Chungking Mansions, a vast collection of seedy low-budget hotels, infamous for its history of drug trafficking, prostitution, and illegal goods, also contains some of the best Indian food in Hong Kong. Located in the heart of the bustling retail district of Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) in Hong Kong, it is home to immigrants and refugees, most commonly of Indian, Pakistani, and African descent. Wholesale markets, eateries, electronic stores, and many more shops fill up every nook and cranny of the massive complex. TST is peppered with these mansions, many of which contain high-end tailors, watch sellers, and known fashion brands. Here, the poor and the hyper-rich live entwined. No space is too small to be left untouched; the cramped alleyways, not much more than 5ft across in some cases, house stalls selling porno magazines to flowers. With the added notoriety, the neighboring mansion, Mirador Mansion, has developed its own criminal history, with a man last year found dead, naked with tape over his mouth within its walls. Even still, police raids at Chungking Mansion are expected, with multiple high-profile drug trafficking arrests just last year and some this year, one of which resulted in the seizure of USD$240,000 of cocaine. Wong Kar-wai fans have also put the mansion on the map through the director’s 1994 movie, Chungking Express.
Walking into the Chungking Mansion, a ludicrous number of stock-exchange booths and a pleasant waft of curry greeted me. Splashes of color from the ethnic cuisine or the blinding white of off-brand electronics break up the gray interior washed in fluorescent lights. The masses of pipes and exposed wires that line the ceiling, mixed with the dim lighting, create a somber, dystopian, and uncomfortable atmosphere. I certainly did not feel welcome within the mansion. Being a white American, I stand out and collect a lot of stares. I sat down at a Pakistani/Indian eatery enjoying the marvelous view of large gray pipes, insulation, and wires that hover above the 1st floor. A Hong Konger native came up to me, spoke in English with a heavy Pakistani accent to take my order. To my surprise, he spoke Urdu to the chef behind the counter. Not to my surprise, however, the lamb kabob was delicious but was astonishingly more expensive (HKD$65) than I expected from such a grungy place. The aromas of all the surrounding food were incredible, but the atmosphere encourages me to take whatever food I get there and go.
The sub-culture in the Chungking Mansions feels like a modern Kowloon Walled City, which Hong Kong law could not touch, resulting in a city of vice. A park now sits on the walled city’s razed foundation, replacing its concrete with Jiangnan-styled gardens and outdoor recreational allotments. TST is now home to its replacement, with Chungking Mansions becoming the last remaining ghetto of Hong Kong and a place for immigrants and refugees to bring a slice of home with them in Hong Kong.