Monday, November 14, 2005

An Eden Project of the East?

I arrived in London Heathrow early morning on Sunday, November 13. After taking a shower and resting in the “revival center” of Virgin Atlantic in the airport, the limo supplied by the airline took me to my hotel in Taunton in the Southwest of England – an almost two-hour ride – where the business promotion program I will be involved with this week in the UK will start on Monday.

Well, simply said, it was in the middle of nowhere. Sheeps and cows and horses on the green English slopes. And it was before 9:00am so what am I going to do on this Sunday? Fortunately, I ran into Mr CK Teo, who works for UK Trade and Investment in Singapore, and he suggested that I could join him to visit the Eden Project.

Sundays are usually the time for railroad repairs in the UK and with a lighter train schedule than normal, it can be a challenge for travelers. We needed to go in the direction toward the southwestern tip of England, to a place called St. Austell. I had no idea what the Eden Project is, but what the heck, how am I going to spend the day in a country manor hotel anyway?

We had to take a train from Taunton to Tiverton Parkway, change to a bus to Plymouth (because of track repairs) and then get back on a train to go to Plymouth. It was an almost three-hour journey in one direction. We reached St. Austell just around 2pm, but we had to get back on the train before 3:30pm. But, the one-hour or so we had at the Eden Project was well worth it and we only wished we had more time.

So what is the Eden Project? Physically, from the external view, it is primarily made of a group of greenhouse domes. According to its own description, it is:
- an international visitor destination
- an extraordinary educational facility
- a pioneering foundation, inspired by the conviction that the future holds the promise of a better world for us all.

The project is owned by the Eden Trust, a registered charity, with money raised by the Eden Project used to further their work in education, research, conservation and sustainable development.

[A waterfall inside the biome]

We visited the Humid Tropics Biome which houses a rainforest of plant life from tropical places like West Africa, South America and Malaysia. The Warm Temperate Biome housed the plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa and California. The Core is an educational center opened in Summer 2005 that includes exhibits and other educational facilities.

[Inside the Core]

Last June, the “African” portion of Live8 was held here in the Eden Project. The story went that when the organizers planned for concerts in London, Philadelphia, Toronto, Paris, Tokyo etc., they overlooked the presence of the artists from Africa, the very continent that the organizers were planning to help. So at last they put together the Eden Project concert on the same day, with that lineup filled by primarily African artists, plus some of the stars like Bono and Bob Geldof flying in from the London concert by helicopters.

Having been to the Eden Project, it made me think, wouldn’t a project like this be a great thing for Hong Kong, for a variety of reasons: conservation, education, tourism and more. Such a similar project would be a great addition for Lantau, and it may be the kind of development that environmentalists and conservationists can be engaged, rather than fought against.

Will it be too expensive? Well, the Eden Project is funded by the lottery fund in the UK, and also some funding from the European Union. With our Jockey Club and the money the Government will make from damaging our environment with the reclamation in West Kowloon and Central/Wanchai in the Victoria Harbour, I can’t believe that we cannot have the money for such a more meaningful project that putting polar bears in Ocean Park for a more simply them-park atmosphere.

There are so many good ideas around the world that we can learn from, and I was so pleasantly surprised by an accidental visit to the Eden Project on an otherwise sleepy Sunday in England.


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