Lights, cruise, action
Hong Kong’s skyline puts on quite a show
SITTING on a gently rolling junk with a glass of wine and a warm breeze blowing is a good way to watch the evening settle over Hong Kong.
The fan-shaped red sails, although not at all functional, are gently decorative and suggestive of an earlier and more romantic time, an era of sea-borne riches and daring ocean raids. This misty mood of nostalgia is short-lived, though, rapidly cast into the shade by a burst of neon from the far shore.
At 8pm almost every evening, Hong Kong’s ubermodern skyline puts on its dancing shoes as the music starts and neon lights begin to throb. The Symphony of Lights — a dramatic display of blinking neon, searchlights and lasers — gets under way. Visitors can see it from vantage points on either Hong Kong Island or Kowloon side, but out on the water we can see in both directions, and the display of pulsing, musically synchronised neon along the edges of Victoria Harbour is enough to bring on a Saturday night fever.
The junk is named Aqua Luna and this particular voyage is timed to take in the show (although there are options for those happier with daylight cruising). We board from public pier No 1 at Tsim Sha Tsui on the harbour’s Kowloon side (known to snobby residents of Hong Kong island as ‘‘the dark side’’, which is ridiculous — TST is about as dark as an arc light on steroids).
After a bit of decorous shuffling we are all seated; some are at ease on the upper deck’s cushioned lounges and hardier souls on upright chairs on the aft lower deck. We head downstairs, preferring to see the sky unencumbered by any overhead awning.
The junk pulls away from the pier, a waiter brings around complimentary drinks (wine or beer) and we chug gently into the middle of the harbour, which is shrinking year by year as land is reclaimed. From the junk, it seems as if we can almost touch the shores of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (perhaps the wine is helping).
Then 45 buildings begin to light up and shimmy to the beat of simulcast music, reaching a crescendo with searchlights and lasers. One might expect a little exhibitionism from the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, the beautifully blank and windowless walls of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (which soon light up like a rainbow) and from the Avenue of Stars.
But those staid old financial marques, the international banks, have some pretty moves of their own. Standard Chartered does a fine line in turquoise and lime-green neon, HSBC’s headquarters is picked out in glowing red and the Bank of China building spins a great silvery cob- web of lights. But the most decorative of the lot, to my mind, is the tallest, the usually prosaic International Commerce Centre on the Kowloon side.
The latest addition to the symphony, joining the chorus line in May, it shines with a display of glittering black and silver triangles that seems to rustle like aluminium foil in a breeze.
Perhaps the most surprising flourish is from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Forces Hong Kong Building, where the light show is as artistic as the edifice’s name is clunky.
On our 28m wooden junk, built by a Chinese craftsman, the 14-minute light and sound show elicits oohs and aahs from the passengers.
An Australian firm, Laservision, developed the spectacular and apparently the Guinness Book of Records has credited Hong Kong with the largest permanent light and sound show in the world.
After 45 minutes, the voyage is over and our junk returns to Tsim Sha Tsui. The lights have dimmed to their ordinary blaze of colour and the music has stopped. But tomorrow evening it will start all over again.
Aqua Luna in prime position on Victoria Harbour to watch the display