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Bird Walking in Hong Kong

Birdcages in Hong Kong

Bird Walking in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong it's not the dogs that get aired; it's the birds. If you are up early, you will see trees dripping bird cages. Bird lovers, believing that birds cooped up indoors in the city's crowded apartments become depressed and lose their will to sing, head for the parks with their caged companions at about 6 a.m. each day. They try to make the bird's day brighter and enhance its warbling through discourse with other birds, an ancient ritual dating back centuries to the Imperial Qing dynasty of the Manchus.

When these nomads broke through the Great Wall in 1644 and conquered Beijing, they introduced the art of bird raising. The conquerors became a privileged elite, favored for life by the emperor with an imperial living allowance, which freed them from the drudgery of work. Instead, they spent their time sipping tea in tea houses, gossiping, listening to story-tellers, and discussing the intricacies of feeding and raising birds. Ancient cartoons captured these idle rich fanning themselves with one hand while holding a bird cage in the other.

In 1911, with the onset of revolution, the former nobles, lacking work skills, were forced into the common labor of street vendors, porters, and rag collectors. But their fanatic devotion to birds has survived.

Following the outing, somewhere between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., bird lovers rendezvous daily for morning tea at one of many "bird restaurants" to compare pets and argue the finer points of care and feeding.

Some owners walk cages up and down the aisles so their birds can converse; others sit at tables with cages open, drinking tea and stroking their pets.

The shopping mall for birds and bird supplies is Yuen Po Street Complex, near Mong Kok Stadium in the Mong Kok district. Among a maze of accessories, birds are sold in all colors and sizes from tiny sparrows to large colorful parrots, with song birds most highly prized. About 70 percent of the birds are imported from the mainland; the others, from Southeast Asia and South Africa.

The Luk Yu teahouse, an unofficial historical monument with extraordinary character, is located at 26 Stanley St. in Central district on Hong Kong Island. It is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Dim sum hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tel. 2523-5464. This 60-year-old restaurant is a living museum, stocked with brass spittoons, marble-backed chairs, and kettle warmers. It serves fine Cantonese cuisine.

For More Info: Contact the Hong Kong Tourist Association, 590 Fifth Ave., New York NY 10036. Tel. 212-869-5008.

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