Cute rail safety advertisements from Hong Kong

Another week, and another selection of railway themed television commercials from Hong Kong. This time the topic is “cute public safety messages”.

First up is a little bit of martial arts from the KCR – here two taekwondo contestants are in a sparring match, where the aim is to keep inside the yellow lines of the ring – which just happens to be the same thing you need to do on railway platforms.

The second advert features a group of Hong Kong stereotypes playing the game of “Statues“, where the contestants try to sneak up on the player who is “it” and the “it” player tries to catch them moving.

If you’ve never visited Hong Kong for yourself, the “Doot doot doot! Doot doot doot!” noise the man is making before turning around is the MTR door alert tone. In the game of Statues the players have to stop once they hear the tone to avoid being caught “out”, and back in the real world the MTR wants passengers to do the same thing, and stop rushing the train doors as they close.

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Milking nostalgia at the MTR

With Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway being just a touch over 30 years old and the trains running just as smoothly as the opening day back in 1979, one might think that a feeling of nostalgia for the old days would be hard to find among residents of the city. However the MTR Corporation begs to differ: if advertising heavily on television doesn’t set them apart from other railway operators, then milking a nostalgia for the past will.

The first advert I found is titled “Please Excuse Us” and dates from 2010, and aims to convince residents that disruption to their everyday lives is a necessary part of the MTR Corporation building a better railway system – their tagline is “Hong Kong’s railway caring for your new journeys”.

Stepping through the commercial, the scenes are as follows:

  • 1976-79: with the first stage of the MTR underway, “Auntie Wong” is on a shopping trip and steps in mud because of cut and cover tunnelling works, and misses out on a sale because of a road closure.
  • 1981-1984: constructing the MTR Island Line, the future “Dr Lee” is late to school because of a footpath closure and works crews.
  • 1994-1996: now on to the Airport Railway, “Mr Ho” has to take the long way back to work after lunch because of a road closure.
  • 1996-1997: “Mr Cheung” is sitting in his restaurant with only one customer dining, because the street outside is blocked by MTR hordings.
  • 2010- : “Baby Tak” is held by his mother outside a MTR construction site
  • Close: the characters today, superimposed beside their their younger selves.

The footage appears to be a mix of historical films and material shot specially for the commercial, with a few appropriate period touches slipped in, such as MTR logos from years gone by, and a mailbox marked with the Royal Arms of the Hong Kong Post Office.


The second commercial I found dates from 2007, and was produced to mark the merger of Hong Kong’s two railway companies: the MTR Corporation and KCRC. The main feature here is the song “Growing Up With Me” (陪我長大) by Cantopop singer and actress Joey Yung (容祖兒), describing how Hong Kong’s railway network grew up beside her.

The opening scene of this commercial is a cartoon version of a diesel hauled KCR train passing through the countryside, with a young Joey looking amazed when a sleek Metro Cammel EMU arrives into the platform for the first time. Fast forward a few years, and a slightly older Joey is now taking a KCR train to school, and then to university, shopping, and nights out with friends.

The closing scene is the main song and dance number, with Joey stepping off a combined MTR and KCR train with her extended family, followed by dancers in MTR uniforms moving blocks around a giant railway network map, and closing with a young girl making a cats cradle with MTR line coloured string. Could they cram any more railway iconography into a 60 second long piece of choreography?

If writing a song for a 1 minute commercial was not enough, a full length version of the song “Growing Up With Me” (陪我長大) was also produced and featured on her 2007 album “Glow”, with the music video featuring singing her singing the song while wandering along an MTR train.

With the MTR Corporation producing commercials such the ones I have just shown you, once can see the high regard that the railway operator is held among Hong Kong residents, or at least their influence on the public. I find it difficult enough thinking of any Australian popstar willing to appear in a television commercial promoting a public transport operator, let along someone who would releasing a full length song espousing their virtues.

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TV commercials from the MTR: do you get their point?

Unlike many other railway operators, Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation buys a lot of television airtime to promote their services. In the last few years their television commercials seem to have a common theme: bouncy pop music with English lyrics, visuals that have nothing to do with railways, and a short Cantonese voiceover at the very end telling the viewer what the entire point of the advert is. Can you guess it from just the visuals?

Worked it out? Scroll down…

And down a bit more…

The girl on the merry go round in the first advert is promoting the MTR’s Lok Ma Chau Spur Line as an easy way to visit the attractions of Shenzhen. A city just across the Hong Kong border in Mainland China, Shenzhen has become a popular place for cheap shopping among Hong Kongers. A number of border crossings link the two cities: the Lok Ma Chau spur line and associated border crossing were opened in 2007 to relieve congestion at the main crossing at Lo Wu, and operates as a branch of the East Rail Line that links Hong Kong to the rest mainland China.

Today patronage is still unbalanced between the two crossings, with 5-6 trains per hour running to Lok Ma Chau versus the 10-12 trains per hour serving Lo Wu (more stats here). As well as correcting the imbalance, the MTR has a second reason to promote usage of the Lok Ma Chau crossing: on the mainland side the line interchanges with Line 4 of the Shenzhen Metro, which is operated by the MTR under a BOT concession agreement with Shenzhen’s municipal government.

As for the second advert with the rings, the railway being spruiked is the Kowloon Southern Link, which joined the two halves of the former KCR network with a tunnel beneath Tsim Sha Tsui. The two routes were built at separate times: the East Rail Line had been in existence for decades with the terminus on the eastern side of the peninsula, while the West Rail Line was a much later addition, opening in 2003 to a interim terminus on the western side of the Kowloon Peninsula at Nam Cheong Station.

With no connection between the two lines, travelling between the two sides of the New Territories required a bus ride over the mountains, or a complicated shuffle across multiple lines of the MTR network. With the opening of the Kowloon Southern Link these journeys were greatly simplified, with passengers just walking across the platform at Hung Hom Station between the two lines. So what do the rings have to do with the new railway? Connections?

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The City of Tomorrow (according to Microsoft)

Microsoft has a thing for producing videos showing their vision of the future is, and their latest effort is no different. Titled “Productivity Future Vision” and made by the Microsoft Office team, the video shows people around the world collaborating on projects with their smartphones, tablet computers, and desktop PCs.

For a railfan interested in Hong Kong, the scene from 1:20 onwards is of interest. Set in an underground railway station, the name “Sai Ying Pun” and Chinese text on the curved tunnel wall simply screams “MTR Island Line“.

Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision, scene at Sai Ying Pun

It turns out that the producers of the video captured the “City of Tomorrow” flavour perfectly, as Sai Ying Pun is a future railway station on the MTR West Island Line, an extension of the existing MTR Island Line towards Kennedy Town.

For comparison, this is Sheung Wan, an actual station on the same line. Can you spot the difference?

A mix of mosaic tiles and fibreglass panels at Sheung Wan MTR station

As we continue watching, we see a bit more of the station, and some advertising billboards.

Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision, scene at Sai Ying Pun

The featured character then pulls out his smartphone, to make a donation to the charity advertised. Again, the video captured the location perfectly with the “HK” prefix on the $ sign.

Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision, scene at Sai Ying Pun

Once his payment goes through, his smartphone then presents him with a tally of pledges by station. My first nitpick here is the ordering of the stations: while all of the names displayed are real, the actual sequence is Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan, Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai (not featured) and finally Causeway Bay.

Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision, scene at Sai Ying Pun

Cutting away from the phone screen, we see a bit more of the station: and some more things to nitpick. First of is the lack of platform screen doors.

Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision, scene at Sai Ying Pun

The second is the type of train – I have no idea what it is, but it looks like nothing that runs around in Hong Kong. The way they show it in the background, it just be some CGI magic?

Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision, scene at Sai Ying Pun

Now I’m left asking the question: where did Microsoft actually film this scene?

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Fishing the waters of Hong Kong

Wherever you go in Hong Kong, it seems that if you can get to the water, you will see someone fishing.

You can find them on the busy waterfront promenades of the New Towns.

Fishing from the Tolo Harbour promenade at Ma On Shan

You can find them on the empty shores of the Outlying Islands.

Fishing near Hung Shing Yeh beach

You can even find a few hardy types in tiny dinghies, dodging massive ships in the middle of Victoria Harbour.

Tiny little fishing boat off Hung Hom

One thing in common with all these fishermen is the size of their catch: these tiny palm sized fish are someone’s dinner tonight.

Catch of the day for local fishermen at Ma On Shan

So why is their catch so small? Overfishing is the reason: a common problem around the world. In Hong Kong there are approximately 3700 fishing vessels, most are sampans and small fishing boats engaged in inshore fishing, but the real damage is caused by the 1100 or so large commercial trawlers.

Fishing boat in the West Lamma Channel, Hong Kong

For decades fishing has been an important part of the economy of the Outlying Islands, with Hong Kong’s modern commercial fishing industry taking off after the Second World War to help feed the growing city.

Sampan passes the bigger fishing boats mooted at Cheung Chau

Even with increased urbanisation of Hong Kong, a number of traditional fishing villages still survive, such as this one beside the New Town of Tung Chung on Lantau Island.

Modern apartment blocks tower above the old fishing village on Tung Chung Bay

Despite the environmental impact of commercial fishing, the industry still employs around 8200 fishermen in Hong Kong, with further people employed repairing and maintaining the fishing fleet back on land.

Fishing boats under repair at the Cheung Chau slipways

As seen with the tiny fish caught by recreational fishermen, the effects of overfishing in Hong Kong are obvious: by the mid 1990s the mean size of fish taken by trawlers was <10 grams, with an average length of about 10 centimetres (4 inches). A government study in 1998 found that 12 of the 17 evaluated fish species were heavily over-exploited, while the remaining five were fully exploited; and in 2006 another government report found that the annual Hong Kong catch of 26,700 tonnes was 30% higher than the maximum sustainable annual yield of 20,500 tonnes.Fishing boat towing a net in the West Lamma Channel, Hong Kong

For these reasons in 2010 the Hong Kong Executive Council recommended a ban on trawling activities in Hong Kong waters, along with a voluntary one-off buy-out scheme for trawlers affected by the ban. Expected to reduce the fish catch in local waters by more than 40% – from 26,700 tonnes to 14,700 tonnes – the legislation was passed in May 2011 and will take effect from December 31, 2012. The trawler buyout scheme is costed at HK$1.72 billion (US$219 million), with payments of US$115,000 to $705,000 for each vessel purchased by the government, as well as one-off grants to affected local deckhands.

Fishing boat off Sunshine Island in Hong Kong

I’m guessing by the next time I visit Hong Kong fishing boats I’ll see less fishing boats, but hopefully some bigger fish.

Further reading

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