In dense urban areas such as Hong Kong, the human connection to nature can at times feel distant. Concrete blocks and glass skyscrapers surround the city centre, interrupted only by carefully curated gardens and nature parks.

With the unrelenting pressures of Covid-19 and political tension, many have turned to the outdoors for some peace.

This series, by photographer Katherine Cheng, explores the experiences of Hongkongers rebuilding a relationship with nature through their five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Local flora was used as a way to showcase the history and ecosystems of Hong Kong.

“By isolating our senses one at a time and grounding ourselves through nature this way, it can become a meditative experience that nudges us to rethink how we connect with nature – physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” she says.

Touch

Photo: Katherine Cheng

Amanda Yik, a forest therapy guide, puts her hand over her heart as she feels the gentle breeze and warm sunlight on her skin. In 2007, right when she thought she was at her fittest, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Her body broke down, and two years of invasive treatment followed. All the energy she could afford was walking across the road to the park for a stroll. Printed on Bauhinia leaf, the symbolic flower of Hong Kong’s flag, coat of arms, and coins.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

It was through these slow, gentle strolls in her community park that Amanda discovered how she could enjoy nature in a completely different way. Finding a quiet seat under the tree, allowing her eyes to relax into a gentle focus, breathing in the morning air… It gave her the kind of comfort and grounding that nothing else offered. Printed on King fern.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

Amanda feels the water run over her feet in a river near Braemer Hill, where she used to live. At the time, she would wander through the trails for a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city. Through her journey, she has since become a forest bathing guide, encouraging others to embrace these exercises in their own lives. Printed on a Palm leaf with Scheffera silhouettes.

Smell

Photo: Katherine Cheng

Wild Man, known as “Yeah Man” in Chinese, gently cradles and smells a turmeric plant that he had grown. Printed on turmeric leaf.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

The plants that he grows are diverse, including this flower of the turmeric plant that Wild Man was holding. Turmeric leaf.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

Growing and making his own tea and food, Wild Man now teaches his way of living to others by inviting them to spend time on his farm. He plans the plots of his land with his students. Printed on turmeric leaf. It will be featured in an upcoming group exhibition. For a recipe of a Ginger Turmeric Tea to replicate the aroma, click here.

Taste

Photo: Katherine Cheng

Raymond Kwan, a resident of Ma Shi Po, locks up the gate to his home for the final time. Residents and farmers from Ma Shi Po and similar villages on the outskirts of Hong Kong have been experiencing evictions as farmland is repossessed for land development. Printed on papaya leaf.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

Aerial view of the community farms in Ma Shi Po, on the last day of Mr. Kwan’s eviction. Speaking with authorities, he is told that he will have to leave his part of the farmland before 2024. “Some people do this for fun, but for us – it was our livelihood.” Printed on papaya leaf.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

A 45-minute drive away, an urban greenhouse can be seen on the western coast of Hong Kong island. The first urban farm here to incorporate hydroponics, aquaponics and organic farming systems, they hold guided tours, teaching programmes, and farming activities for the public. At night, curious passers-by are entranced by the bright glow of the LED purple grow lights. Printed on butter leaf lettuce, grown by the farm. For a recipe of an Apple Walnut butter lettuce salad, click here.

Sound

Photo: Katherine Cheng

AK is a sound designer, sound engineer, and field recordist who took on the mission of documenting the natural soundscape of Hong Kong. Creating a local sound library and sound map of natural sounds, he wants people to rethink how they interact with nature – through an unconventional sensory experience. Printed on a Giant Taro leaf.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

The project “AK IN KK means “I am in Hong Kong.” AK is the name of the project’s founder and KK means Hong Kong, which is the common abbreviation from the grid reference coordination system covering the major part of Hong Kong. The two-letter symbols are commonly seen on distance posts and maps upon the hills. Printed on a partial Fan Palm leaf.

Photo: Katherine Cheng

In revisiting the location where he first started this project with an amplifier, sounds of conversations, traffic, and birds are mixed together in this urban natural environment. Given the hilly geography, Hong Kong has many hiking trails that are intertwined closely with the cityscape. Printed on a Giant Taro Leaf. To hear the sounds recorded during this day and explore the AK IN KK sound map project, click here.


Katherine Cheng is a documentary photographer and videographer. Based in between Toronto, Canada and Hong Kong, her work explores questions on climate change, social movements, and cultural identity. For more information, visit www.katherinekycheng.com.

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