Hong Kong's Bird Garden
They have live grasshoppers for sale! Where could you go in Hong Kong if you wanted to buy a bag full of juicy, green grasshoppers? Why the Bird Garden in Mong Kok of course! Here shopkeepers charge a tidy sum for an insect many farmers would pay to have someone keep out of their fields. Grasshoppers aren’t seen as pests in Hong Kong where birds are people’s favorite pets. Grasshoppers of course are the perfect food for birds! Budgies, finches, sparrows and canaries are only a few of the more than one hundred kinds of birds people keep in their apartments in Hong Kong. The Chinese believe the presence of birds in your home makes your wishes come true. Stand quietly in the hallways of most apartment buildings in Hong Kong and you are likely to hear bird songs coming from behind the closed doors around you. The average apartment in Hong Kong is less than 500 square feet. In such limited space a bird is one of the best pets to have.
Naturally all these birds need to eat and in the Bird Garden, located near the Mongkok KCR station, there are a hundred shops specializing in bird food. Not only live grasshoppers are for sale however. You can also buy jars of chirping crickets and scoops full of writhing worms. And how do you feed these delicious treats to your pet? Why with chopsticks of course! They are the perfect tools for passing little creatures through the bars of a bird cage into the open mouth of your feathered friend.
The shops in the Bird Garden don’t only sell food though. They also market a whole variety of birds. People don’t seem to mind spending $800 for a singing pet. The hand crafted bamboo cages in the Bird Garden shops are expensive too. Naturally a birdcage must be well furnished so swings and beautifully painted food and water dishes are also for sale. It is a matter of some pride for owners to provide a nicely decorated place for their bird to live.
First time visitors to Hong Kong might be surprised to see people taking their birds for a walk. Particularly on the weekends there are many older men strolling down the streets with a birdcage in their hand. If you visit a small village area in the New Territories on a Sunday morning you’re bound to come upon an outdoor restaurant filled with bird lovers. Dozens of cages will be suspended from special rods around the courtyard. You’ll see elderly men sitting at the tables drinking tea, smoking and playing mahjong. A few will no doubt be standing under the bird cages, hands behind their backs, looking critically at the chirping pets on display.
As you enter the Bird Garden at Mong Kok you will see many groups of senior citizens visiting and examining each other’s birds. This is a very popular pastime especially for retired gentlemen in Hong Kong. They tell their wives they are taking their birds out for a walk and then they get together in the Bird Park to socialize. Apparently a great deal of bird comparing goes on as well. Who has the pet with the most colorful feathers and the most beautiful voice?
Birds have been part of Chinese culture for a long time. Have you heard of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Emperor and the Nightingale? It is the story of a Chinese emperor who is inspired by the beautiful songs of a nightingale bird in his garden. When the emperor of Japan gives him a wind-up mechanical nightingale as a gift he comes to love it more than the real nightingale. However the artificial bird breaks down after awhile and the emperor grows sad without the beautiful songs of a nightingale bird in his life. He soon is so depressed and weak that everyone is sure he will die. It is only when the real nightingale returns once again to sing to him that he regains his health and happiness.
Perhaps because of this famous story birds have often been associated with royalty and the rich in China. That is why when the Communists took over China they encouraged people to get rid of their pet birds. The Communists replaced the emperors and wanted the poor people of China to rule the country. Anything associated with those who were wealthy or royal was considered bad. However since Hong Kong only became part of China in 1997 and was ruled by the British till then, birds were not considered a bad thing there and people could still own them for pets and enjoy their lovely songs.
We can be glad there are so many birds in Hong Kong! On streets where you can hear the noise from hundreds of rumbling trains, thousands of cell phones, and millions of people chattering away in Cantonese, Mandarin and English, the song of birds is a welcome and lovely diversion. The birds of Hong Kong are part of what makes the city a charming and fascinating place to live.
Published on 11/1/09