Sitting on a gently lolling junk, with a glass of wine in hand and a warm breeze blowing: it’s a good way to see the evening settle down over Hong Kong. The fan-shaped red sails of the junk, 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 shores.
At 8pm almost every evening of the year, uber-modern Hong Kong harbour gets on her dancing shoes, the music starts and the neon lights begin to throb. A Symphony of Lights – a dramatic display of blinking neon, search-lights and lasers gets underway. Visitors to Hong Kong can see it for free from a few vantage points on either Hong Kong island or Kowloon side, but visitors floating on the water can see a bit of 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 45-minute harbour voyage is timed to take in this Symphony of Lights, although there are other choices for those who are happier with daylight boat travel.
We board from public pier number one in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side of the harbour (known to snobby residents of Hong Kong island as “the dark side”: patently ridiculous – TST is about as dark as an arc-light on steroids). After a bit of decorous shuffling we are all seated; some at ease on cushioned lounges on the upper deck; other hardier souls sitting on upright chairs on the lower deck towards the back of the junk. We went downstairs; we preferred to see the whole sky, unencumbered by any overhead awning.
The junk pulled away from the pier, a waiter brought round drinks (complimentary: either a glass of wine or a glass of beer) and we chugged gently into the middle of the harbour. Victoria Harbour isn’t very wide, and it’s shrinking year by year as determined land reclamation pushes back the water. From the junk, it seemed as though we could almost reach out and touch the shores of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (perhaps the wine helped).
Then a line-dance of 45 buildings on both shores began to light up and shimmy to the beat of simulcast music, reaching a crescendo with search lights and lasers. One might expect a little exhibitionism from the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts on Hong Kong side and the beautifully blank and windowless walls of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre (which soon lit up like a rainbow) and from the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon side. But those staid old financial marques, the international banks, had some pretty moves too.
Standard Chartered did a fine line in turquoise and lime-green neon climbing up its building; HSBC headquarters was picked out in glowing red and the Bank of China building spun a great silvery cobweb of lights.
But the most decorative building of the lot, to my mind, was the tallest building in Hong Kong, the usually prosaic International Commerce Centre on the Kowloon side. The latest addition to the Symphony, joining the chorus line in May, the Commerce Centre shone with a display of glittering black and silver triangles that seemed to rustle like aluminium foil in a breeze. Perhaps the most surprising display was from the building known as The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Forces Hong Kong Building, where the light-show was as artistic as the building’s name is clunky.
As we sat at our ease on the 28-metre wooden junk, built by a Chinese craftsman, the 14-minute light and sound show widened eyes and elicited oohs and aahs from the few dozen passengers. Watching as the lights made patterns on walls around the harbour in time with the music, we wondered if any other city in the world had tried the same sort of thing, and if not, decided that perhaps they should. An Australian firm, Laservision, developed the Hong Kong display and apparently the Guinness Book of Records has determined Hong Kong has the largest permanent light and sound show in the world, and it’s growing.
After 45 minutes the voyage was over and the junk had returned to Public Pier 1 in Tsim Sha Tsui. The lights had dimmed to their ordinary blaze of colour and the music had stopped. But the next evening, barring cyclones, it would start all over again.
Aqualuna: reservations +852 2116 8821, HYPERLINK “http://www.aqualuna.com.hk” www.aqualuna.com.hk. HK$240 (about $30) per person for the Symphony of Lights cruise, including a complimentary beverage.