Li Ka-shing

A garden to treasure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 December, 1998, 12:00am


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IT is sad news indeed that one of Hong Kong's best-known tourist attractions and perhaps its most fascinating ornamental garden is to be sold for redevelopment.

A visit to Tiger Balm Garden with its depictions of beasts and demons from Chinese mythology and its traditional Chinese architecture has been an essential part of every childhood and many tourist's itinerary since it was opened to the public in 1980. Long before that, however, ever since Aw Boon-haw built it in 1935, it attracted visitors.

But now the Tiger Balm tycoon's newspaper publisher daughter, Sally Aw Sian, has sold the garden for development by Li Ka-shing and Cheung Kong (Holdings), who will use part of the land for housing, while retaining some as a theme park. If the park is tastefully done, it may still claim some of the original's appeal. But it is hard to imagine it will have the same drawing power in a much reduced space which will be hemmed in by new buildings.

Perhaps visitors will still come to see it, despite the years of site development and construction ahead. The Hong Kong Tourist Association will no doubt try its best to promote its attractions and remind visitors of its history. But to those who knew it as it has been in recent years, Tiger Balm Garden could become a sadly diminished place, most likely sanitised and commercialised and perhaps with little of its present special character.

The garden is, of course, privately owned and it is up to Ms Aw to dispose of as she sees fit. It is, most likely, not something she would wish to do if she did not have to raise the cash. No doubt Mr Li will also feel it is up to him to do as he wants with his new acquisition. He would not, after all, have been willing to part with an estimated $100 million for the site, without expecting to make a profit from developing it.

But it is remarkable that in the present economic climate, when the SAR desperately needs to attract tourists, that one of the truly unique places in the urban area should be allowed to be revised with such abandon.

It would be comforting to believe that the development will be subject to stringent planning controls, and that both Mr Li and the Government will take the utmost care to ensure the site is not spoiled for all but the privileged few who will be able to make their homes near the new garden.