Chungking Mansions

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Chungking Mansions
simplified Chinese: 重庆大厦; traditional Chinese: 重慶大廈; pinyin: Chóngqìng Dàshà; Cantonese Yale: Chùhnghing Daaihhah
Front elevation of an 17-storey tenement building with street-level retail access
The front of Chungking Mansions
General information
Address36–44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Completed1961
Technical details
Floor count17 floors. 5 blocks
 
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Chungking Mansions
simplified Chinese: 重庆大厦; traditional Chinese: 重慶大廈; pinyin: Chóngqìng Dàshà; Cantonese Yale: Chùhnghing Daaihhah
Front elevation of an 17-storey tenement building with street-level retail access
The front of Chungking Mansions
General information
Address36–44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Completed1961
Technical details
Floor count17 floors. 5 blocks
Aerial view of Chungking Mansions. Roof colors added: A-red, B-green, C-purple, D-blue, E-yellow. Nathan Road is on the far right side.

Chungking Mansions is a building located at 36-44 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. The building is well known as nearly the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong. Though the building is supposedly residential, it is made up of many independent low-budget hotels, shops and other services. The unusual atmosphere of the building is sometimes compared to that of the former Kowloon Walled City.[1]

Chungking Mansions features guesthouses, curry restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices. It often acts as a large gathering place for some of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians (Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans), Middle Eastern people, Nigerians, Europeans, Americans, and many other peoples of the world. Peter Shadbolt of CNN stated that the complex was the "unofficial African quarter of Hong Kong".[2]

The building was completed in 1961, at which time Chinese residents predominated. Now, after more than five decades of use, there are an estimated 4,000 people living in the Mansions.

Building structure and housing[edit]

Chungking Mansions is 17 storeys tall and consists of five blocks, A, B, C, D and E.

There are two lifts in each block, one of which serves even-numbered floors, the other odd-numbered floors. A CCTV camera system exists at the ground floor level for each of the lift cars.

The first two floors are common space where you can wander around under the blocks; the third floor is actually a terrace level between the blocks where the tower blocks rise out of the base of the building; and all floors above this are accessible only by the stairways and lifts contained in each block.

The separate Cke Shopping Mall, a few metres to the north of the main entrance, however protrudes into the 3rd floor of blocks A and B.

Location[edit]

Chungking Mansions is located in one of the busiest districts of Hong Kong; it is very close to the Tsim Sha Tsui Station, and the East Tsim Sha Tsui Station of the MTR. Several airport buses run by it (A21 No14-Bus Stop).

Kowloon Park is anchored by a Mosque and this structure and the park itself is a popular refuge from the crowding of the Chungking Mansions and the surrounding area. The Hong Kong Cultural Centre including the Museum of Art is close by, across Salisbury Road.

Businesses[edit]

Shops within the "main arcade".
Main entrance (right) and Cke Shopping Mall entrance (left). The entrance of the Wood House shopping mall is located further left.
Typical guesthouse room in Chungking Mansions.

While Chungking Mansions is designated for residential use, the building includes a wide variety of commercial establishments.

Retail[edit]

There are 3 shopping malls within Chungking Mansions. All have their main entrances on Nathan Road: the main arcarde, Cke Shopping Mall and Wood House. The original mall was closed in 1998. It reopened later and the Cke and Wood House were created. In addition, shops and restaurants can be found on many floors.

Many shops in the building are import/export businesses dealing in parallel goods that are predominantly sold to Asian and African countries.[4] On the main floors as well as on upper floors in the towers, there are many restaurants that attract visitors from all over the world. For example, some small and family-run Indian and Pakistani restaurants with traditional Indian curry and Nepalese food are very well known. Due to competition between the very large number of restaurants inside the Mansions that are similar in style, many of them send staff to distribute leaflets on the streets to aggressively promote their restaurants.[5]

There are many money changers located in the lower floors of Chungking Mansions who provide exchange services to the high number of people from all over the world living or doing business here.

Shops in the arcade sell not only traditional items from all over the world, but also trendy goods. Some of the shops found in the Mansions are different from those that are outside on the streets, selling articles which are imported from Asia and Africa. Computers, DVDs and VCDs, clothing, and some traditional snacks from foreign countries can be found inside Chungking Mansions.

Guesthouses[edit]

Chungking Mansions contains the largest number of guest houses in Hong Kong in one building, with 1980 rooms in total. Since it offers some of the cheapest rates in town, it has become a legendary haunt for backpackers and budget travellers.[6][7]

Rooms and or floors are individually owned and managed. Space is at a minimum. Most rooms have one or two beds, a small TV, an "all in one Toilet/Shower" and a small closet. The beds are hard with a thin mattress and a small pillow. Most, if not all, rooms are equipped with an air conditioner.

Public safety[edit]

Telephone wiring.

The age of the building, the diverse ownership and management structure are causes of the building's reputation for being a fire trap. Unsanitary conditions, security, ancient electrical wiring and blocked staircases all contribute to the hazards. On 21 February 1988, a fire broke out in the building. A Danish tourist who was trapped inside was killed. The fire, as well as a blaze in a similar building, provoked a review of rules and regulations concerning public safety.[8]

In 1993, the power and water supplies were suspended for 10 days owing to an explosion in the power supply room. This event made the building's owners and residents no longer able to ignore the poor maintenance inside.

In 1995, Chungking Mansions made local newspaper headlines when Sushila Pandey, a 37-year-old Indian tourist, was killed in the building by her Sri Lankan partner Attanayake Wasala Dangamuwa, 54.[9][10]

It is also known to be a centre of drugs, as well as a refuge for petty criminals, scammers,[11] and undocumented immigrants. For example, in a police swoop in June 1995, about 1,750 people were questioned, and 45 men and seven women from 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.[12] In "Operation Sahara" in 1996, 52 men and seven women from 14 countries were arrested for violating immigration regulations.[13]

To best deal with the safety concerns, the owners' corporation of Chungking Mansions established a HKD$13 million renovation fund in 1999. A total of 208 CCTVs were installed throughout in 2004 and placed under the central control of a security company. Chungking Mansions hires security guards and cleaning workers to patrol night and day and to ensure the cleanliness of the building. Fire facilities were improved with more signs and equipment. From time to time, police officers and immigration officers check the identity of the people inside the building to crack down on drug-trafficking, overstaying and other criminal offences. With all this effort, the security and environment in Chungking Mansions have been improving significantly.

Diversity[edit]

CUHK anthropologist Prof. Gordon Mathews estimated in 2007 that people from at least 120 different nationalities had passed through Chungking Mansions in one year.[14] Mathews also estimates that up to 20 percent of the mobile phones recently in use in sub-Saharan Africa had passed through Chungking Mansions at some point.[15]

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",[16] although racial tensions are known to boil over occasionally.[17]

Cultural references[edit]

Chungking Mansions served as one of the filming locations for Wong Kar-wai's 1994 movie Chungking Express, and is referenced in the title.

Chungking Mansions also featured in National Geographic's Locked Up Abroad, as the location where four young men were sent to rendezvous with gold smugglers. They were contracted to be mules, carrying 60 or more pounds of gold into Nepal.[18]

In Michael Connelly's novel 9 Dragons, detective Harry Bosch travels from Los Angeles to Hong Kong's Kowloon district in search of his missing daughter. Chungking Mansions is described by a character in the novel as a "post-modern Casablanca—all in one building."[19]

The Economist compared it to the Spaceport Cantina in the original Star Wars and quotes anthropologist Gordon Mathews: "whereas the illegalities in Chungking Mansions are widely known, the wondrousness of the place is not."[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Teh, Yvonne. "The World of Chungking Mansions". BC Magazine. Retrieved 22 October 2009. 
  2. ^ "China, hip-hop and the new Sudan." CNN. 4 February 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  3. ^ Eli Lau, Backpacker haven gets $50million makeover, The Standard, 9 November 2004
  4. ^ Peter Shadbolt, Where Africa goes to buy its mobile phones, Financial Times, 31 January 2009
  5. ^ Paul Wenham, Can the charms of Chungking survive?, The Standard, 3 November 2004
  6. ^ Priscilla Cheung, Backpackers live life on the cheap; The Big Mac of travellers, The Standard, 19 July 1996
  7. ^ Tom Carter, Down & Out In Hong Kong, That's PRD, 1 December 2006
  8. ^ A burning question of public safety, The Standard, 29 August 1988
  9. ^ Hedley Thomas, Woman Killed, The Standard, 18 February 1995
  10. ^ Erick Ko, Pre-handover agreement no longer valid, Sri Lanka judges rule, The Standard, 26 April 1999
  11. ^ Angel Lau, Justice catches up with fugitive, The Standard, 14 November 1997
  12. ^ Magdalen Chow, Police raids criticised, The Standard, 7 June 1995
  13. ^ Michael Wong, Police nab 59 in dawn raids on guest houses, The Standard, 24 April 1996
  14. ^ Gordon Mathews: Chungking Mansions: A Center of ‘Low-End Globalization.’ Ethnology XLVI (2): 169–183 (2007)
  15. ^ Inside Chungking Mansions with expert Gordon Mathews CNNGo.com. 15 August 2011.
  16. ^ The Best of Asia Time, 7 May 2007
  17. ^ Laura Beck, Furniture flies in brawl at Chungking, The Standard, 3 August 1995
  18. ^ "Locked Up Abroad". National Geographic. Retrieved 22 October 2009. 
  19. ^ U.S. Crime Writer Tackles a Real Hong Kong Cold Case. Time. By Christopher Shay / Hong Kong Tuesday, 10 November 2009.
  20. ^ Chungking Mansions: Home to the world, The Economist, 20 August 2011

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 22°17′46.94″N 114°10′20.89″E / 22.2963722°N 114.1724694°E / 22.2963722; 114.1724694