decker bridge. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
It is always a pleasant journey to walk through the lush green rainforest at the Asia Society. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Since 2017, Adrian Wong’s Untitled (Grate XI: Electric Bauhinia) has occupied the niche near the entrance of the Multi-function Hall. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]
Below the Multi-function and reception hall is Ammo, an atmospheric Italian Japanese fusion restaurant overlooking the lush green nullah that separates the upper and lower site of the complex. [Asia Society, Justice Drive, Admiralty, 2021]

ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE AT RISK? Churches in the Mid-Levels (半山區), Hong Kong

In 2017, the 4th generation Union Church (佑寧堂) at 22A Kennedy Road, a 68-year Grade III listed historical building, was brutally torn down for a highly controversial real estate redevelopment. Despite efforts from conservation groups, architects, politicians, church members, media, and local community groups, the government refused to list the church as a Grade I historical building, and the Union Church refuses to back down from the project. The upcoming 22-storey mixed use building, which includes a new worshiping space and 45 luxurious apartments split between real estate developer Henderson Land Development (恒基兆業地產) and Union Church, exemplifies another bitter defeat of architectural heritage conservation in Hong Kong. Perhaps no government in 1890 (the time when Union Church acquired the site) could predict how insanely expensive land prices would become in a hundred years’ time, especially in the affluent Mid-Levels district. The original reasoning for letting missionaries to acquire land at relatively low cost may no longer be justified. Today, this has become a convenient tool for any religious institution to secure commercial profit by selling its own properties. Union Church is not the first such case and certainly won’t be the last either.

The scene of a lonely Gothic Revival church encircled by highrise apartments or commercial towers ten times its height is not uncommon in Hong Kong. Well known for its high urban density, many neighborhoods in Hong Kong appear like monotonous forests of highrise buildings. Engulfed in glittering reflections of curtain wall glazing, old churches in the city have become precious features. Each architectural detail is full of history, collective memories, and a melancholic beauty. Well worth checking out, several churches in the Mid-Levels represent some of the oldest surviving structures in Hong Kong. Churches were some of the first permanent buildings constructed after the British arrived in 1841. The 180-year heritage of church architecture tells the story of Christianity in Hong Kong, which is as old as the city itself. Early missionaries, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, built churches and used Hong Kong as their base to spread the gospel in China and beyond. They also set up local charity networks, schools and hospitals, at a time when the colonial government had little interest in lives of the locals. Today, about 1.2 million Hongkongers or roughly 16% of the population are Christians. While churches and their affiliated institutions continue to thrive, some churches, like the Union on Kennedy Road, have reached the dilemma on how to compete and expand in the era of tremendous commercialism and sky-high property value. Each big decision a church makes may lead to the daunting risk of losing a part of Hong Kong’s architectural heritage. Every time a historical church is being torn down and moved into one of the city’s 9000+ highrise buildings, it represents one irreplaceable loss for not just today’s Hongkongers, but for the next generations to come.

Union Church (佑寧堂) was founded by Reverend James Legge (理雅各), a Scottish member of the London Missionary Society, who was also the founder of Ying Wa College (英華書院), and suggested the government to set up Queen’s College (皇仁書院) in Hong Kong. Union Church began with a English chapel on Hollywood Road, then moved to the intersection of Staunton Street and Peel Street, before relocated to 22A Kennedy Road (堅尼地道). [Photograph of the second generation Union Church at Staunton Street and Peel Street in Central, by John Thomson Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Union chapel, Hong Kong. Photograph by John Thomson, 1868/1871. 1868 By: J. ThomsonPublished: 1868/1871. CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0%5D
The 4th generation Union Church was considered as a unique example of Modernist architecture from mid-20th century. After 68 years of service, the building was demolished for luxurious real estate development. [Photographed by Ceeseven, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
Opened in 1849, St John’s Cathedral (聖約翰座堂) at Garden Road (花園道) was one of the first permanent buildings erected in the city. As an Anglican place of worship, the cathedral is the only building in Hong Kong granted with a freehold land ownership by the British colonial government. [Photograph by William Pryor Floyd, Public Domain, 1873]
Being the seat of Archbishop of Hong Kong, St John’s Cathedral is the oldest Anglican cathedral in the Far East. The bell tower is decorated with a VR motif at the west face to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria during which the church was founded. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
The timber roof structure of the cathedral is a rarity in Hong Kong. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Behind the Altar stands the Bishop throne, choir stalls, High Altar and East Window. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
The font in the north transept dates back to 1890. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
St John’s Cathedral features stained glass windows created by William Morris from England. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Today, St John’s Cathedral is nestled in the midst of government and commercial buildings of Central. [St John’s Cathedral, Garden Road, Central, 2021]
Swiss priest Theodore Joset established a parish in 1842, and established the first Catholic church at the intersection of Pottinger Street and Wellington Street. The church was named Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (聖母無原罪主教座堂). After the church was destroyed by fire, a new cathedral with twin steeples was rebuilt at the same spot. [Second generation of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at the upper left with its twin steeples. [Photograph by John Thomson, 1868/1871, Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org, CC BY 4.0]
The third Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (聖母無原罪主教座堂) was completed in 1888 at a site above Caine Road (堅道). [Photograph of Henry Rue Collection. Image courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library, University of London (www.hpcbristol.net), (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1910’s]
Instead of a grand plaza or lush green lawn, the city’s main Catholic church, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is now tightly surrounded by luxurious apartments, as well as the Caritas complex (明愛), a Catholic social welfare group, and Raimondi College (高主教書院), a Catholic school. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The church was consecrated in 1938, 50 years after it was opened when the cathedral was free from debt of its US$15,400 construction cost. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The cathedral was spared from plunder and serve damages in WWII. The Japanese treated the Prefecture Apostolic as under the sovereignty of Italy, with whom Japan was not at war with. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2021]
The shrine of Virgin Mary Mount behind the cathedral is a popular spot for Catholics to stop by. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
The cathedral interior is designed in the cruciform form of the Latin cross. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
Defined as the main focal point in the cathedral, the Grand Altar represents the memory for Jesus Christ. Relics of Chinese Martyrs, Pope John Paul II and Blessed Gabriele Allegra (first translator of Chinese Catholic Bible) are some of the treasures kept in the cathedral. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
The first organ in the cathedral was built by William George Trice in 1889. It was extensively rebuilt by W.C. Blackett in 1921 and 1938. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2014]
In the evening, the cathedral is lit up with beautiful flood lights. [Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, St Joseph Terrace, Mid Levels, 2020]
St. Joseph’s Church at Garden Road stands out from the residential apartments of the Mid Levels further above. This Catholic church is the third structure on the site, where Rev. Timoleon Raimondi founded the first St. Joseph’s Church in 1872. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Design by architect Peter K. Ng in 1966, St. Joseph’s Church exhibits interesting modernist features on its facades. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
St. Joseph’s Church is one of the busiest Catholic church in Hong Kong with 10 masses on every Sunday. [St. Joseph Church, intersection of Garden and Kennedy Road, Mid Levels, 2017]
Reverend James Legge (理雅各) of London Missionary Society founded the English church Union Church, and also Hong Kong’s Ying Wa College (英華書院) in 1843, a school where local Chinese could come for Christian services. This led to the founding of To Tsai Church (道濟會堂), the first independent Chinese church on Hollywood Road. In 1921, To Tsai Church moved to Bonham Road (般咸道) and renamed as Hop Yat Church (合一堂). [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Construction of Hop Yat Church (合一堂) took several years and went along with the expansion of the adjacent Nethersole Hospital (那打素醫院), also owned by London Missionary Society. [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Hop Yat Church stands prominently as a Gothic structure decorated with bands of bricks. [Hop Yat Church, Bonham Road, Mid Levels, 2021]
Completed in 1932, Kau Yan Church (救恩堂) of Lutheran Christianity is another historical church worth preservation. Theodore Hamberg and Rudolph Lechler of Basel Mission based themselves in Sai Ying Pun to spread the gospel in Hakka and Chiu Zhou in China. Theodore Hamberg founded a Hakka church in 1851, and acquired a piece of Sai Ying Pun land in 1852. In 1860’s Rudolf Lechler urged the government to settle Hakka people in the area, and the Hakka people became the basis of the church. In 1927, the local Tsung Tsin Mission of Hong Kong (基督教香港崇真會) was founded at the church. A new church was built in 1932 known as Kau Yan Church. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High Street (高街), Third Street (第三街), and Western Street (西邊街), Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Gothic details of the outer wall reflect the trend of the 1930’s. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Designed by Palmer & Turner Group (公和洋行), Kau Yan Church has become a prominent monument in Sai Ying Pun. [Kau Yan Church, Intersection of High and Western Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]

HONG KONG PARK (香港公園), Central / Admiralty (中環/金鐘), Hong Kong

In 1890, a golden bell was installed at the main building of Wellington Barracks (威靈頓兵房), one of the three military barracks (the other two being Victoria and Murray Barracks) located between the business districts of Central (中環) and Wanchai (灣仔). The golden bell became a landmark and eventually led to the naming of the area, Kam Chung (金鐘), which literally means “golden bells”. The former naval dockyard known as Admiralty Dock gave the area its English name, Admiralty. For over 120 years, the military barracks had been a major obstruction for urban development, creating a bottleneck between Central and Wanchai. This situation remained for much of the colonial era until the late 1970’s, when the governor has finally convinced the military department to release the land. Demolition of the barracks began in late 1970’s and gave way to a series of developments that make up the present Admiralty: High Court, Government Offices, metro station, transport interchange, various commercial towers, the Asia Society complex, the luxurious retail and hotel complex known as Pacific Place, and the 8-hectare Hong Kong Park on the lower slope of Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong Park occupies much of the former Victoria Barracks (域多利兵房). During construction, a number of historical buildings were preserved, including the Flagstaff House, Cassels Block, Wavell House, and Rawlinson House. The park design respected the natural topography of the site, maintaining a naturalistic setting for all to enjoy. Opened in 1991, Hong Kong Park was an instant hit for Hong Kongers. Combining the natural context and heritage buildings with the new water features, wide range of landscape elements, amphitheatre, lookout tower, large conservatory, and Southeast Asia’s largest aviary, the park has ensured that there would always be something to suit everyone’s taste. A combined visit to the nearby Zoological and Botanical Gardens would satisfy the desire of anyone who desires for a moment of tranquility in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district.

From 1840’s to 1979, the Victoria Barracks was the most prominent military base on Hong along Island. [Victoria Barracks, Photography by William Pryor Floyd, Image courtesy of Vacher-Hilditch Collection, University of Bristol, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 1868]
Situated between Central and Wanchai, the military barracks in Admiralty poses an obstruction for urban development for over 120 years, until 1970’s when the royal army finally agreed to relocate to the seaside Tamar military base and release the barrack lands for urban developments. [Photo of the Victoria Barracks, Public Domain, 1870’s]
One of the main park entrances lies next to the Victoria Peak Tram terminal at Cotton Tree Drive (紅綿道). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2017]
Beyond the Cotton Tree Drive park entrance, a grand stair featuring a water cascade leads visitors further up to the lily pond, heritage buildings and other park facilities. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in early 1900’s, the Wavell House is an example of Edwardian Classical Revival architecture in Hong Kong. Today, it is used as an education centre for the aviary. [Wavell House, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1900’s, the three-storey Cassels Block was one of the officer residences in the former Victoria Barracks. After the site was handed over in 1979, Cassels Block was preserved and converted it into the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre (香港視覺藝術中心) in 1992. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Built in 1846, the preserved Flagstaff House is the oldest surviving Western building in Hong Kong. The Greek Revival building has long been the residence of the Commander of British force. Today, it houses the Museum of Teaware (茶具文物館). [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
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Adjacent to the Museum of Teaware stands it’s new wing. It is used to display antiques and house a tea shop. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The water feature near the Supreme Court Road entrance has long been a popular selfie spot since early 1990’s. I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Headquarters stands prominently at the back. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Full of Koi fish, turtles and frogs, the lily pond is often considered as the central focal point in Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The pond is one of best place to photograph Paul Rudolph‘s Lippo Centre, the twin towers at the heart of modern Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
An artificial waterfall and classical balustrade create a harmonic garden scenery at the heart of the park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Like many parks in Hong Kong, the artificial pond has become a place for irresponsible pet owners to abandon their turtles. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
With a backdrop of luxurious apartments and the Victoria Peak, the Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) stands in the midst of lush green woodlands in the Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Edward Youde Aviary (尤德觀鳥園) is the largest aviary in Southeast Asia. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Inside Edward Youde Aviary, a system of elevated boardwalk lead visitors into a artificial forest setting where exotic birds mainly from Indonesia live freely within the enclosure. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The aviary is home to a number of exotic birds from Southeast Asia. Critically endangered, it is believed that fewer than 100 Bali starling living are living in the wild. [Two Bali starling hopped around the feeding area over the wooden balustrade, Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Just a short walk from Admiralty station, most bird photography enthusiasts can easily carry their telephoto lens to the aviary at Hong Kong Park. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Pheasants can also be found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
Red lory is one of the many colourful birds found in the aviary. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The Olympic Square features an 880 people amphitheatre. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2021]
The “Fighting SARS Memorial Architectural Scene” is erected to commemorate the frontline healthcare workers who lose their lives in the SARS epidemic in 2003. The installation features bronze busts of eight sacrificed medical workers carved by artist artist Chu Tat-shing. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
105 steps will take visitors up to the Vantage Point for a panoramic view of the park and beyond. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
The Vantage Point offers a great lookout to the surrounding urban scenery of Admiralty and Central. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Looking over Admiralty, the 5 star hotels above Pacific Place, Government Offices, and Lippo Centre line behind Hong Kong Park and its 1400 sq.m Forsgate Conservatory. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Further west of Lippo Centre, the former Tamar Royal Navy base, Bank of America, Bank of China and Citibank Tower complete the skyline of Admiralty. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]
Right across Cotton Tree Road stands the beautiful Murray Hotel, a well known adaptive reuse project by Norman Foster. Built in 1969, the 27-storey government building was successfully converted into a 5-star hotel and opened in 2018. [Hong Kong Park, Central, 2020]

ZOOLOGICAL & BOTANICAL GARDENS (兵頭花園), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.

Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.

Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.

Hong Kong Botanical Garden and the slope of Victoria Peak in the 19th century. [Album of Hongkong Canton Macao Amoy Foochow, photograph by George Ernest Morrison, 1870’s, Public Domain]
Today, behind Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Victoria Peak is almost completely concealed by highrise residential towers. [Junction of Garden Road and Upper Albert Road, 2021]
The subtropical climate of Hong Kong is suitable for a wide range of trees and plants to flourish. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy, 2020]
At the Glenealy entrance, the roughly 100 year old White Jade Orchid Tree (Michelia x alba 白蘭樹) is about 34m tall. It is one of the tallest trees in Hong Kong. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens near Glenealy Entrance, 2021]
Beyond the Gardens and Upper Albert Road, the business district of Central is just a stone throw away. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens at Upper Albert Road, 2021]
Renamed as Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the park is also well known for its animals, including monkeys, apes, birds, and reptiles. The renowned Siu Fa, a jaguar who lived in the Gardens for 20 years until her death in 2008, was the last big cat kept at the park. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
With the spatial limitation of the Gardens, keeping large mammals such as the Bornean Orangutans is controversial. As awareness of animal welfare has risen in recent years, let’s hope the authority and zookeepers would soon shift their efforts from confining exotic animals to conserving local wildlife and natural ecosystem. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
There are also a number of cages of birds on display, including a small group of American Flamingo. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Apart from animals and birds, the Gardens is much more popular for its seasonal flower blossoms. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different types of Azalea (杜鵑) blossoms transform the Gardens into a colourful paradise in March. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Different species of Hibiscus (大红花) can be found all over the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Commonly known as pinkball, Scarlet Dombeya (吊芙蓉) is a highlight at the Gardens in early April. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
It’s just flowers everywhere in spring at the botanical garden. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Native to South America, the Red-veined Abutilon or Red-vein Chinese-lantern is commonly used in horticulture. The flowers are also edible, raw or cooked. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Every visitors love the Scarlet Flame Bean or Brownea coccinea. Native to Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, Scarlet Flame Beans are now cultivated in many tropical countries. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Late March and early April is the best time to check out the Scarlet Flame Bean. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Away from the flower beds and bird cages, an old stone wall tree stands quietly near Robinson Road. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1866, the Pavilion between the Fountain and the bird cages is the oldest structure in the Gardens. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Even if one is not after the flowers or animals, Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) is a great place to just sit down, relax, and do nothing. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The centerpiece of the Gardens is undoubtedly the Fountain. The fountain that we see today is the 5th generation that was erected in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Built in 1868, the first generation fountain was a landmark and a well known tourist attraction of Colonial Hong Kong. The Victoria Harbour and Governor House once dominated the view behind the fountain of the Botanical Garden. [Photo by Lai Afong, 1860-1880, public domain]
The Fountain was once a well known landmark of Hong Kong frequented by tourists. [Old postcard of the Fountain, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Sometimes, art installations would be set up at the Fountain Terrace, such as this bamboo structure designed by architects Impromptu Projects from Macau [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The Fountain has become a peaceful landmark in the Mid Levels. Original fountain was built in 1864, and has been altered subsequently with the last renovation in 2010. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2020]
Spring is the best season to visit the Gardens due to the annual blossoms of Azalea (杜鵑花). [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
At the heart of the Gardens, a grand stair lead visitors from the fountain to the statue of King George VI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Sculpted by Gilbert Ledward, the bronze statue of King George VI, father of the Queen Elizabeth II, was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the British Colonial Hong Kong. The statue was commissioned in 1939 and erected at the Gardens in 1958 after disruption from WWII. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
A greenhouse near Garden Road is home to a number of dedicated plants. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
Erected in 1928, the Memorial Arch was dedicated to the Chinese who lost their lives during WWI. [Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The 100-year-old Stone pillars mark the entrance of the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The same old stone pillars marked the park entrance 120 years ago in this photo. [Old postcard, copyright expired, 1900’s]
Across from the entrance stone pillars stands the former Governor’s House and the skyline of Central. [Upper Albert Road entrance, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]
The former Govrenor House now stands silently across the street from the Gardens. [Upper Albert Road, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, 2021]

STONE WALL TREES (石牆樹), Central-Western District (中西區), Hong Kong

Entangling roots stretch across the surface of granite walls might remind people of the Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat instead of the city of Hong Kong. Commonly known as “Stone Wall Trees” (石牆樹), the urban scenery of Chinese Banyan (Ficus microcarpa 細葉榕) enrooted on historical granite walls is a unique scene in Hong Kong, especially in Central-Western District where the heart of the old Victoria City was located. In 1841 when the British first landed in Hong Kong, the bare, rocky and hilly terrain of the island posed a huge challenge for establishing a settlement. Apart from land reclamation along the coast, the British also create habitable land by constructing flat terraces on the slope of Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan 太平山). From the mid 19th century onwards, local granite was used to construct retaining walls for the terrace constructions. To make the relatively bare island more habitable, trees were planted across the city to provide shade and visual interest. Many foreign tree species from other British colonies such as India and Australia were brought to Hong Kong. Due to its suitability to the local climate and ability to grow rapidly, Chinese Banyan (細葉榕) were widely planted. From these banyan trees, birds and bats ate the figs and spread the seeds all over the city, and into stone joints of the retaining walls. This led to the birth of the stone wall trees.

In 1996, scholar C.Y. Jim found 1275 trees with 30 or so species on about 505 stone walls. Ficus Microcarpa or Chinese Banyan is the most common type of stone wall trees. With hardly any soil to clinch into, these banyans take the wall as their host and spread their intertwining roots on the stone surfaces. After 50 to 100 years, these banyans gradually mature into shading crowns that we see today. Many of these old stone wall trees have survived to the present day, especially in Central – Western District which contains the city’s largest concentration of stone wall trees. The emergence of stone wall trees in Hong Kong, however, was no coincidence. Perfect climate conditions, suitable stone wall surface, and some good fortune of surviving the WWII when many old trees were cut down by the Japanese for timber, all played a part in the story of stone wall trees. After WWII, stone was soon replaced by concrete for retaining wall construction. Concrete walls left little room for new trees to enroot themselves by chance. After a few generations, the resilient stone wall trees have become iconic features for various old neighbourhoods.

Despite over a century serving to improve the micro-climate of the city, cultural and ecological significance of the stone wall trees have gone unnoticed until the recent two decades. In light of the government’s intention to demolish the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) and its iconic stone wall trees in 2005, the local resident group “Central and Western Concern Group” was formed to fight for preserving the stone wall trees as well as the heritage building. Not only has their effort succeeded in convincing the government to preserve the PMQ, they have also increased the public awareness of the stone wall trees. In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed exit for the new Kennedy Town Station in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. The admirable effort decisively preserved the largest concentration of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. Though not all cases were success stories. In 2015, five 150-year old stone wall banyans at Bonham Road were fell sneakily overnight, just because one of their neighbouring trees toppled some time ago due to heavy rain. In name of public safety, the five healthy trees were cut down before the arrival of a potential typhoon. No detailed study was made before the decision, and that particular typhoon didn’t even come close enough to pose any thread. The hasty action of the government led to a huge loss for the community and sparked public outcry. More and more people become aware that there is an urgent need to develop a strategic plan for protecting these unique urban stone wall trees before it is too late.

With a crown stretching over 28m, the Rubber Fig at Lugard Road on the peak of Tai Ping Shan is a popular attraction for selfies. Origin from India and Malaysia, Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica, 印度榕) were planted in Hong Kong to provide shade during the colonial era. [Lugard Road (盧吉道), The Peak (太平山), 2021]
The aerial roots of Chinese Banyan may look out of place in the city. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
An old Chinese Banyan is a great shade provider. [Hollywood Road Park, (荷李活道公園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The old Chinese Banyans in Blake Garden define the tranquil character of Po Hing Fong in PoHo, Sheung Wan. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2020]
The odd gesture of the Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden is said to be resulted from a typhoon. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
With a crown spread of 28m, the enormous Chinese Banyan in Blake Garden stands like a giant. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is native in China, tropical Asia and Australia. [Blake Garden (卜公花園), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Chinese Banyan is very versatile and can enroot in a wide range of urban setting, including manmade slopes in the city. [Victoria Road, Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
Quite a number of Chinese Banyans have become stone wall trees. [Tank Lane (水池巷), Sheung Wan (上環), 2017]
Stone wall trees form a unique urban scenery in the Central Western District in Hong Kong. [Between Bonham (般咸道) and Hospital Road (醫院道), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
All residents in the Central Western District are used to having the stone wall trees around. [High Street (高街), Sai Ying Pun (西營盤), 2020]
Stone wall trees are great to provide shade along narrow sidewalk where there is absolutely no room for tree planting. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
The entangling roots is part of the urban scenery. [Caine Road (堅道), Mid-Levels (半山), 2020]
Wherever there is retaining wall and terraced alleyway, there would be stone wall trees. [Tai Pak Terrace (太白臺), Kennedy Town (堅尼地城), 2020]
In many occasions, the stone wall tree is inseparable with the history and heritage of the stone wall itself. Built in 1850, this stone wall has supported the terrace for the Anglican Bishop’s House and the old St. Paul’s College for 170 years. [Ficus virens (大葉榕) at the Bishop House and St. Paul College, Lower Albert Road (下亞厘畢道), Central, 2021]
Local efforts to save the stone wall trees at the former Police Married Quarters (PMQ) in 2005 have raised public awareness on preservation of heritage buildings and old trees. [Stone wall trees and retaining wall of the PMQ along Hollywood Road (荷李活道), Central, 2020]
In 2015, five 155-year old stone wall trees at Bonham Road (般咸道) were sneakily cut down by the government in midnight. The move has sparked public outcry, especially from the immediately neighborhood. Since then, new branches have emerged from the tree stumps, once again providing shade for the bus stop below. [Junction of Centre Street and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Inflected by fungus Phellinus noxius, a prominent stone wall tree over Hospital Road (醫院道) has been diagnosed with Brown Root Rot Disease. The tree is now at risk of structural deterioration and failure. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
Manmade structural supports have been installed recently to secure the inflected stone wall tree. [Near the junction of Hospital Road and Bonham Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2020]
The 27 banyan trees at Forbes Street (科士街) is one the largest groups of stone wall trees in Hong Kong. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
In 2007, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) decided to relocate a proposed station exit in order to preserve the stone wall trees at Forbes Street. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
The penetrating ability of their roots make Chinese Banyans the perfect species to thrive on stone walls. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Built in the 1890’s, some say the Chinese Banyans at Forbes Street were planted intentionally to strengthen the stone retaining wall. [Forbes Street, Kennedy Town, 2020]
Another well known cluster of stone wall trees is found at King George V Memorial Park (佐治五世紀念公園) in Sai Ying Pun (西營盤). [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
King George V Memorial Park is located across the street from Tsan Yuk Hospital The park’s retaining walls is famous for the stone wall trees. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
Built in 1936, King George V Memorial Park was built following the death of King George V of Britain. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
35 stone wall trees lined along the retaining walls of King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
With a football pitch, childcare centre and seating areas, the park is a popular destination in Sai Ying Pun. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The atmospheric park entrance is a popular spot for film shooting. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
The Chinese Banyans provide pleasant shade for the exercise terraces along Hospital Road. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]
After 85 years, the metal plaque is almost covered by the banyan roots at King George V Memorial Park. [King George V Memorial Park, Hospital Road, Sai Ying Pun, 2021]

SLOW LIVING IN POHO, Tai Ping Shan (太平山), Hong Kong

Staycation has become a new normal for most of us. Since the pandemic began in early 2020, international tourism has come to a complete halt. We have taken this peculiar opportunity to explore Hong Kong, walking away from our usual routes, making detours into unfamiliar alleyways, and find out more about the city’s fading memories. In the next little while, we are going to write about Hong Kong, the city where we stationed ourselves since 2014. Out of the city’s 1,106 sq. km of land, we will first focus on places within 15 – 20 minutes of walking distance from our apartment, in a 2.5 sq.km area between Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour that we consider as our own neighborhood.

In the shadow of Hong Kong’s glittering skyline lies the historical Tai Ping Shan area (太平山) in Sheung Wan District (上環). Hundreds if not thousands of staircases crisscross the terraced terrain where streets are often narrow, steep and sometimes inaccessible to cars. Centered around the streets of Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan, a fashionable neighborhood known as Poho has been the focus of the Tai Ping Shan area for quite some time. A diverse combination of fine dining restaurants, causal eateries, sleepy cafes, wine store, cheese and ham shop, antique shops, cool boutiques, bookstores, barber shops, Buddhist temples, churches, schools, small design offices, small museums, youth centres, residential apartments, etc make up a multifaceted community that is quite unique in Hong Kong, not to mention the rich architectural history and collective memories since the founding of the city. Poho is a neighborhood where east meets west, traditions collide with contemporary trends, elderly mingle with young expats, and where the beauty of urban diversity still prevails over the hustle of urban gentrification.

On 20 January 1841, the British landed on the shore of Sheung Wan and established 156 years of colonial rule on Hong Kong island. Just east of Sheung Wan, the British picked the waterfront and hillside area known as Central to established the heart of their newly founded Victoria City, the capital city of Colonial Hong Kong. On the slope of Sheung Wan just above the British landing spot, the city’s first Chinese residential neighborhood Tai Ping Shan emerged right away and soon developed into the densest place in Hong Kong. Wealthy Chinese businessmen mingled with newcomers from China looking for job opportunities in this dense neighborhood. A devastating plague in 1894 swept through the streets of Tai Ping Shan, and completely transformed the physical characteristics of the neighborhood as the British decided to tackle the density and hygiene of the area and established the first hospital catered for Chinese patients. Since then, Tai Ping Shan never looked back and has transformed into the cool Poho. With the world’s most expensive property prices, Hong Kong is a synonym for rapid urban transformations. Residents across the city are used transient living conditions throughout their lives. Poho’s narrow alleyways and staircases have somehow managed to escape dramatic changes and remained a tranquil but energetic urban oasis just a stone throw away from the world famous financial district.

Centered around the pleasant Blake Garden, the POHO area of Tai Ping Shan has become a fashionable neighborhood in recent years. While the century-old temples and trendy cafes and bookstore on Tai Ping Shan Street make up a beautifully diverse community that is rare in Hong Kong, the Old Pathological Institute (Museum of Medical Sciences), Blake Garden, Pak Shing Temple and Tung Wah Hospital have all played its crucial role in the distant memory of the 1894 plague.
The pedestrian streets and stairs in Tai Ping Shan are popular for all kinds of filming, from movies, television series to advertisements. U Lam Terrace (儒林台), one of the several pedestrian only terraces built in the early years of Hong Kong.
At the corner of U Lam Terrace and Tank Lane, the sleepy cafe Lof10 has become a popular hub for dog owners in our neighborhood.
Reached at either end by stairs only, the pedestrian only U Lam Terrace is a pleasant example of Hong Kong residential terrace from a bygone era. “U Lam” literally means “forest of scholars” in Chinese.
The vintage ambience of Poho attracts nostalgic visitors during weekends.
Once the densest neighborhood in the city, a century later Poho becomes a livable neighborhood sandwiched between the waterfront business district and the affluent Mid Levels.
Opened in 1906, the Bacteriological Institute was a medical laboratory to tackle the plague and other infectious diseases in Hong Kong. Vaccines were produced in the building until 1970s. The building was named the Old Pathological Institute in the 1960s after the main facility was moved to a newer building. It was turned into the Museum of Medical Sciences in 1996.
The 1894 plague in Hong Kong claimed thousands, and forced one third of the city’s population to flee. Originated from the Chinese province of Yunnan, the plague arrived in Hong Kong in 1894 and through Hong Kong’s maritime trade, eventually spread to all continents in the world except Antarctica.
A historical staircase adjacent to the Museum of Medical Sciences leads to Po Hing Fong (普慶坊), a century old neighborhood of wealthy Chinese.
In recent years, Po Hing Fong has been transformed into a trendy spot in recent years. Named after Po Hing Fong, this area of Tai Ping Shan is now commonly referred to as Poho, a haven of slow living: hand drip coffee, European bakery, private gallery, pottery workshop, artist studios, vintage clothing, yoga workshop, etc.
Compared to the dazzling Soho entertainment district nearby, Poho is relatively peaceful, causal, and warm.
Below Caine Lane and behind Capo pizza shop hides the lovely Tutu clay workshop.
Between Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan Street lies Blake Garden (卜公花園). As the epicenter of the 1894 plague, buildings in this part of Tai Ping Shan were bought and demolished by the British colonial government and turned into Blake Garden.
Today, Blake Garden is a small urban park with hard courts for football, basketball, badminton and volleyball.
Given the density and the sloped terrain of Hong Kong Island, Blake Garden is a precious open space for the Poho neighborhood.
Sleepy cafes of Po Hing Fong have become popular gathering spots for expats, creative professionals and the young generation.
Another stair street known as Pound Lane connects Po Hing Fong to higher terraces.
Landings between stair streets have become venues for more cafes, galleries, yoga workshops in recent years.
The tranquil Tai On Terrace (大安臺) above Po Hing Fong has attracted small design companies to set up their offices in an urban oasis kind of setting in just 15 minute of walking distance to the city’s financial centre.
The western end of Po Hing Fong stands Tung Wah Hospital. Established in 1870, Tung Wah Hospital was the first hospital in Hong Kong to receive Chinese patients. Due to the mistrust to Western medicine in the past, the hospital originally treated patients with Chinese medicine. Before Tung Wah Hospital, Chinese patients preferred going to Pak Shing Temple in Tai Ping Shan Street for treatment and a peaceful death.
A 1870 photograph taken from Tung Wah Hospital looking southeast towards Po Hing Fong and Caine Road. A group of houses in the left part of the photo would be torn down in 1894 to tackle the plague outbreak.
[Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]

AFTERNOON SAFARI, Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.13

Day 9 (4 of 4).

Udawalawe National Park is often considered to be the best place for elephant sighting outside of Africa.  Advertised for 100% guaranteed elephant sighting, Udawalawe should not disappoint anyone who come for the biggest mammals on land.  For other animals, especially large mammals like leopards or sloth bears, super good luck and an experienced guide/driver are probably needed for any chance of success.  The park is also a fine venue for bird sightings, with both permanent and migratory species.

We didn’t have a whole lot of wild safari experience other than the Brazilian Pantanal.  Unlike Pantanal in Brazil where we could choose between boat, 4×4 vehicle, or even a morning safari hike, Udawalawe National Park could only be visited by 4×4 vehicles.  All 4×4 vehicles enter the park from one entrance, and most tours would start either at 6am or 2pm, and last for 4 hours.  Unlike the famous Yala National Park in Southern Sri Lanka where all visitors flock to chase after the elusive leopards and as soon as one leopard is spotted all vehicles would rush to the same spot, 4×4 drivers at Udawalawe tend to disperse into different areas of the park.  The first safari tour we had at Udawalawe was a afternoon drive.

01Sri Lankan elephant is usually one of the first large animals to be spotted in the park.

04Sri Lankan elephant is the largest of the three subspecies of Asian elephants.

07Native to the island, Sri Lankan elephant has a widespread distribution in the country.

08With a population of 2500 to 4000c Sri Lankan elephants have been listed endangered on IUCN’s Red List since 1986.

03Oriental garden lizards are commonly found throughout much of Asia.

09The oriental garden lizard can change its colours.  During mating season, a male lizard changes its head and shoulders to orange or crimson, and its throat to black.

05Much larger than oriental garden lizard, the Bengal monitor lizards can grow up to 175cm long.

02Known by their rich colours and predominant diet of flying insects like bees and wraps, the green bee-eaters are common in the park.

06Reside in India, Sri Lanka, and much of Southeast Asia, the changeable hawk eagle is also known as crest hawk due to its feature on the head.  They are medium size birds of prey, and are usually solitary except in breeding periods.

11The number of Indian peafowls or peacocks (male) we have seen in Udawalawe was probably ten times more than the total number of times that we had ever seen these birds in the past.  Peacocks dancing, eating, running, and even flying, males, females, or juveniles, you name it, we have seen it.

10The steady supply of water of the reservoir is probably the main reason why wild animals gather in Udawalawe National Park.

12Even with their distinctive curved horns, no one knows for sure whether these wild water buffalos are truly wild, or if they are descendants of domestic buffaloes.  With about 3,400 across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, wild water buffalo has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1986.

13Painted storks can be found in wetlands throughout tropical Asia.

14Native to the island, the endangered Sri Lankan leopard has a population of 750-900.  Spotting one of the park’s 10-12 leopards was like winning the jackpot, given the reserve has 30,821 hectares of land (more than 5 times the area of Manhattan Island).

15Usually live in herds, the Sri Lankan axis deer or Ceylon spotted deer once roam freely across the dry zone of the island.  Now their conservation status is considered as vulnerable.

16Towards the end of our tour, a curious Sri Lankan elephants followed us and get pretty close to our vehicle.

17Before leaving the park, we had a unique encounter with two Sri Lankan elephants who greeted each other with their trunks and made a whole lot of sounds.

18The greeting gesture of the two Sri Lankan elephants seemed friendly, as if a person was hugged by another person.

19After the passionate change of the two elephants, one of the two elephants seemed to be interested in our vehicle and stayed much longer.

20Near the main park exit, we spotted a curious mongoose climbing out from a drainage channel.  It stayed just for a split second and dashed out of our sight.