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End of an era for traditional New Year countdown

End of an era for traditional New Year countdown

Originally published at the South China Morning Post on January 1, 2016.

The decades-old New Year countdown at Times Square in Causeway Bay looks to be out of time.

After cancelling its traditional stroke of midnight ceremony for the first time last year - ostensibly due to the Occupy protests - one of the world's most expensive expanses of retail real estates ditched last night’s countdown saying that “public reception towards last year’s new celebration format for Christmas and New Year’s Eve was positive.”

The mall has hosted its New Year’s Eve event - a countdown with a ball dropping from a 22-metre LED tower at midnight - since 1993.

For Hongkongers who grew up attending and watching the event on television, the cancellation brings a sense of loss and confusion. About 100,000 people on average participated in the countdown each year.

“It feels strange. We already don’t have many places to countdown,” said Bryan Wong, a 27-year-old local banker who had attended the event twice before. “Times Square was different because the method of counting down was always the same, unlike places like Tsim Sha Tsui. At least there was a place for people to gather and be happy.”

Times Square this year will feature a LEGO Star Wars exhibition showcasing the world’s largest Millennium Falcon mode - a spacecraft in the Star Wars series. A “Happy 2016 Music Concert” will also be held at the Covered Piazza from 5pm to 7pm, featuring performances by Joyce Cheng, Super Girls, Endy Chow and other artists.

Last week, Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui also decided again not to host its decades-long outdoor countdown to Christmas day and instead held performances inside the mall. Last year was also the first year Harbour City scrapped the tradition.

Both venues last year denied that Occupy Central was a factor behind the cancellations.

Allan Zeman, Hong Kong property magnate and “father of Lan Kwai Fong,” said that he doesn’t think New Year’s countdown events should be cancelled and he is unsure why the mall decided to shut down the tradition.

“It’s a tradition around the world - Hong Kong is an international city,” he said. “Doing it is a lot of work; it doesn’t really bring more business or anything like that. It’s a lot of preparation - so that might be the reason.”

A stampede in the famed party district in 1993 killed 21 people just minutes into the New Year.

“We’ve been doing it (at LKF) for probably almost 30 years and so definitely it’s a tradition,” he said. “There’s no reason we would cancel it.”

Wong said that Times Square was the most inclusive place to countdown, and that Lan Kwai Fong is for those who like to drink and party while Tsim Sha Tsui is a locale more popular among foreigners. “My feeling is that it’s a tradition, how can it just disappear?” Wong said.

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