Tuesday, 7 June 2011

in praise of trees

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is now.
Chinese proverb.
If you mention Fanling to someone who is familiar with the place, they are most likely to comment about the trees. There are rather a lot of them, and they make the town more attractive than it otherwise would be, given the often horrendous traffic. In fact, they are what make Fanling such a pleasant place, especially in the springtime, when new growth and intensely colourful flowers combine to create the illusion of an urban woodland with high-rise apartments, factories and other buildings merely set down in the spaces between the trees (see the first photo to get an idea of what I mean). This post is a follow-on from Spring Fever.

The traffic seems almost incidental.

The cotton trees are always the first to flower, probably because they do so before bothering to poke out any leaves. They were in full bloom throughout March this year, which is up to ten days longer than usual. I believe that the explanation for this is a lack of rain during the month, because a heavy downpour soon dislodges wilting flowers.

I like trees. I like to look at them. I like to photograph them. I like the way they take their time. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we slow our lives down to keep pace with trees—we’d probably have to hibernate in the winter for a start—but they do provide a steady reminder that living life at breakneck speed means only that you will get to your destination more quickly than you intended. With this in mind, I offer the following photographs, to be perused at leisure:

The Chinese are tenacious in hanging on to their traditional cultural practices, and I imagine that this impromptu shrine among the roots of a venerable banyan tree, alongside the busiest road in Fanling, is to some local tutelary deity.

And this is the busiest road in Fanling. The tall, straight trees on the right of the picture are paper-bark trees (once used for that purpose by indigenous villagers), and they form the beginning of a majestic double avenue for the next half-mile leading off the picture to the right. I’ve not yet identified the flowering trees in the middle distance, but there are a lot of them around the place.

A cycle track running alongside the avenue of paper-bark trees.

Half a tree, half a tree, half a tree onward….

Among the many introduced species of ornamental tree in Hong Kong, none is more spectacular in bloom than the flame tree, originally from Madagascar. This is a relatively small specimen in a public basketball court in Luen Wo Hui. Eight of these trees are visible from our balcony, but only one was in full bloom when I left for the UK. I’m not going to come here so early next year. At least Paula has been taking some pictures, so I’ll know what I’ve been missing.


  1. I miss the flame tree and all the cicadas in the summer. We call it phoenix tree in Taiwan.

  2. Hi Dennis,

    Thanks for your comment. I live in Shekou, Shenzhen, but if I were to take the train from Luohu, I would be in Fanling in about 20 minutes. I am trying to present a completely subjective view of China drawn from my experiences; some are good, others bad but usually slightly humourous. I am interested in what you think about your experiences in Hong Kong and China as well.


    Pete Cowell

  3. To me these pictures are a window into a far off land, but to the people who walk its sidewalks or drive down its streets, it is simply where they live, the norm. I often wonder if our streets and lives seem likewise exotic to them.

  4. Truly magnificent. Trees are great. Before the District Offices and DBs got involved in the 80s it was mainly Highways Dept that did the tree planting. Now we see street trees in places like Wan Chai. They give out oxygen, absorb CO2 and make us feel good. Give them a hug when you can!!

  5. Trees are great. They give out oxygen, absorb CO2 and make us feel good. Most of the NT trees were planted by the Highways Dept before the District Boards got involved in the 80s through the Green Wan Chai scheme. Don't forget to give them a hug as you pass!

  6. Thank you for that useful information Mr Green. I had no idea that the Highways Department had been involved in tree planting, although with regard to Wan Chai a lot of the trees there were planted at the behest of a friend of mine, who was the District Officer there in the 1980s.


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