Hong Kong Christmas Lights


We see those lights that adorn Hong Kong harbor-front buildings every Christmas and Lunar New Year.  But did you ever wonder about them – who makes them, how they’re done and all that?  The NY Times has an article on them today.  It turns out many of them are the work of one man, who has been doing it since 1976.

The man behind many of these images is Terence Wong, who trained as an electrician and once did stage lighting work for theaters. Thirty years ago, Mr. Wong was asked by a Hong Kong property developer to add a bit of seasonal pizazz to a new complex of office buildings in Tsim Sha Tui East, an area that was then off the beaten track. He has not looked back.

The first job involved simple stars suspended from the tops of buildings. Over the years, Mr. Wong has made the displays ever more complex, as he and his workers have learned how to affix strings of light bulbs to the glass facades of buildings using window-cleaning platforms.

The displays, Mr. Wong said, typically cost anywhere between 20,000 and 100,000 Hong Kong dollars, or about $2,600 to $13,000, depending on the size and intricacy of the image. But for many building owners, sprucing up exteriors is as much a part of the holiday season as tree lights are for operators of shopping centers or private citizens in Western cultures.

Here’s the one illogical bit in that article:

Downturns in the economy, Mr. Wong said, do not prompt building owners to hold back on this expenditure. When an epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, hit Hong Kong in 2003, causing tourism to evaporate and the economy to buckle, building owners actually spent more on the displays, Mr. Wong said.

Likewise, spending this year has not changed, even though the Hong Kong economy, hit by the global downturn and slower growth in China, is expected to have grown just 1.2 percent in 2012. That is down from 4.9 percent last year and 6.8 percent the year before that. The displays are typical of the resilience in consumer spending in Hong Kong, where unemployment remains low — 3.4 percent, according to the latest government figures.

Yeah, the economy may be down, but that’s not including the numbers for the people who own these buildings, who are making more money than ever from ridiculous rents.  The high rents they charge are passed along to everyone in Hong Kong in the form of higher prices on goods and services, a hidden tax that we all pay.  One might even argue that the price gouging these companies engage in is at least in part responsible for the economic downturn – charge more rent, people charge higher prices to cover the rent, goods and services cost more, people buy less, economic growth slows.  It’s not as if these people collecting these fat rents were passing them along to their staff, is it?  These are the same people who protested Hong Kong’s minimal minimum wage law.

Anyway, thanks Mr. Wong for brightening our view a few months every year.