Happy New Year! Thousands line Victoria Harbour to welcome 2014

Choking air pollution not enough to deter tens of thousands of revellers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 7:43pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 3:22pm

Cheers and applause echoed through the streets of Hong Kong as the clock turned midnight, marking the arrival of 2014.

At midnight, according to police estimates, there were almost 400,000 revellers on both sides of the Victoria Harbour – 320,000 gathered in West Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui and Hung Hom while 62,000 assembled in Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay.

The biggest crowds were drawn to Victoria Harbour. Waves of people flooded vantage spots along the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, and Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai, where an eight-minute musical fireworks display lit up the skies.

Tens of thousands saw in the new year despite choking air pollution, and people hugged and kissed as the countdown ended.

One couple had an especially passionate kiss. As the clock ticked down to the end of 2013, Paul Kwok went down on one knee and, to loud cheers from fellow revellers at Times Square in Causeway Bay, asked girlfriend Carol Wong: “Will you marry me?”

After a short pause, a surprised Wong replied with a loud, “Yes.”

Kwok said: “I want to be with her for the rest of my life so I decided to make a marriage proposal when it is the turn of the year 2013 to 2014.”

In Cantonese, “13-14” is pronounced like the phrase “being together for a lifetime”.

The couple have been dating for about a year.

Watch: New Year’s Eve fireworks display over Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour

Those seeking a more luxurious night joined countdown cruises touring the harbour. The Marine Department estimated there were 100 pleasure boats in the harbour, and 28 marine launches went on patrol to do safety checks.

In Lan Kwai Fong most bars and clubs reported full houses. Some expected business 50 per cent higher than usual.

Among the revellers was pilot Rob Jones, whose New Year wish was for Hong Kong to turn “greener” this year.

“It makes me sad that the haze is here most of the time,” he said.

Roadside recordings under the air quality health index rose above 10 in Causeway Bay, indicating8 a “serious” risk to health, and hovered around 9, indicating a “very high” risk, in Central.

Fellow pilot Isaac Zhang said: “I hope for cheaper drinks … especially with the cost of living going up at the moment.”

At Times Square young revellers gathered in their thousands to watch the countdown show.

Mainland tourist Wayne Wang, 32, from Beijing, said: “I came to celebrate the New Year with everyone and hope everyone will have a smooth year ahead.”

Instead of the usual Apple countdown, revellers at Times Square witnessed the dropping from a 22-metre tall LED tower of a big sweet, as seen in the popular smartphone game Candy Crush.

On the Kowloon side of the harbour, fun-seekers and shutterbugs gathered as early as noon. Many people brought portable stools or sheets to rest on.

Hong Yan, from Shenzhen, said celebrating the new year in Hong Kong was more fun than in the border city, and there were more festivities.

This afternoon, crowds on Canton Road will be greeted by more than 530 traditional Chinese mascots in a dragon and lion dance parade.