Hong Kong is a tiny slice of China, an archipelago of 262 islands and a peninsula that includes the New Territories and the lively urban center of Kowloon. Directly across is the island of Hong Kong with its quintessential city skyline. By day, the harbor bustles with boats, streets roar with human actively and the masses stream through skyscraper canyons. That all changes after the sun sets. The city calms down as commuters flee to their homes in the outskirts and the chroma-hued glow of neon takes over the night.
It is on such an evening that I find myself peering out my Kowloon hotel, watching Star ferries zip across Victoria Harbor. I read a desktop promotional paper that states there will be the Symphony of Lights outside my window precisely at 8pm. I am instructed to tune into FM 103.4 for the presentation in English, FM 106.8 in Cantonese and FM 107.9 for Puntonghua, whatever language that is. No matter. The first two minutes of the presentation simply announces the sponsors of this nightly extravaganza, those corporate building owners who have installed show lights on their towers in support of the cause. The show includes high-powered lights on 44 buildings that crowd the harbor’s concrete shores.
After the sponsors list concludes, the music kicks in. It is a weird, sonic kimchi of Euro beat, robotic rhythms and Mao Tse Tung work song grooves. Simultaneously, the lights fire off. There are white, skeletal lines of illumination that crawl up the sides of buildings, revealing their colossal forms in the black of the night. A rainbow of colors travels up a 30-story tower from ground to heli-pad. Blue lines of flowing beads descend from the heights of another. Several soaring skyscrapers shoot out powerful, white beams in groups of four that pierce the dense evening fog. Those clash overhead with sporadic, green laser rays syncopated with the lame music track now pumping frantically out of my vibrating hotel radio. It is about to shake itself off the nightstand. Pedestrians are exposed to the same music through giant audio speakers strategically placed along the promenade below.
At the 12-minute mark, the night explodes with pulsating light from all 44 buildings. It is a cosmic crescendo, a fantasy finale, a corporate star wars with multinationals jousting for PR prominence. I witness Phillips, Sony, Samsung and the ING Bank battle above in the urban dark. It is fitting for a metropolis that proclaims itself as “Asia’s World City”. Then in a blink of an eye, the lights cease. The hotel radio goes silent. The soft glow of street neon and traffic noise return. The Hong Kong night moves on. Photos by Hettie