HK Magazine: What does a tree surgeon do? Sammy Au: Our duties include inspecting, planting and pruning trees. The people in this industry don’t wear ties and suits and go to meetings with a straight face: We’re practical. It’s also a very professional career. There are five levels of arborists: certified, qualified, practicing, master and consulting arborist. I’m Asia’s only consulting arborist. HK: What’s the arborist industry like in Hong Kong? SA: The caliber of arborists is quite questionable. There are about 1,100 certified arborists—who only have to pass a test with 200 multiple choice questions—but only fewer than five practicing arborists and only about five master arborists. Hong Kong does “one dollar tree inspections”: arborists inspect several hundred trees a day for one dollar each. Clients are not willing to pay a high price for trees. HK: How did you become a tree surgeon? SA: I actually did not like trees! I’m an engineer originally. I studied and worked in England. But my family has been running a landscaping company for two generations. I had plans to shut down the company after a year, but it turns out landscaping jobs don’t get fully paid until after a couple of years. Then I started to dig deeper into plants. By the time I became an expert in trees, I felt proud: that feeling where you know things that most people don’t. I’m stuck with trees now. HK: What’s the tree situation like in Hong Kong? SA: Hong Kong’s trees are miserable. In other cities, trees are treated like people: They’re loved and cared for properly. In Hong Kong, trees are a liability. People only want to get rid of them. Hongkongers don’t mind having a tree close by, but if they have to pay for it, then no deal. In New York City, there are about 1,000 tree-work companies. Hong Kong has fewer than five. Most tree companies in Hong Kong spend most of their time managing lawns and growing flowers. HK: What frustrates you the most? SA: One thing is when clients think they can make me change my technical opinion just because they have money. A developer once contacted me about a tree in this big plot of land, asking me to write a report advising them to cut the tree. I would never remove a tree without good reasons. I said no and walked away. But many don’t. HK: What’s the most worst tree problem? SA: Hong Kong’s tree management is terrible. The trees are shorter because the design is so poor. There is no space between trees for them to grow: it’s like a refugee camp. The parks are already small. So why cram so many trees in such small spaces, such as Victoria Park? Is it Victoria Park or Victoria tropical forest? I would say 99.9 percent of Hong Kong’s trees are a liability because of poor planting strategies. In Wan Chai, 10-meter tall trees are planted into one-meter by one-meter holes. The foundation is weak and they could easily fall in a strong wind. HK: What has been the most exciting case of your career? SA: The case concerning Maryknoll Convent School’s Ghost Pine tree. It was a historical tree, but my professional judgment told me it needed to be removed. It was me against the Hong Kong government. I inspected the tree for a full day and I determined that the bottom part was nearly hollowed out by termites. It was near a road, and the stakes were very high. HK: What about the job makes you happy? SA: I love tree climbing. When you’re up there, the world is quiet. You feel cheerful and hopeful—something I don’t feel on the ground. Also, no one can annoy me when I’m at the top of a tree. I can enjoy a moment of peace. Learn more about Tree Surgery at www.chinaarbor.com .