Hong Kong welcomes 2019 with 340,000 revellers lining Victoria Harbour for HK$14 million fireworks and light show
- Countdown celebrations were also held on the streets and in malls across commercial and tourist haunts of city
Hundreds of thousands of revellers in Hong Kong began the new year with the thunderous roar of HK$14 million (US$1.8 million) worth of fireworks going off above Victoria Harbour at the stroke of midnight.
At least 340,000 people gathered on either side of the famed harbour to watch a 10-minute synchronised “pyromusical” of fireworks, pyrotechnics, lights and music, while countdown celebrations were held on the streets and in malls across commercial and tourist haunts such as Causeway Bay, Lan Kwai Fong and Tsim Sha Tsui.
In packed Lan Kwai Fong, pubs and clubs were filled with party-goers from across the world, with loud music, laughter and the sound of snapping of camera shutters floating in the air.
As early as Monday afternoon, tourists and locals alike had started to gather in the popular nightlife spot. By 7pm, thousands filled the streets with 400 police officers on duty in the area to keep order.
Across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui, the cold weather had little effect on the party atmosphere with spectators wrapped up warmly in several layers of clothing, scarves and hats.
At the waterfront, revellers watched the fireworks in awe. Some shouted “amazing” and “beautiful” as they held their smartphones up to capture the moment.
Joyous people kissed and hugged each other, sending their best wishes to one another as they rang in the new year.
Revellers were in the mood to celebrate – not just for a new year, but the close of an old one, too.
Gary Yeung Tsz-hin, a 31-year-old computer engineer taking in the display in Tsim Sha Tsui, said 2018 was a terrible year for Hong Kong as he thought the city was being led by an increasingly “unsatisfactory” government.
“I oppose the whole idea of the east Lantau metropolis, but the government refused to hear our voices and … our opposition,” he said of the controversial proposal to reclaim 1,700 hectares in the island’s eastern waters for an economic and residential hub.
An endorsement of the plan by the government-appointed land supply task force on Monday after a five-month public consultation, added salt to the wound.
Retiree Victor Wong, 60, was enjoying the festivities in Lan Kwai Fong with his wife. He said 2018 was a “bleak year for the rule of law in Hong Kong”.
He added: “I don’t believe [Hong Kong’s mini-constitution] the Basic Law allows for the disqualification of political candidates … not just legislators, but also village chiefs. I hope the legal environment will improve in 2019, with particular attention paid towards the ongoing UGL scandal.”
He was referring to the disqualification of lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick from taking part in rural elections earlier this year because of his previous stance on Hong Kong self-determination, and justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s decision to not seek external legal advice before dropping an alleged misconduct case against former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, citing insufficient evidence.
Wong Wing-sheung, a 62-year-old retired teacher, said 2018 would be remembered as the year many Hong Kong luminaries passed away, including Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Kao Kuen and martial arts novelist Louis Cha Leung-yung, better known by his pen name, Jin Yong.
“Jin Yong was a legend. I remember reading his novel with my students. No one can write like him nowadays, he represents the epitome of Chinese literature,” she said.
Looking ahead, Wong hoped the disparity between the city’s rich and poor could be reduced, and that the air quality would improve. “Sometimes you can’t get a clear view at the harbour because there is so much dust in the air.”
Maggie Ying, 40, who works at an elderly care home, said her year was one of ups and downs, although a highlight was a 4.6 per cent pay rise.
“I hope in 2019 there will be more pleasant things and fewer negative [news] reports like traffic accidents or suicides. I hope there will be less pressure put on us workers,” she said.
Self-employed Lily Wong, 60, agreed. “It was a particularly grim year for poor people like myself who worked overtime all the time, while the rich got richer off our labour. Hopefully, 2019 will be a better year for workers like myself, and that we will earn better wages.”
Jennifer Wong Wai-ying, a 27-year-old clerk, said 2018 was full of surprises. “I’m going to be a mother in 2019,” she smiled.
Police estimated that at least 340,000 people had gathered at the harbour for the countdown.
The “pyromusical” show, sponsored by Bank of Communications, featured fireworks by an Italian producer, which organisers said were intended to create a “celestial kaleidoscope” effect.
Dense crowds had filled vantage points hours ahead of the countdown despite evening temperatures dropping to a chilly 11 degrees Celsius (52 Fahrenheit).
With a cold weather warning in force, 16 people were sent to hospital for hypothermia by 5pm, including a 94-year-old.
Jardines’ Midnight Gun was fired at the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter, as per New Year tradition since 1946.