A Night at the Chinese Opera


Loud but fun–The clanging of cymbals, string instruments, gongs and the shrill voices of the actors is unmistakable. These operas run for an entire week at times.

hk_opera6It didn’t seem that long ago I was in Mongkok, a district in Kowloon which is part of Hong Kong.

It has the distinction of having the highest population density in the world 130,000 per km² according to the Guiness World Records.

Exactly how that figure is derived, I can’t tell you. Just trust me, there’s a whole of people and they all look exactly alike–just like me.

Apartment buildings are packed so close together, neighbors routinely have conversations through open windows often times they are able to look into each other’s living space.


Airline pilots on final approach can tell what’s playing on tv when they head for the runways.

In other words, there is a lot of humanity, and there’s always a urgency in its residents whether it’s hailing a cab, grabbing a bowl of noodles, or just plain crossng the street.


I  explored Kowloon and its surrrounding area a lot during my numerous visits to Hong Kong when I worked with Singapore Airlines in the early 80s and always found the bustle fascinating.

On this visit, I had stopped over a few days just prior to leaving for the US to start college.

In all my travels, in terms of photography, this was my most memorable trip.

I must have shot at least 6 to 7 rolls of film over the 2 nights I was there.

What surprised me most was how easy-going the crew was.

They allowed me to roam backstage unhindered. Not a single person asked who I was or what I was doing there.

Come to think of it, had anyone challenged me, I would have been in big doo-doo. The Cantonese I know is only useful if I were in a restaurant  and, even then, I would still require the use of my index finger. 😉

hk_opera9I carried 2 Canon F-1 bodies but I only used my 85 mm 1.2, 28 mm and 200 mm.

In those days, I only shot transparency film because I got tired of seeing how badly the prints I got back looked from negatives.

Shooting transparencies made filing lot easier.

It also taught me to expose more carefully and to shoot tight in order to get the best quality from an image.

For these images, I recall trying daylight-balanced film with color-correcting filters at first.

The loss of light anytime you stick a filter over your lens as in this case made for very low shutter speeds.

So I abandoned that approach.

I switched to Tungsten-balanced ISO 160 film and found the results much better.

Using flash would have been okay with these folks.

But I just felt that introducing my flash would have ruined the ambience.

One or 2 of these were used in the paper for a travel piece which I also wrote. The rest have never been published.

This by the way is a good place for me to tell you about the  Peter Phun Photography store.

I plan on making available pictures I’ve taken.

If there is an image anywhere on the blog that I have taken that you can’t live without, now you can buy a print of it.