Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chungking Mansions

"There is no place in Asia quite so multicultural as Tsimshatsui—not Roppongi, not Xintiandi, not even Khao San Road. And from the center of the area's polyglot hordes rises the great sleepless citadel known as Chungking Mansions."

- Liam Fitzpatrick, Time magazine

Dave laughed when I told him I was staying at Chungking Mansions. 

"I'm impressed. Six months ago you wouldn't have stepped foot in there, but now... you're a bad arse. Chung King Mansions is the worst place in Hong Kong. It's full of illegal immigrants and drug traffickers and prostitutes... you're lucky you haven't been killed or mugged. It's in the news all the time. It's a fire hazard - it burnt down a few years ago. There're clips of it on youTube. Google it."*

I tried to tell him that it wasn't that bad. 

It's a bit awkward when you first step off the bus and five touts surround you trying to get you to go to their hostel. And it's a bit strange when you walk into the foyer and it's full of dodgy looking Indians and Africans hanging around in a beaten-up shopping mall, and everything looks worn, fake or stolen. But it's really not that bad. The touts are really quite friendly when you talk to them. And the other characters are interesting enough. They're just scratching out a living like everyone else, and it's really not much different than the dodgy parts of Springvale or Footscray or Broadmeadows. 

Really, it's probably the most interesting place in Hong Kong. The rest of Kowloon is dirty and worn and like what I remember from the stories I heard from my mother. Over the bay, on Hong Kong Island, the city's gleaming and modern and a picture-postcard of capitalist excess. That strip along Nathan Rd, though, is like a bit of New York in the middle of Hong Kong. Ghetto-chic, I suppose you'd call it. Liam Fitzpatrick might be blowing smoke up your arse with that article, but he's blowing quite softly.
amazoned Gordon Mathews, the Chungking Mansions anthropologist cited in this article, and the one who coined the phrase "the best example of globalisation in the world", and he writes some interesting stuff about Hong Kong. Going to have to hunt around the bookstores around here when I have a chance. I'm shuddering at the cost, though. 

Off on a tangent, but why is google a verb, but amazon not? 

Hong Kong is bleeding me dry. I'm leaking money every time I move, and I can't seem to stop the haemorrhage. I've about 250€ left in the bank, and it's disturbing to realise that it's not going to go very far. It's staggering to think that I've still four days left until the flight to Melbourne, and I'll probably blow the lot by Saturday. Actually, it's pretty nauseating, considering how tight I was in Europe. 

Just booked the last hostel I'll ever use on this trip, a little two-day tripper over to Macau. Got a bit sentimental about it, actually. Might print out the receipt and stick it on the wall back home - at least, I will if I can make it out of Chungking alive. 

* It's more a reconstruction of a night's conversation rather than a faithful reproduction. I really can't remember things verbatim anymore. He did say I was a bad arse, though, which was nice of him. When I get home, I'm going to stake out my claim as being the baddest mofo on the east side of the Yarra. 

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