Hong Kong Snapshot (15) – Chungking Mansions – Ghetto at the Centre of the World, “Sin City” in the past 香港隨拍(15) – 重慶大廈 – 世界中心的貧民窟，曾經生人勿近的魔窟
I am now in a small room on the 8th floor of Chungking Mansion, typing this article with my MacBook. Since the demolition of Kowloon walled city, Chungking Mansion is probably the most mysterious place in Hong Kong.
Chungking Mansions should be a familiar name to all backpackers in the world, as it has the cheapest hotels you may find in the urban area of Hong Kong. The founder of “Lonely Planet” was one of the visitors of Chungking Mansions. He wrote in the Asia guide book that “Chingking Mansions is a magical word in searching cheap hotels in Hong Kong”. After that, many and many backpackers from the western visit Chungking mansions, adding the faces of white people among the over 100 races in Chingking Mansions. But before that, Chungking Mansions was one of the most dangerous place in Hong Kong.
Chungking Mansions was built in 1961, in the purpose of residential. It was the highest building in the Tsim She Tsui region and many rich people lived there. But the management of Chungking Mansions was very bad as there were too many landlords (over 900), and also the Tsim She Tsui region developed so rapidly, making Chungking Mansions became the home of the poor. Cherie Chung, Hong Kong famous actress, spent her childhood in Chungking Mansions. Because of the management, Chingking Mansions become the hot bed of gangs, gamblers, prostitutes, drug dealers and illegal immigrants. Around 1970s, the businessmen from India and Pakistan started to gather in Chungking Mansions, making the environment more complicated, with the name of “nest of devils”.
Chungking Mansions caught the eyes of famous director Wong Kar-wai and he shot the film “Chingking Express” in Chingking Mansions. “Chingking Express” was selected as “ALL-TIME 100 Movies” by TIME.
重慶森林海報 Poster of Chungking Express
Chungking Mansions were always a dangerous place for Hong Kong people. we even didn’t want to pass by. So Hong Kong people only had a blurred image of Chungking Mansions before the film Chungking Express. in 1993, there was an explosion of the power supply room in Chungking Mansions, the mansions lost electricity and water for 10 days. It made all the 900 landlords come together and discuss how to improve Chungking Mansions. Finally in 2004, the renovation of Chungking Mansions was finished. There are now 208 CCTV cameras and 24 hours security guards which greatly improve the order. And now we are much safer to go in.
In around 2000, businessmen in Africa started moving to Chungking Mansions. And with the backpackers from all around the world, there are now over 10000 people with over 130 nationalities going in and out of Chungking Mansions. It is now described as the “World Centre of “Low-end Globalisation”. In 2007, TIME rated Chungking Mansions as the “Best Example of Globalisation in Action”. At the same time, Anthropology Professor Gordon Mathews was interested by Chungking Mansions. He started investigating Chungking Mansions and even lived in the place from 2006-2009. In 2013, Gordon Mathews published the book “Ghetto at the Centre of the World: Chungking Mansions”.
“Ghetto at the Centre of the World: Chungking Mansions”
Today, I could’t go home due to some matter so I rented a room in Chungking Mansions. Actually It was also the first time I enter Chungking Mansions. Maybe it is attractive to foreigner. But for me, a local, familiar with the rumour of the mansions since I was small, I really felt nervous. i was really prejudice to the Mansions. although I knew now it is much safer than the past, i was perturbed.
7:43pm, I arrive Tsim Sha Tsui nearby Chungking Mansions. There were many South Asians and Africans on the street, sizing up the tourists passing by. As I was wearing backpack and holding a camera, I was also one of their targets. I got a strong feeling of unfamiliarity. I was not looking down on the Africans and South Asians. But I seldom come into contact with them. Suddenly standing in this situation, I felt unfamiliar. Entering the main entrance of Chungking Mansions, around ten people of different nationalities came to me. It alerted me as I didn’t know what they want to do. Fortunately, they were just going to show me the name card of different hotels. I smiled and rejected them, toke a breath, and entered this strange place.
in Chungking Mansions, what I saw is darkness, old ceiling, messy shops, signboard all over, and wall start changing colour. It seemed like the Hong Kong 30 years ago. And, there were many races! Indians, Africans, Europeans, Chinese, and I was faces of Koreans. I seemed like leaving Hong Kong. I was a stranger in this building.
There are 5 blocks in Chungking Mansions, the lift of block A, where my hotels is in, was just at the main entrance. I decided to check in first. There were only 10 lifts for the five 17-floor buildings, servicing over 10000 people everyday. I waited for 10 minutes to enter the lift. In the lift, there were Chinese, Arabians and even three monks! Finally, I arrived the 16th floor. There was only one reception for all the four hotels in the floor. The receptionists were two Indians, After check in, they gave me the room key of a room on the 8th floor (huh! not 16th floor!?)
Back to the lobby and waited for the lift. After a while, I decided to walk down stair. Many rubbish around and smell were bad. Arriving the 8th floor, I can saw no sign and only doors and doors. Many bed sheets were hang in the lobby. Seems those are the bed sheets we will use. I took the room card, trying to pass the doors one by one and finally I got it! I rented the best room in Chungking Mansions, around HK$250, and I got a double bed room.
Entering the room, I started to check it. Em…feel not bad, nice wall, air conditioner, TV, toilet. Although it’s small, it’s already a great choice in HK for just HK$250. But there was no teeth brush and towel. You need to pay $20 for a towel. Afterward, I went back to the ground floor and took a look of Chungking Mansions.
單位內有公共冰箱 Public Refrigerator
I saw food stores, restaurant and money exchange everywhere, but no phone shops. 10 years ago, there were many phone shops in Chungking Mansions. Many businessmen from Africa came Chungking Mansions to buy old phone and sell back to Africa. by statistic, 90% mobile phones in African came from Chungking Mansions. But since the rise up of China, More and more Africans went to China to buy the cheaper and better mobile phones. phone shops in Chungking Mansions were closed and became restaurants.
Going up to the 2nd floor, in my first sight were 2 strong black men playing card and the shops around were all closed. I just thought if the 2nd floor is not opened but I decide to pretend nothing happen and kept going. Fine! I saw shops, but a few only. Seems, the influence from China is really great.
View from the 2nd floor
I went back to the ground floor and took the lift to the 3rd floor. There was the most famous Indian restaurant there. Wow, quite a lot people inside, people from Hong Kong, China, and even white people. I ordered a dish of lamb, and a bottle of Indian beer, reply the comment of Steemit. Unfortunately, the lamb was not food, but the curry was great.
Leaving the restaurant, I went downstair back to the Ground Floor, and I was lost. on the way, I saw a woman from the Middle East sleeping beside the stair. There were no people around, if she got in danger, no one can save her. I felt the sadness of the difference between the rich and the poor. Finally, I found a door. When I opened it, there was light, light that I couldn’t adapt to. Oh, it was the CKE shopping mall, which belong to Chungking Mansions also, but with totally different style. You can’t imagine the two different malls, one new one old, is separated by a door only.
Same Mansions, Completely different entrances.
Back to the room, I started to wrote my story today. And then, my friends in Steemit lured me to play “King of Glory”, and I stopped here.
Waking up at 8am, I packed my thing, and left quietly. Going out the building, I felt like going back to the reality. The night before, it seemed like I left HK and went to a strange place to learn everything from the beginning. In Chungking Mansions, Indians and Pakistanis chat happily. Turkishes and Americans hug each other. In this “home of the world” named by the ECONOMIST, there are too many things worth to discover. Chungking Mansions is a black sheep, a lonely island. you can’t imagine such a building can still exits in nowadays Hong Kong. Different nationalities, culture, region, races, live together in peace. It is a treasure for managers and politicians. But, the Chungking Mansions, Best Example of Globalisation in Action, are now defeated by the globalisation, and are changing. The place of adventure of the backpackers today, may be totally different tomorrow. Gordon Mathews said, “ChungKing Mansions will soon disappear by reconstruction”.
I can’t control or answer how the future of Chungking Mansions will be. But I believe that, I will soon arrive Chungking Mansions again, to stay for another night.
Thanks for spending your time to read my articles. I like to share stories of Hong Kong. I wish you may support me and I will keep going!