It was an attack on the senses when we first walked around the bird garden market. There are so many captive songbirds here, either for sale, or being ‘walked’ and hung in the garden’s trees by their owners. When you realise that these creatures will probably never have the opportunity to fly it can feel quite harrowing and yet the culture of the men who dote on them is fascinating.
I must admit the bird garden became a guilty pleasure and I would look forward to spending time amongst the greenery (in short supply in Mong Kok) and surrounded by bird song. I can see how for the bird keepers, spending time in the company of so many birds and like-minded souls could be relaxing and an escape from hectic city living.
The surrounding trees are packed with other birds too, no doubt drawn to the area by the abundance of bird feed – primarily living feed such as maggots and grasshoppers fed through cage bars with chopsticks.
The birds all looked healthy and the cages are splendidly crafted from bamboo, teak or rosewood. There is seemingly endless fascination for the bird men to stare admiringly at their coloured captives or other people’s pets, constantly fussing over them, adjusting the cages, switching branches, placing them in a sunny spot for a while, then covering them with a gauze so they do not to get too much sun. This led to some frustration in the painting as I don’t know the Cantonese for “Stop moving the bloody birds!”
A book featuring this work can be purchased at our Picture Library