Gordon Mathews, Ghetto at the Center of the World

Gordon Mathews, Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

Hong Kong University Press 2011, 241 pp.
N. Jayaram
After being posted as correspondent of an Indian news agency in Beijing in 1988, I made my first trip to Hong Kong in 1989 to buy some equipment and was told by the few Indians living in the Chinese capital then that Chungking Mansions was the place to go. I stayed in one of the so-called guesthouses there for a few days – and swore to myself never to set foot in the building ever again. It was not that the guesthouse was bad; on the contrary, it was kept reasonably clean by the Filipino partner of the Indian man who ran it. But it was the windowlessness of the place and the long wait for tiny lifts to upper floors that made it claustrophobic and unappealing. With obvious exaggeration I took to saying that nuclear fallout would have difficulty penetrating that maze of a building. And on my first foolish attempt at comparing prices of electrical and electronic goods in some ground floor shops then, a couple of strong words of abuse in Urdu/Punjabi were hurled at me – by a Chinese shop assistant.
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