Pagodas on the Prairie

Why are 8,000 Chinese soldiers standing guard outside of Katy? Ask Mr. Poon.

"The only thing that makes any sense is that it's Chinese building on rice farm land," Hilton says.

But the location made perfect sense to Poon, according to his associates in Houston, who note that the new roadside attraction is rising about a mile north of the Grand Parkway exit on I-10, a convenient stop for travelers heading to and from Houston, San Antonio and Austin. And the Grand Parkway's path cuts south into Fort Bend County, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation.

Howard Jarrell, a tree surgeon who lives in the nearby Williamsburg Hamlet subdivision, fears that the coming of Forbidden Gardens is a sign that the long delayed and currently in limbo Westside Airport is also on the way.

"I think the government and city officials are up to something," Jarrell theorizes. "Why is this going up in the middle of a residential zone? Since they started building, the motels and hotels are going up. Unless there's an airport in the future, why here and now? Something is happening here us poor folks don't know nothing about."

Other area residents, though, are welcoming Forbidden Gardens as a source of jobs and money for the local economy.

Isa Yin says the builders of Forbidden Gardens hope it will attract 700 guests a day. "But one thousand guests would be even better," he faxes. Already, plans are being made for its grand opening, with outfits of khaki pants and red and purple polo shirts having been designed for employees. The uniforms will be color coordinated with the pagodas.

Poon's miniature version of the Forbidden City promises to be exacting, with 200 hand-carved and painted wooden buildings and 20,000 figurines. In the real Forbidden City, 24 emperors from the Ming and Quing dynasties (from the 14th century through the early 20th century) lived their lives behind walls, making only rare pilgrimages to the outside world.

His public relations representative in Houston says Poon himself may make a pilgrimage to the prairie early next year for the opening of his own little Forbidden City.

Then again, he may not.

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