Hong Kong's United Nations

by MaryLou Driedger, Oct 12, 2008 | Destinations: Hong Kong / China / Kowloon
Two salesmen from Pakistan outside Chung King Mansion in Hong Kong

Two salesmen from Pakistan outside Chung King Mansion in Hong Kong

Two salesmen from Pakistan outside Chung King Mansion in Hong Kong
Chung King Mansion in TST Hong Kong

It's the mini United Nations of Hong Kong.

Chungking Mansion, built in 1961, is located in the heart of Hong Kong. The base of the Mansion building is a street accessible mall. Perched atop it are five towers each seventeen stories high. They offer 1500 of the cheapest rooms for rent in Hong Kong.

The Chungking Mansion houses guest hostels and budget hotels that charge as little as $18 Canadian a night. The bathrooms in these establishments are often shared by several tenants and are so small they say you can brush your teeth and go to the washroom at the same time.

The neon lights of Hong Kong flash in your windows all night long and if you are taller than 5 feet your legs stick out at the end of the bed. Despite these inconveniences the low rates at the Chungking hotels draw plenty of tourists traveling on a shoestring budget, asylum seekers, new immigrants and backpackers from around the world.

Gordon Matthews, an associate professor of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says people from 120 different countries pass through the Chungking Mansion every year. An article in Time magazine recommended going to the Chungking Mansion if you wanted to see an excellent example of globalization.

The lobby of the Chungking is a people watchers’ paradise. It’s a fascinating potpourri of folks dressed in the garb of their native lands; Nepalese ladies wearing lovely saris, African women with their heads wrapped in colorful scarves, Pakistanis in their pajama –like trousers and Indian men in turbans.

Christian Action is a charity group that runs a Service Center in Chungking Mansion. Students at the international school where I teach volunteer for Christian Action and help do fundraising for their organization. Christian Action offers free meals, clothes, medical care, friendship and language classes to the new immigrants and asylum seekers who make their temporary home at the Chungking Mansion.

The mall on the main floor of the Mansion houses 360 little shops and restaurants ranging in size from 50 to 500 square feet. They sell everything from Bollywood movies to pirated software and cheap mobile phones.  You know you are getting close to the Chunking Mansion when salesmen from these shops accost you on every side. They want you to enter the mall and buy their wares. Till you reach the Mansion steps you feel like you are walking a gauntlet with men shouting in your ears, “Copy watch, copy watch”,

“ DVD’s, the latest DVD’s “, “tailor-made suits”, or “ cheap, cheap dinner”. They hand you brochures for their businesses and beg you to try their merchandise. My technique for handling them is to pretend I am talking on my mobile phone. This seems to discourage the aggressive vendors from bothering me. My husband Dave on the other hand rather enjoys the ‘attack of the salesmen’ and usually engages them in a lively conversation.

One of the main reasons we go to the Chungking Mansion regularly is to visit a great little ‘hole in the wall’ restaurant called Swagats. It only has six tables but it serves some of the most delicious, inexpensive Indian food in Hong Kong.

The Chungking is a bit seedy looking and has something of a reputation for being a centre for drug sales and petty criminals. I have been there many times however and have found the people I met to be most friendly and happy. I have never felt unsafe.

The Chungking Mansion has served as a filming location for several Hong Kong movies. I can understand why. It is a lively, interesting place teeming with colorful people.

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