Decoding Hong Kong Through Colors and Numbers

This was my first visit to Hong Kong, and I found the former British colony a fascinating delight. My first impression remained the same the entire five days: how populated and vibrant the city becomes at night.

My eyes couldn’t stop wandering along the endless and continuous colorful skyline. Architecture in Hong Kong brings the eyes up, as it is necessary to build vertically since space is very limited. One can drive through Hong Kong's entire 400 square kilometers rather quickly and see the entire area.

Now governed under the principle of “one country, two systems,” Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China in 1997 when Great Britain’s 99-year lease expired.

Here are some other fun facts I learned while I was on my shore excursions with Azamara.

It is a luxury to drive in Hong Kong. Most citizens use public transit and find it easier and quite inexpensive to taxi around. Plus, taxes on imported cars can reach almost 100% with a luxury vehicle. And parking spaces, which are at a premium in this densely populated place, have fetched prices as high as $547,000 USD

There are about 40 beaches for over 7 million people. Wow! Based on the glimpses I caught of the symphony of people on the streets this past busy Easter weekend, summer must be a real sight to see.

We take our mansion-sized homes for granted in the U.S. In Hong Kong, a typical family of five shares a 400-square-foot flat. About 30% of the population falls into this category. I asked the locals where they store their belongings because I saw so many super-sized, high-end shopping malls plus endless street vendors. Many use a storage facility for their off-season clothes. A larger 1,000-square-foot flat sounds like a better idea to me, but that’s a pipe dream for the average wage earner in Hong Kong. 

The people I came into contact with appeared to speak in a very symbolic ways and their look at life was filled with symbolism. For example, temples were built with entrances facing a certain way for the purpose of feng shui. I remember when visiting my grandmother there were a lot of superstitious do's and don'ts. I grew up believing a lot of what she shared with me as a Vietnamese child. Every culture has its beliefs, which some may call superstitions. Like how in the United States, and other western countries, the number 13 is considered bad luck. 

I noticed three colors dominating the architecture of the temples I visited – red, green, and yellow (which sometimes looked gold to me). All three are considered lucky colors in Chinese culture.

Did you know that red wards off evil spirits and brings good luck and happiness? In the U.S. brides traditionally wear white, in Hong Kong first-time brides will wear red. Green symbolizes money, just like back home. It also represents sprouting, balancing, healing, and harmony. Yellow symbolizes nobility, as the first emperor of China was known as the Yellow Emperor. China's land and topography was called Yellow Earth symbolizing the value of farming, and its main source of water has the name Yellow River. In the U.S., yellow represents caution or cowardice on one hand. On the other hand, it stands for freshness, happiness, and enlightenment.

The symbolism of elements and colors also apply to cars and license plates. According to a New York Times article, one wealthy individual paid $2.1 million USD to have the vanity license plate “18.” Some numbers are considered luckier than others, and eight is particularly auspicious. 

Speaking of big and lucky numbers, there are three private banking companies that print Hong Kong currency. The currencies are all the same color but with different pictures. 

A building may be torn down or a new building’s opening changed to create a birthdate or rebirth with numbers coinciding with lucky numbers of the calendar or another symbolic belief. In Chinese, the number 4 is a homonym for death, so items are never packaged in fours and some high-rise buildings omit floor numbers with 4, such as 4, 14, 24, 34, 40 to 49, and so on. Similar to the U.S., where floor numbering jumps from 12 to 14.

Here’s a list of numbers and their special significance in Hong Kong:

  1. Certainty
  2. Easy 
  3. Vitality
  4. Death
  5. No prosperity 
  6. Eternity 
  7. Never have 7 courses because that’s the number of courses for ghosts
  8. Getting rich 
  9. Longevity
  10. Perfect 

Hong Kong also holds strong spiritual beliefs surrounding food. That’s another blog post for another day, but I will touch on just one story briefly. A friend in Hong Kong wanted me to try a particular drink. I noticed floating particles looking like tea herbs and asked what it was. She looked up an English translation and replied "horse hooves". Alas, I was not adventurous enough to try it, although we can find horse hooves easily in gelatin dishes and drinks in the U.S. I did try a few other things here and there, though, just to be open. 

I certainly will miss Hong Kong’s authentic dim sum. Until my next Asia cruise with Azamara Club Cruises, I will savor the fond memories of the many people who welcomed me to their land. 

Azamara has several voyages coming up that call on Hong Kong. View them here.

Ann Tran

Ann Tran is a luxury travel writer located in Washington, DC. Ann has cruised with Azamara several times throughout Europe and Asia.

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