International Writers Magazine: Hong Kong in Chungking
of the aspects of travelling and moving around is the element of
pre-booking accommodation and modes of transport. We have
travelled the length and across the bottom of China entirely by
train except for the bus from Chengdu to Lijiang, which seems a
Sheffield to Hong Kong, our chosen route has been about 25,000 km.
Our accommodation choices for Hong Kong were limited due to price
and we settled for Chungking Mansions. The reviews on the site were
good and for the healthy cost of around £50 per night - this
is cheap, we booked it not knowing anything about the place.
(see pic) nestles in prime location on Nathan Road and it is exactly
as the guide books and hostel pre arrival email warned. On arrival,
because we have so many bags, its obvious that we are going to
stay inside and there is an immediate swarm of Indian men touting
their quality hotel. You have to actually physically push
past them, then, when inside the buildings ground floor itself,
there is a myriad of multi cultural nationalities, food stalls, money
exchange units and a mixed up melting pot of things to buy form the
small shop unites - so much so that the initial first impression leaves
you breathless and without any real understanding of what you have got
yourself into and where you are.
As wed received a warning email from the hostel before arriving,
about the touting offers, we werent that surprised and refused
all of the offers for accommodation. They unnerved me a little
We had to go to block C, at the back, lift 6 and up to the 15th
floor. There were long queues for the lifts and each time the
lift arrives, the same thing happens whereby it is crammed to busting
and the door wont shut. The lift sounds a little bell to tell
all that it wont leave until the overloading is sorted.
The lifts are small metal boxes which will take 10 people - this is
vividly shown in full Technicolour on a CCTV monitor above the lift
which always shows what is happening inside. When its our turn,
we cram into the lift with a back pack and wheelie back each taking
up room for 5. Our initiation into the building comes when 4 more people
tried to squeeze in and loudly announced, move your bags.
To where? was my answer, so I was shown and the bag was
physically oiked ridiculously under my body and the person squeezed
into the space by the door only 10 inches wide.
This was our rudimentary welcome to Chungking.
We arrived on the 15th floor to a random small desk and an Afro-Caribbean
guy asking my name and requesting 2500 HK dollars for the room. I wasnt
keen on handing money over to a man standing by a makeshift desk even
though he had produced my email booking form from a pile from underneath
a ledge. I asked him his name and if he was the receptionist who had
emailed me but he wasnt that person. He asked us to sign in the
checking in sheet (makeshift word table document) and I did it. He kind
of conned me by saying floor 7 was fully booked and we could have a
new room on 15th - it was all new, so as we didnt mind,
I said it didnt matter.
Every day I live and learn - NEVER say it doesnt matter
because, actually, it always does.
Along the entirely tiled corridor, we were given a room on the
right hand side, no bigger than the interior of a large square
car with white tiles from floor to ceiling - very much like a prison
cell. When I saw the window and it was blank and white,
I realised that it was decorative and gave us a view of the plaster
that separated our room from the next . We were bang in the middle of
the block with a view to nowhere. It had 2 beds in an L shape,
one with its head to the foot of the other and the tiny space in between
for me and Chris to stand up next to each other and nothing more.
I seriously felt sick and claustrophobic and felt my soul leaving.
Chris showered in the shower room no bigger than a toilet with a shower
head above but I wanted to run. It felt and sounded as if I was
on a ship. The room looked to nowhere and the extractor fan (not
air con) was blowing hard but there was no space to send the air
and it buffeted around and created that ships chimney sound with
a repeated low boom noise.
I sat on the bed feeling sea sick and noticed through our
open door that the woman exiting her room opposite to ours had
REAL windows and that you could see the outside - so I leapt up
and asked the man at the reception if we could have one.
Chris couldnt believe it, as he was exiting the shower, I exclaimed,
were moving and how can you unpack so much in 5 minutes?
whilst wildly trying to repack stuff to get out as quickly as
possible, claustrophobia and a sense of doom building.
Eventually, the hotel moved us 3 floors down in the
building to the Lucky Hotel. Lucky Hotel, is a 7 roomed
'hotel' that was once an apartment. All of the hotels in ChungKing
mansions have evolved from residential apartments. We were greeted
by the ever cheery, Henry, who manages the hotel and we
now have a room with two windows. The room is still the same size
as the first one - you can shower whilst sitting on the
toilet, the entire level below is being completely renovated
and ripped out with pneumatic drills and I cant hear a thing over
the noise but I dont care and I feel happy because we have 2 windows
and I can see the sky and we have a view.
Theres so much life happening here that it should be a very exciting
four days. I just have to check out where the fire escape stairs are
and then Ill feel okay.
Its Saturday morning, 9.48. The sun is shining onto and through
our thin minty coloured curtains and sheds a long beam of light into
the room. Weve been here three days now and have our bearings
in the City. Our two single beds are pushed together by the window
which faces the side of the building. Every morning, a pigeon visits
me and sits on the extractor box tilting its head to see inside
our space. Chris is lying flat on the bed with his ear drops in
his left ear to fight the infection that has built up over the last
three weeks, he has skindruff because his entire back and shoulders
are peeling from the sun burn - slivers of skin lie all over the place.
Im playing Jose Gonzalez on the laptop and everything is good.
I realise that I have relaxed into travelling. Its taken three
months. Chris body-wiggle-dances horizontally on the bed because he
cant move his head - a bit like my old happy dog when she
rolled on the floor with a wet ear from having a bath - I couldnt
feel happier. As I watch and laugh, he says that he will look back when
he is old and remember these as some of the happiest times of his life.
I also realise that this moment is touching real and good because my
grin is enormous and I am calm. I realise that we have travelled a really
long distance and learnt many tiny life skills that have built up to
this moment. I dont want to bother doing anything outside
of this room in a hurry because everything is here and has built up
to this one understanding in the moment. What isnt here,
I know exists waiting outside, to be learnt or understood or seen.
What more could I want on this Saturday morning in Hong Kong?
Since moving into Chungking mansions, Ive done a little research.
Yes, back to front, I would agree but better late than never.
Facts - taken from Wikipedia
The building was completed in 1961, at which time Chinese residents
predominated. Now, after more than four decades of use, there are an
estimated 4,000 people living in the Mansions.
Chungking Mansions is 17 stories tall and consists of 5 blocks, A, B,
C, D, and E.
There are two elevators in each block, one of which serves even-numbered
floors, the other one odd-numbered floors; there is often a queue for
The price of a flat in the Chungking Mansions ranged from HK$4,000,000
to HK$10,000,000 as of August 2007.
The mall was closed in 1998. In 2003, the first and second floors were
acquired by a developer for approximately HK$200 million, and spent
HK$50 million on renovations. Under the new building plan, the 50,000-square-foot
second floor was divided into 360 small shops measuring 50 to 500 sq
ft each and resold. The new 'Chungking Express' mall was relaunched
at the end of 2004. Chungking Mansions contains the largest number of
guesthouses in Hong Kong in one building, with 1980 rooms in total.
The age of the building, the diverse ownership, and management structure
are the cause of the building's reputation for being a fire trap. The
unsanitary conditions, security, ancient electrical wiring, block staircases
contribute to the hazards.
Anthropologist Prof. Gordon Mathews revealed that there are people from
at least 120 different nationalities who have passed through Chungking
Mansions in the past year.
With this lively mix of guest workers, mainlanders, local Chinese, tourists
and backpackers, the Chungking neighbourhood is one of the most culturally
diverse locations in Hong Kong. Chungking Mansions was elected as the
'Best Example of Globalization in Action' by TIME Magazine in
its annual feature The Best of Asia, although racial tensions
are known to boil over occasionally.
It is also known to be a centre of drugs, and a refuge for petty criminals,
scammers, and illegal immigrants. For example, in a Police swoop in
June 1995, about 1,750 people were questioned, 45 men and seven women
from various Asian and African countries were arrested on suspicion
of offences including failing to produce proof of identity, overstaying,
using forged travel documents, possessing equipment for forging documents,
and possessing dangerous drugs. In 'Operation Sahara' in 1996,
52 men and seven women from 14 countries were arrested for violating
The Chungking Mansions served as one of the filming locations for Wong
Kar-wai's movie, Chungking Express.
One personal fact is that I will never do again is to go to see copy
handbags that are offered by the same indian men who offer accommodation
at the front of Chungking. Patti wanted a channel 2.55 which I looked
up on the internet and then was able to recognise. Believe me, they
exist in these mansions but after my experience of going through the
labrynth and up in a tiny lift with an unknown person leading the way
to a double metal locked door room, it wasn't a comfortable experience
and I wont be doing it again.
my brief introduction to our initiation into Chungking Mansions,
Ill mention only one other place in HK that we have visited
because its very different to any other place Ive visited
in China and is definitely worth a visit if youre in the neighbourhood
- its Tin Hua Temple
Image Joss Sticks in the Temple
After my brief introduction
to our initiation into Chungking Mansions, Ill mention only one
other place in HK that we have visited because its very different
to any other place Ive visited in China and is definitely worth
a visit if youre in the neighbourhood - its Tin Hua Temple
A small temple hiding by Nathan Road and shrouded by high rises. There
is a restful garden both at the front and back where there are ancient
Banyan trees and men huddle underneath.
temples entrance is open to the sky in a courtyard shape and
hung from all four ceilings of the quadrangle are many many coil
incence sticks with huge tin bases. All of the coils are burning
and the air is heavy with drifting ribbons of smoke and the scent.
The entire temple is shored up with bamboo scaffolding.
A young couple move backwards and forwards from the alter carrying
paper baskets full of folded hell money to burn for a dead ancestor.
Their entry into the room where the offerings are burned, to the
side of the main temple and on the right, is foretold by a man banging
the bell and the drum which hang to the side of the door.
At the back to the
left are cabinets full memories of the dead. They line the shelves in
what appears to be marble tablets or red paper books. Each tablet or
book has a photograph of the dead ancestor, some have very old HSBC
red envelopes taped to them which I assume contain money for the afterlife.
They all look beautiful, suspended in time both in their death and in
living on the shelves. They all live quietly side by side with watchful
An old man sitting by the entrance seems irritated by me watching the
couple carrying their offerings and he surprisingly turns the radio
on, very loudly. After the offerings are made to the ancestors,
the man takes the fortune sticks in the drum, kneels on the centre cushion,
prays and asks his personal question to the deity in front. On shaking
the box, a bamboo stick will extend itself more than the others. The
stick is the answer to the question asked and is taken to the fortune
box - the number on the stick is found to correspond with a folded paper
that will predict the answer to the question asked.
I watch and wait, after he has finished and is leaving, I ask in Mandarin
if he can speak English, he can and explains the act of the sticks.
He encourages me to have a go. I take it seriously and ask my question,
a stick emerges, it is wu shi liu - 56 and I go to
the fortune box and am handed my prediction. My paper is transcribed
by the man to a woman who translates it back to me in English. It goes
something like this: My life is already arranged for me.
If I feel sad or tired - dont worry it will pass. There was nothing
bad foretold for me.
© Tracey Doxey November 2008
See my blog:
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.