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  • Night has fallen here in Hong Kong and the city is coming alive, showing one of

  • its most iconic aspects: the neon lights.

  • Here in Hong Kong, neon lights makeup a quintessential part of the visual

  • culture and the aesthetic of the streets here.

  • During the Golden Age of neon the

  • diffused glow of this cityscape was enshrined in film, helping to form the

  • unique Hong Kong cinematic style: dark, dense, chaotic, futuristic, and illuminated

  • by this soft glow of neon. This style spread beyond Hong Kong, informing the

  • aesthetics of Japanese comics and anime like Ghost in the Shell, and popular

  • American blockbusters like Blade Runner.

  • But even though neon is woven into the cultural fabric of this place these

  • lights are quickly fading.

  • So what are neon lights? And what place do they have in Hong Kong's urban

  • culture today? Let's go visit probably the perfect person answer that question,

  • the legendary Master Wu who is a neon craftsman here in Hong Kong.

  • Johnny. Nice to meet you. Thank you for letting us come by.

  • Once a client sends him a design to work off of,

  • Master Wu starts by heating up a glass tube so that it's

  • malleable and then he starts bending it to form his design. Once he has the shape

  • that he wants, he needs to put gas, neon gas, into this glass tube.

  • So he vacuums out all the air and uses a series of knobs

  • and machines to pump in a mixture of gas, mostly neon or

  • argon. He seals on an electric unit that will feed electrical current into this

  • tube. Once he plugs this into an electricity source, the gas in the tube

  • responds and begins to glow different colors depending on what gases he's used.

  • The Golden Age for neon started around the 1970s.

  • This meant that neon lights were everywhere.

  • People were competing for the

  • best neon lights, the best signs, and the designs got really big and really

  • sophisticated really fast.

  • And then things started to change for the worse for neon.

  • These signs look like they're neon,

  • they're built in the aesthetic of neon, but they're actually LEDs.

  • See the difference? That's

  • a neon. That is an LED.

  • Way cheaper, way more efficient, way easier to install. And

  • while LED is easy to mass-produce, making neon signs it's more of a craft. It takes

  • significant time to master.

  • But this is also a matter of city policy.

  • The Hong Kong government started raising safety

  • concerns with these big neon signs, especially the ones that hung over the

  • street. They created safety codes and started taking down signs that were in

  • violation, which were quite a few. In recent years thousands of signs have

  • been taken down, slowly changing the visual landscape of this city.

  • Neon lights are slowly moving into the realm of cultural preservation.

  • The West Kowloon cultural district has started curating neon signs

  • and documenting the

  • stories behind them.

  • And as for Master Wu, even though neon lights are disappearing

  • he still feels optimistic.

Night has fallen here in Hong Kong and the city is coming alive, showing one of

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B2 US Vox neon kong hong glow tube

The decline of Hong Kong's iconic neon glow

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    Justin posted on 2018/09/03
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