B2 High-Intermediate US 1228 Folder Collection
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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.
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The decline of Hong Kong's iconic neon glow

1228 Folder Collection
Justin published on September 4, 2018
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