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Colt 499 PWP

Vivian Yan, Author

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Iconic neon

Neon signs have, in many cases, become nearly synonymous with the establishment they advertise. As a restaurant takes its place in the Hong Kong culinary sphere, for instance, its sign becomes equally well-known. Businesses such as the Luk Yu TeahouseSammy's Kitchen, and Tsui Wah Restaurant each have their own iconic signage to distinguish their presence. Throughout Hong Kong, the sign of the pawn shop - an upside-down bat, a symbol of good luck - is also instantly recognizable among the multitude of stores. 

Travel writing about the neon signs is often extremely positive, even nostalgic. Of the Luk Yu Teahouse, CNN Travel writer Christopher DeWolf writes, "When we walk down Stanley Street at night, we block out the garish neon of lesser restaurants and take solace in this understated gem." Separating this sign from the other neon lights that color the streets of nearby Lan Kwai Fong, just a few minutes' walk away, one can understand the reason to differentiate between a long-time Hong Kong establishment and the trendier western-style bars and clubs. One neon sign symbolizes a tradition (Luk Yu Teahouse is the oldest surviving teahouse in the city), while others come and go. 

And yet, conversely, the garish can also be equally well-loved. DeWolf notes his preference for Tsui Wah Restaurant's "flamboyant" sign at its Causeway Bay location, putting this one above the chain's other "ordinary neon" signs or - even worse - its "garish LED lights." Perhaps this contradictory attitude toward neon signage is emblematic of the tourist's enterprise: To seek both authenticity and historicity, and to experience the moment of difference and shock. Neon represents Hong Kong's unique culture as part of its architectural landscape, culinary life, and economic development. Yet neon is also bright, exciting, modern and new, sparking and even overwhelming the gaze. As visitors to the city, we can love its neon but we can judge it, too. 

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