Ever been to a Chinatown, in one of our cities or overseas? They fairly buzz with life and a myriad flashing, coloured neon signs in English and Chinese. It makes you feel alive, part of an exotic, exciting world.
In the early 1980s I was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in Hong Kong for its leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post – along with some other former Gazette journalists. It was great fun and memorable, particularly at night. The streets were dazzling in that unique and literally electric visual culture of neon lights, like a permanent Illuminations display.
I paid tribute to its charm in my novel The Last Ghosts and many books and films have been inspired by its glittering spell. Sadly, though, the new governing powers there are now taking down those famous lights that have delighted visitors and locals alike for the better part of a century. They’ve been deemed illegal and are said to no longer fit in with the current vision of a modern, high-rise, city state.
Most tourists to the former Crown colony will recall layered, multi-coloured, garish signs in Chinese characters or sometimes English in densely packed, busy areas of Kowloon. Many signs had hand-crafted figures, like a cow for Sammy’s Kitchen.
They’re works of art and, specially in Wanchai, can hark back to the city’s vibrant past with echoes of Vietnam R&R days for American sailors. Like signs for the Hi Fella Steam Laundry, the Hey Joe Chop Suey Bar or Red Lips Bar (complete with giant lips), even a huge San Miguel sign by the renowned China Fleet Club.
I suspect it’s a case of cultural cleansing by the new and rather stuffy Chinese establishment.
That’s a great pity, as the world needs all the glitter it can get.
At least we still have Blackpool - and our famous Lights.
• For Roy’s books visit www.royedmonds-blackpool.com.