Hong Kong Gardens

The Martini of Destiny, by Anthony St. ClairCreated by Aw Boon Haw, inventor of the herbal ointment Tiger Balm, the Aw Boon Haw Gardens (or Tiger Balm Gardens) were completed in 1936. The 7-acre park in Causeway Bay’s Wan Chai District was jam-packed with life-like concrete sculptures. No central plan guided the construction. Haw communicated his vision to local craftsmen, and the craftsmen were allowed to design and build according to their own mythologies. The end result was a strange, other-worldly tableau of fantastical scenes.

In the grounds of the Gardens, mermaids, phoenixes and dragons were but a few of the fantastical creatures that interwove with scenes from history and mythology, including a version of hell that vividly shows punishments meted out to the corrupt and the criminal. Small shrines rose up on concrete formed to seem like natural rock formations. A roaring tiger prepared to pounce. And above it all rose the white, 7-story Tiger Pagoda, the only one of its kind in the massive city.

For over half a century the Gardens provided a kitschy delight to locals and travelers alike. Parents brought their kids; foreigners came with cameras. The tight, windy paths, lack of focal points and endless array of figures captivated visitors.

And then, in 1998, the property’s heir sold the Garden complex to a land company for redevelopment.

In 2004, the Gardens and the Tiger Pagoda were demolished. The legendary Aw Boon Haw Gardens now have been replaced by The Legend, a luxury residential complex. Some of the statuary survives in private collections, but the Gardens’ “Chinese Disneyland” grandeur now exists only in memory, a few photos, and books such as .

While the Hong Kong Gardens are gone, other versions live on in Singapore and China’s Fujian Province.

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A special martini gives courage to a doubting man, a ghost doesn’t pay for his pints, a destiny-slinging bartender questions everything, and the world will never be the same. The first Rucksack Universe Novella E-book, The Martini of Destiny is available June 20, 2013.

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