The evening sun – a vivid and striking shade of orange – descended behind a passel of skyscrapers, making way for the night that imperceptibly drew a blanket of darkness over the Hong Kong sky. As I stood there by the roadside, a lone figure cast in the shadow of dusk, I allowed the street lamps and neon signs from nearby commercial buildings to illuminate my form. “How pretty,” I thought, as the city electrified itself to life, soaking my surrounding terrain in moody fluorescent lighting that displayed a smooth gradation from red to yellow.
Anyone who’s familiar with the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, however, knows that this is no place to be at a standstill. The rapid flow of traffic – both human and vehicular – was competing with the ticking of time, compelling me to abandon my stationary state. Armed with a GPS-enabled mobile device, I crossed the road and joined the sea of pedestrians before making a turn into a dimly-lit alleyway. This was apparently the shortest route to Hidden Agenda, an underground music venue that I was keen to check out.
Nestled on the second floor of a dilapidated building in Kwun Tong, Hidden Agenda has served as a refuge for ardent fans of live indie music since 2009. On a personal level, however, it took on the shape of a classroom where I was greatly educated on Hong Kong’s juvenile subcultures.
Conversations were not hard to find when I finally found my way there, and the resident bartender’s friendly disposition made it easy to ask questions about Hidden Agenda. Apparently, its existence was threatened by the enforcement of the Industrial Building Revitalization act that aims to redevelop old industrial buildings into new spaces for new businesses. To fight for the future of the local indie music scene, however, Hidden Agenda blatantly ignored the government’s request to evacuate the premises. Its fate remains uncertain to this very day.
Be that as it may, the miniature army of local youths who had congregated in the name of live music could hardly be accused of being despondent that evening. When a French brass ensemble called the Kaktus Groove Band took to the stage to perform their unique brand of hip-hop, the incited reaction could only be described as pure euphoria. Such is the power of youth, and I couldn’t help but to draw strength from it as I too lost myself to the pulsating sounds.
It was midnight by the time I left the venue, but the end of the set by no means marked the end of my nocturnal adventures. It was my first time in Hong Kong and sleep was not allowed to steal me away from the night. On the contrary, I wanted to know if the claims of all the travel brochures I’d pored over were true – I wanted to know if this effervescent city really never sleeps.
A bit of online research revealed the existence of the Yau Ma Tei Wholesale Fruit Market. Also known as Gwo Laan, this fascinating night market along Waterloo Road has been operating from 10pm to 7am every day for the past century, although it’s that magical period between 3am and 6am that sees the highest level of human activity. This discovery left me bursting at the seams with excitement – I just found the perfect excuse to exercise my trigger-happy fingers!
After returning to the hotel for some supper and a bit of a lie in, I cabbed down to the market at 4am with a trusty DSLR camera in hand. The initial quiet that pressed against my ears was both calming and deafening, but that was simply the calm before the storm. Before long, Gwo Laan was awake and alive with the cacophony of running engines and human conversations.
Fruit-delivery trucks began parking along the two-way street to let shirtless and tattooed workers down. Displaying sheer brute strength, they transferred boxes upon boxes of fruits to various wholesale vendors who were engaged in spirited discussions with retail buyers wanting the best prices for fruit purchases. These spectacular scenes were clearly reserved for those willing to sacrifice a bit of sleep, and I was there to immortalise every single moment with the click of the shutter-release button.
Dawn eventually arrived just slightly before 7. The first few drops of daylight began to dilute the periwinkle sky into a lovely pastel blue, and the golden sun which left me at dusk rose once again to reclaim its throne up in the heavens. As I felt the pleasant warmth of sunshine permeating the pores of my skin, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of what I had just undergone – my very first experience of Hong Kong that lasted from dusk till dawn.
About the Author: Arman Shah is a travel writer and photographer. He was born and raised in Singapore and enjoys afternoon conversations with his cats, seeing the world through his camera lens and travelling off the beaten path to discover the real McCoy.
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