Taking a taxi with 10,000 bees
We are climbing the stairs of a low-rise building in the industrial part of Ngau Tau Kok with Michael Leung, founder of HK Honey.
Finally reaching the roof of the building, we see a clear open space with leftover construction material strewn at one end, and at the other, three wooden boxes laid out in a triangle.
Placing our ears right next to the boxes, we can hear a piercing buzz. These boxes are the hives of bees who thrive on the plants available within a 5km radius of the concrete rooftop.
A product designer who was born and raised in London, Leung moved to Hong Kong and started beekeeping in January 2010 as part of the socio-cultural project, HK Honey. The organization promotes the value of local eating through urban beekeeping and art and design initiatives.
Leung approaches one of the hives and begins to dismantle it. He is about to open the hive to show us what it is like inside.
"Are you ready?" Leung asks all present.
We are not quite sure. The anticipated netting, gloves and bee smoker are all missing from this scenario.
But Leung is unnervingly nonchalant about exposing us to tens of thousands of bees sans protection and nobody wants to be the first nervous dork to question his calm. Fortunately, he sensed the white elephant.
"Don't be scared. It is not as dangerous as everyone thinks," Leung says.
"The Western beekeeping approach generates fear towards bees because so much protective gear is used. But you don't need protection."
This is coming from a man who climbed deep into Hong Kong's mountains to collect bees by scooping them out of hives with his bare hands.
As a practitioner of urban beekeeping, Leung uses the methods of rural beekeepers in China, one of the largest producers of honey in the world. That means replacing the protective gear with a sense of respect for bees, slow movements, and calm.
"It is very Zen-like," Leung says of his beekeeping.
"I have to focus very hard and keep extremely calm. I have to learn not to panic when I am covered in bees and to disturb the bees as little as possible.
I have been stung before, but only a few times, and each time there is a reason for it. I know it is because I aggravated the bees."
After consulting about 10 different beekeepers in Hong Kong and mainland China, Leung was confident about starting his own beekeeping outfit. A year later, his passion for the project has only grown.
"Bees are valuable. They pollinate a third of our food. We need to support local bees," Leung says.
"Also, people who suffer from hayfever can alleviate their allergy by consuming locally produced honey."
For the ongoing Detour art and design festival, Leung has set up workshops and an exhibition about HK Honey, including a special beehive made in collaboration with designer Nelson Chan.
The hive is covered in images of Hong Kong's housing estate, so that the hives resemble the compact residential buildings.
Comparing the bees and their hive to Hong Kong is a fitting metaphor for the densely populated city and its pragmatic, industrious denizens.
We followed Leung as he transported his bees from Ngau Tau Kok to the Detour exhibition in Central. Click through the pages to share our journey.