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Hong Kong's distinctive neon signs are being snuffed out

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(31 Aug 2017) LEAD INThe future of Hong Kong's famed neon skyline could be under threat.Changing tastes, new technology and tighter regulations mean the giant signs are losing their sparkle.STORY-LINEFew symbols represent Hong Kong quite as much as its flashing and blinking neon billboards.Tens of thousands of signs adorn buildings advertising everything from restaurants and nightclubs to saunas and jewellery shops. Many are cantilevered far out over the street, competing for visitors' attention.But over the past two decades, Hong Kong's neon industry has been slowly dying out. Wu Chi-kai is one of about half a dozen neon sign masters left in Hong Kong. The 50-year-old says he now earns about a third of what he made during the "golden era for the neon sign industry" in the 1980s and early 90s.At the time, Hong Kong was at its economic peak. Wu had done a six-month apprenticeship in his teens before being hired by a sign maker. He says their days were so busy that he sometimes slept in the studio: "One of the features of neon signs in Hong Kong is that, there were no regulations on neither the size nor the installation method of neon signs. When our clients wanted their neon signs to catch the attention of passers-by, they would make the signs wider to avoid being blocked by the other ones. This was why neon signs put up along Nathan Road got bigger and more extended out. Everyone on Nathan Road was able to see neon signs placed vertically and horizontally, in all sorts of ways. That time was the golden era of neon sign. It was also the time when Hong Kong reached its economy peak."But in the late 90s a rival to the neon sign emerged and the industry hasn't been quite the same since according to Wu: "Around 1997, LEDs came out. I thought that it would be a strong enemy of neon signs. As neon signs had been used for decades, people perceived it as old-fashioned. And people usually love to use something new for their store signs."The signs are now in danger of disappearing and groups like Hong Kong Neon Heritage are campaigning to save them as part of the city's cultural past.Its members are currently cataloguing signs which are still left and trying to come up with creative ways to preserve them."Neon signs are not just something that illuminate," says Heritage member Cardin Chan."They should be considered as art. And it is very unique to Hong Kong."LEDS or Light-Emitting Diode signs have since proliferated across Hong Kong's cityscape because they're brighter and more energy efficient. However purists say they lack neon's warm tones. Neon's appeal also faded because of its association with red-light districts, a turn-off for businesses wanting a wholesome image.Government regulations have also added to neon's demise. Decades ago, there were few regulations governing sign placement and size.Hong Kong Polytechnic University's design professor Brian Kwok says neon lights give the community character and depth.Kwok says: "If we collect or document all the signs, then we can bit by bit to trace back our history. Not just the business model but the consumption. Because if you see a particular sign, that means that they are projecting a need for Hong Kong people. "Despite a growing number of appeals for their preservation of the signs Hong Kong's Buildings Department has ordered more to be removed. "You will see a lot of buildings, they have no kind of features and characteristics. But if you see a lot of signage, neon signs attached to the buildings, it is like a human dressing in different clothes. Different districts they have different clothes, so it represents different characteristics," says Kwok.You can license this story through AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/you... Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork

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AP Archive 4113565 0380c02c2142e2f39f5faf3822cbf198 HZ Hong Kong Neon Signs Hong Kong China Greater China East Asia
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