It’s known as the ‘Ghetto in the Center of the World.’
Located in Kowloon, the Chungking Mansions building has a bit of a reputation. Friends from Hong Kong often warned against it with wide eyes, telling me to be careful in this fabled place. I stepped in its doors, with my little suitcase, and was immediately grabbed by a man. Hey baby do you need a room?
I stayed in Chungking Mansions for several days during my first trip to Hong Kong, booking a tiny room in an old apartment complex that confusingly called itself a hotel. A tiny space, disguised as a hotel room. A run down building calling itself a mansion. Every day, they say 10,000 people go in and out of its doors – asylum seekers, restaurant owners, travelers, residents. It’s the setting of Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express, and has been compared to the Spaceport Cantina in Star Wars.
I ended up there while attending a short (and amazing) course led by VII Photo’s Christopher Morris, and for the class I took photographs of the building, when originally my idea was to do a story in Disney Land – which was perhaps the opposite of the mansions. Soon I would find myself inside narrow bedrooms with sticker walls, in a gazebo with a man as he smoked up some ice, up and down a maze of stairwells that was constantly surveilled.
Chungking Mansions is a curious little part of the world, difficult to make sense of. And yet, for even just a few days in a cramped up little room, I found myself at home.
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