Until the light fades out: The disappearing neon signs of Hong Kong

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Commuter bus parked along Jordan Road. Photo by AARON QUINTO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It was 1996 when my father left Manila to work in Hong Kong, and it was also the year I was able to see a world outside my own. I’ve grown up often spending my vacations in this city to visit him, so much so that it has become my second home. And every time I come back, I find myself among unmistakable place markers that welcome visitors and set Hong Kong apart from the rest of its neighbors: neon lights.

The warm gleam of these lights worked as an effective hard-sell tactic for most establishments and served as a testament to unparalleled craftsmanship. There was a surge of demand for them from the 80s to the late 90s, until the rise of more practical alternatives, such as LEDs, brought about an eventual decline in their use. Strict building regulations and cost efficiency concerns ultimately spelled the doom of the neon signage industry in Hong Kong.

There has been a dramatic disappearance of iconic signs like the Sammy’s Kitchen cow, the Kai Kee Mahjong rooster, the lavish fiasco of the Chinese Palace Nightclub, the extravagant peacock motif that fronts Millie’s Center, and the color-drenched call-outs to landmark pawnshops around the city. The visually arresting neon-lit corridor of Nathan Road and Kowloon has lost most of its light. As well, the remaining areas of Wan Chai, North Point, Yau Ma Tei, and Mong Kok are slowly dimming.

How do we truly say goodbye to places or things? How do I save this fabric of a city I call my second home? I know I can’t, but I try to immortalize the city as I’ve known it, one photograph at a time. This photo series is a personal project aimed at capturing Hong Kong’s remaining neon signs, before they are finally switched off or else switched with more practical but less beguiling emitters of light.

Iconic green and red neon pawnshop sign in Central (left), three-storey restaurant sign in Man Fai, Central. Photos by AARON QUINTO

Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo by AARON QUINTO

Neon-lit stairwell leading to a nightclub in East Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo by AARON QUINTO

Neon sign from below. Market Street, Yau Ma Tei (left), Wellington Street, Central. Photos by AARON QUINTO

Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei. Photo by AARON QUINTO

Crimson-colored corridor along Temple Street. Photos by AARON QUINTO

Almost dilapidated neon sign latched onto an apartment building in Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei. Photo by AARON QUINTO

A local establishment's neon sign reflected off an apartment window in Yau Ma Tei. Photo by AARON QUINTO