HONG KONG—The one place I visit the most here is not Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui or the Harbour City-Ocean Centre mall or Victoria Peak up the mountains. It’s not a ride aboard the iconic Star Ferry or a stroll along Granville Road. It’s not even inside shops like H & M or Esprit or Uniqlo or Giordano. The one site I frequent almost daily?
Victoria Park. I love Victoria Park! Almost each early morning here, I jog about half a kilometer from my hotel in Wan Chai and visit the ground that’s filled with hundreds of Hong Kongers.
Covering an area of 19 hectares, Victoria Park is the largest park in the Hong Kong Island. It’s situated in Causeway Bay and has been a Hong Kong fixture—though not as centrally-located as its New York City counterpart, the Central Park—for a long time. Built in honor or Queen Victoria, it’s been opened, 24 hours daily, to the Hong Kong public for the past 52 years.
What can you see here? Plenty of teenagers, footballers, grandparents, tennis players, school children, swimmers, moms and daughters, joggers—all converged in one open-space arena to engage in one activity: exercise.
This exercise haven I call exercise heaven. Here, I run. Around the two-hectare center lawn that’s covered with grass, there’s a rectangular and winding-shaped jogging path that’s 600 meters long. I run around there. The best part? It’s rubberized surface (just like our soon-to-be-renovated Cebu City Sports Center) which is soft on the knees. I run 6K or 8K or 10K—so do hundreds of others here who breathe unpolluted air and gaze at the tree-filled path that’s perfect for joggers.
Tennis courts? There are 14 in all, including a Centre Court (where our Davis Cup Philippine team beat Hong Kong several months ago) with a seating capacity of 3,600. While jogging is free, it’s an hourly rate of HK$42 (about P250) at one of the 13 side tennis courts and, if you want to experience the enormity of Centre Court, it’s available at double the price. (I’m looking forward to a tennis match here with former Cebu No.1, Rico Abadia.)
Swimming pools? Of course. There’s a standard 50-meter pool, a training pool, a diving pool, a children’s pool and one paddling pool—all pools with a combined capacity of 1,100 swimmers!
With soccer, the park has six pitches lined up side-by-side. (What’s not good is that it’s not grass, but cement. Last Sunday, I saw plenty of footballers who braved the rain and risked heavy injury while playing on its hard surface.)
It has a roller skating rink and four basketball courts. Two lawn bowling greens and squash and table tennis courts are available.
But my favorite spot apart from the running path? It’s the six “fitness stations” that are scattered around the park. There, you’ll find chinning bars, push-up handle-bars, sit-up tables—all types and sizes of exercise equipment for all to use.
Open spaces. Yes, Victoria Park has many of those where dozens of Hong Kong residents group together for tai-chi or yoga or ballroom-dancing sessions. (It’s funny because in one corner you’ll hear ancient Chinese music being played where a group is meditating or practicing tai-chi; in another spot you’ll see gray-haired women dancing their bellies to the tune of the hit song Poker Face.)
It’s an awesome sight, watching 70-year-olds, 80-year-olds, 90-year-olds, hundreds of them, morning after morning, in Victoria Park to sweat and inhale fresh air and meet up with best friends. It’s rejuvenating and revitalizing. It’s exercise heaven.
To me, personally, Victoria Park brings special meaning. It was here last year where the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon finished. It was in this venue where, after succumbing to injury and not completing the 42K race, I was dropped off by the “Those Who Can’t Finish” bus.
And so, each morning while jogging here, I’m envisioning a picture… This February 2010, together with a few dozen from Cebu, I can’t wait to cross that 42K finish line in Victoria Park.