I like to explore industrial areas when I visit a new city and Hong Kong was no exception. While the city is compact, with real estate and developable land extremely precious and highly valuable, small areas still remain reserved for warehousing and distribution. It was in one of these small areas that I stumbled across a unique neighbourhood and accompanying public space.
In Sheung Wan, located in the northwest corner of Hong Kong Island, the products being bought, stored and sold are highly desired and don’t take up much room—it’s the nexus of medicinal herb wholesale and retail commerce. In addition to semi-official looking international trade exchanges, there are tarps and bamboo trays full of roots and berries splayed on the area’s sidewalks—catching the rare slivers of Hong Kong’s sunlight.
To my surprise, in between the two main streets of this niche district, I came upon a small pocket park. To say public open space is at a premium in Hong Kong is to express a supreme understatement. While semi-shaded with limited seating options, the park was purposeful and thematically appropriate to its surroundings. If you found yourself in Sheung Wan and weren’t sure why you would want to buy any of the hundreds of natural herbal treatments available, you could go to this park and learn about the plant/herb/tree/berry that would best cure what ailed you.
The park contains 100 species of plants used for medicinal purposes in Chinese medicine. Each is labeled in its planter and corresponds to a poster with a photo of the plant and additional details on its character and application.
This sign introduces the notion of the park, and goes into great detail about its behind the scenes planning and implementation—including the names and credentials of the fact checkers—but it never acknowledges the connection to the adjacent neighborhood, as if by pure coincidence the park is located here.
Hong Kong can be very confusing to the uninitiated—the language, the narrow streets, the food, the crowds, the flow, the etiquette. It can also be very hard to find somewhere public to sit and rest for a moment. For the wanderer to come across a guide to the mysterious world of Eastern Medicine and a bench on which to rest one’s weary feat is quite a gift.
Jill Slater is a native New Yorker. Formerly a city planner for the City of San Francisco, Jill now lives and writes in her hometown.
photos by the author