Of sparkling days & nights

Of sparkling days & nights

Kalpana Sunder enjoys Christmas cheer in the ‘city of lights’ with well-decorated trees, creative art installations, festive winter delights, and of course, the stunning Hong Kong skyline

The Statue Square Christmas Tree, Hong Kong

I am back after five years in this city of contradictions — where decrepit apartment blocks rub shoulders with glitzy skyscrapers, trams trundle along shiny Rolls Royce cars, malls and street markets co-exist, and the street food is every bit as exciting as its Michelin-starred restaurants. Hong Kong, with the world’s largest number of skyscrapers, started life as a small fishing village. I am here to experience the city in winter and catch its famed festive ‘Christmas cheer’ — Hong Kong’s history as a British colony means the city celebrates the festive season with fervour. “The city loves lights and shopping, and of course, any reason to celebrate,” says our guide Fred Cheung. 

Celebrations galore

Hong Kong’s skyline shines with more glamour than usual as buildings get dressed up for the festive occasion. Christmas trees are erected in shopping malls and apartment building lobbies. We start by soaking up the romantic ambience under the iconic 18-metre Statue Square (named after the statues which stood on the square until the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II) Christmas tree, surrounded by tall skyscrapers on all sides.

There’s a chance to meet Santa Claus at his nearby hut and listen to carollers as they belt out Christmas carols. We walk from here to the tree-lined boulevard in Lee Tung Avenue in Wan Chai, which was once the centre of the printing industry and called the ‘wedding card street’. Here, we are transported to one of London’s famous shopping streets — five floating golden angels from Regent Street’s ‘Spirits of Christmas’ installations are strung above the street, bringing some British Christmas vibes to the city.

Xmas decorations in Lee Tung Avenue
Xmas decorations in Lee Tung Avenue

My most enchanting evening is spent at the city’s biggest open-air light festival — the incandescent Hong Kong Pulse Light show, organised by Hong Kong Tourism Board around Victoria Harbour, where we start at the 25-meter-tall artistic reinterpretation of the traditional Christmas tree next to Observation Wheel. This unusual Christmas tree is made up of metallic scaffoldings that represent branches and its lights move to a musical soundtrack.

We walk around the waterfront, feasting on the 14 light installations by light artists from 11 countries, including India, and four symbolic light installations by artists from Hong Kong — some notable ones that I enjoy are ‘Talking Heads’, by Hungarian artist Victor Vicsek, that portray animated faces that change lights, an interactive Dutch-designed bicycle under two arches installed with thousands of LED lights. When a visitor rides the bicycle, the light spreads to the middle of the arches. Another brilliant installation, ‘Bat and Coin’, by the Daydreamers from Hong Kong turns the traditional pawnshop sign into an illuminated silhouette that forms enchanting patterns. We lounge on coloured cubes of lights and watch the illuminated skyscrapers all around us weave their magic.

Light it up

The next evening, we head to the gargantuan Harbour City — a waterfront shopping mall with over 450 shops, three hotels, and even a cruise terminal under one roof. We walk to the 40-metre-long Christmas Bridge covered in approximately 200,000 LED lights, where you can write your wishes on a heart-shaped lock. Close to this is a gigantic, 18-metre outdoor Christmas tree. Children and parents pose for selfies against this Christmas tree, and festive cheer is all around.

An art installation at the 2018 Hong Kong Pulse Light Festival
An art installation at the 2018 Hong Kong Pulse Light Festival 

But what’s really the showstopper here is Secret Garden, home to the world’s largest video kaleidoscope. The entrance to this room with a massive triangular mirror inside is based on time slots and a donation of $50 to a cancer foundation. I walk through the rainbow tunnel to be greeted with Christmas imagery like snowflakes, pine trees and stars with LED screen walls, and see it refracted through the triangular mirror with the soundtrack of lilting music. Truly a magical experience!

Don’t forget to quickly clamber up the Ocean Terminal Deck to gawk at the powder-blue, 30-feet-tall Tiffany blue tree, which stands overlooking Victoria Harbour, and adorned with Tiffany boxes and their mascots!

Although it doesn’t snow in Hong Kong, it gets cool enough for the locals to indulge in some wintry treats, including hot pot, into which locals throw in some fish balls and wonton. Another local speciality perfect for winter times is clay pot rice — head to Sun Fung Kee in Wan Chai for its preserved meat clay pot, where the rice on the bottom hardens and becomes like rice krispies. I enjoy my vegan meal at eco-conscious Grass Roots Pantry on Hollywood Road — cauliflower rice, tuna made from Roma tomatoes in an 18-hour process, and tofu pasta.

Of course, every evening, wherever you are, head to the water’s edge to see ‘A Symphony of Lights’, a nightly light show along Victoria Harbour, with around 99 skyscrapers around the harbour perform a colourful and musically synchronised 13-minute display. For this festive season, there are also pyrotechnics from building rooftops added to the show on select evenings. This multimedia extravaganza transforms the Hong Kong skyline into an audiovisual feast. We watch it one evening from the terrace of an Italian restaurant — it’s another unforgettable experience in the city of lights.