Slow Hong Kong: A Visit to the Zoo

The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens consist of two parts linked by a subway beneath Albany Road. I like to watch the pretty cars that drive down this route from the Mid-Levels to Central. They’re surrounded by red taxis and shuttles from posh apartment towers filled with domestic helpers, their tote bags empty.


puff cheeked gibbon

I can see everything from the top of my cage. I’m a monkey in the zoo – a puff-cheeked gibbon, to be precise.

I’m the one who makes children laugh when they visit with their nanny, their grandparents or their school.

I balance, I jump, I scratch my head, I chase my companions and check them for lice. At times, I scream as loudly as an alarm on a stolen car. I entertain them, these absurd humans. Some even applaud my acrobatics.

Sometimes, I dream I was like them – free.

The first thing I would do would be to visit the 5.6 hectares spanned by the gardens.

I would go sniff the plants in the Herb Garden that everyone seems to forget about. They are missing out; to get there, they would pass by the lovely carps that paddle around their pond.

I would like to go meet the 30 reptiles, 70 mammals and 240 birds that live in the gardens.

I would go visit the Brazza’s monkey; you won’t believe your eyes when you see his white beard, which makes him look like an old sage, despite the fact that he loves playing inside his giant plastic frog. I even think he has the same barber as the emperor tamarin, whose style is focused on his moustache.

I wonder if he is stronger than his neighbour, the golden-headed lion tamarin.

I would go take acrobatics classes with Wah Wah and Wan Wan, the twin Bornean orangutans.

I would take a little nap with the black and white ruffed lemurs. They seem so soft.

I would ask the Hoffamn’s two-toed sloth how he gets by with only two toes. And what does he see when he dangles from a branch?

I would ask him what it’s like to live with the white-faced saki.

I would congratulate both of them on their good taste in decorating their cage with pretty stone lanterns.

I would ask for advice on leading a truly slow life.

I would say hi to the cat, that happy mammal who has the privilege to wander freely through the leafy lanes of the garden, beneath the palm trees and camellias.

Then I would take the subway to the chic side of the park, where there is a fountain, snack bar and bronze statue of King George VI. They don’t deny themselves anything, over here in the old part of the garden.fountaine_skylineIn the Time Tunnel, I would read about the history of the garden, created in 1871 and turned into a zoo in 1975, although there have always been a few animals kept on the grounds.

Leaving the tunnel, I would admire the view of Hong Kong’s skyline.

I would not be intimidated by the blue cranes and red-crowned cranes looking at me from on hight.

I would take a photo of the American flamingos that balance like ballerinas in a Degas painting.

I promise not to laugh when I glimpse the head of the yellow-casqued hornbill, despite my urge to. Yes, I know I’m a joker. Maybe it’s to forget I am on the verge of extinction?

I would try to talk to the blue and yellow macaws.

I would watch with affection the children who liven up the park dedicated to them, beneath a flyover that doesn’t seem to disturb them.

I would return to the freshness of the fountain.

I would ask the scarlet ibis what the view is like from the top of their trees. Maybe they can see Government House, that pretty 19th century mansion built in white stone, which serves as another sort of cage, for another sort of creature?

I would make my way through the small bamboo grove, where I would secretly inscribe the name of that beautiful ring-tailed lemur, so fashionable with her black and white tail.

Arriving at the granite arch that honours the Chinese who fought alongside the Allied soldiers in the two world wars, I would think of my family, my cage, my routine and I would return to see my own kind. I would tell them everything I saw – and that, in the end, humans aren’t as silly as they seem.


Translated from the French by Christopher DeWolf.

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