Wednesday 12 November 2014

Hong Kong caged bird market

Kowloon bird cageHong Kong is hot, very tall and very, very crowded.

This lack of space prevents people owning traditional pets. When your apartment is under 100sq metres in size and 20 stores above the ground, dogs and cats aren't very practical.

This has lead to a tradition of keeping cage birds that dates back to the Chinese origins of the place.

Birds are kept in traditional bamboo cages with a large hook on the top and handle on the bottom. The hook allows the cage to be hung up where ever the owner is and the handle lets them carry it around.

Carry it around?

Yes. On Sundays, there is a tradition of taking birds for a "walk" in one of the parks. Owners can be seen carrying the cages around in the manner of waiters carrying a tray. If it's too sunny, the cage and its occupant is protected with a special fitted calico cover.

The hook is used for hanging the cage up either at home, or as a film in the Museum of History shows, some of the more traditional cafes.

The other place to take your bird is Yuen Po Bird Garden, or the Hong Kong Bird Market in the north of Kowloon. People visit here to buy supplies including bags of live crickets, and to chat, look at each others pets and even chose a new pet if the cage, which can also be bought, is empty.

Bird cages

Wandering around the market is fascinating. Watch a travel show on TV or read a travelogue in a book and this is the sort of place the presenter/author will drop in to. Most of us are too busy doing the sights and don't have a production crew to search these places out.

Market stalls 2The market isn't large, you could walk through it in a couple of minutes, but it is crowded and atmospheric. A bit smelly too but in an atmospheric way.

I was surprised that tourists didn't outnumber the locals when I visited. OK, there were people with cameras, including me, but not that many and they didn't seem to get in the way much.

There are several shelters where people gathered to meet up and chat or play Go. It's basically an outdoor social club.

Being a tropical country, the birds seemed very happy. Colourful species proliferated, ideal as you'd want something bright in your apartment. The largest birds were parrots and cockatoos but most it was finches on offer.

In a city full of noise and neon, and interesting oasis of calm.

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