Hong Kong's Spaceport Cantina
Trip Start Aug 29, 2012
25Trip End Ongoing
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"Teeming, crumbling and motley in the extreme, it is a structure to attract or repel the people of Hong Kong, like the Spaceport Cantina in the original 'Star Wars'". That's how the Economist described the Chungking Mansions in an article in which they cite Gordon Mathews, an anthropologist who studied the mansions. Though warned by my friends not to stay in any of the multitude of hostels in the block-long "mansions", after reading that, how could I not?!
A Newfound Love
As we pulled into Shanghai at 2am after an 11 hour bus ride through a snowstorm, the cherry on top of our disastrous Huangshan New Year's sundae, Huang Qian and I vowed in our exhausted state to never leave Shanghai again. We'd been so desperate to crawl into the warmth of our beds, so giddy at the sight of the blue Shanghai road signs.
The next day, of course, I realized that this vow had been even more fickle than the multitude of ambitious New Year's resolutions that had been uttered the night before in places all over the globe. I already had plane tickets to Hong Kong the next weekend.
My visa requires me to leave mainland China every two months and get stamped back in. Grudgingly, I scoured the internet for the cheapest hostels in Hong Kong, most of which lie in the infamous Chungking Mansions my coworkers had warned me about.
A Stacked City
Because Hong Kong is made up of mountainous islands, the streets are smaller and the buildings taller than in Shanghai. It's disorienting and claustrophobia-inducing to newcomers like me. In my panic, I began shooting snapshots to blend in with the tourists around me. When I took the photograph on the left, I was walking up and down the block looking for the frustratingly concealed Chungking Mansions. Where were they?! The Economist said they took up an entire city block! Answer: See upper right-hand corner.
I stopped at the street corner to get my bearings and scrolled through the pictures on my camera. Privately embarrassed that my own camera was more perceptive than me, I turned around, again, and made my way back to the entrance.
My New Russian Family
I waited in line in front of the confusing elevators that are split by floors. As if that wasn't disorienting enough, while waiting, people in line can hear shouts in Russian, Hindi, Cantonese, and English piercing through the delightful cacophony of bargain shoppers passing through the first floor bazaar.
I shared the room with a Russian mother and daughter, Svetlana and Anastasia (no joke). If the hostel is going for an Industrial Revolution Era New York City tenement vibe, they're really on top of things.
A Fashionable Set Up
Anastasia also lives in China and, though I wished I could've stayed and griped with her longer about our visa issues, it was time to run. One of the many pleasures of visiting Hong Kong while working for a Chinese company is becoming an iPhone mule for your coworkers.
My Hong Kongnese coworker had her parents give all the electronic junk to her friend, Mountain. Yes, his name is Mountain. He offered to take me to dinner when we met to make the exchange. Little did I know, this was all part of my coworker's plot to set me up on a date. Oh, the horror!
Luckily, Mountain could only stay for a few minutes. He's a fashion designer and had been working feverishly for weeks on costumes for the Miss Asia competition. I smiled and nodded politely as he talked about designer brands and stitching details. "So, Sarah, what fashion brands do you follow?" "Oh, um...well, I hate shopping. I don't really know anything about fashion..." Chirp chirp.
Stars on a Hazy Night
Horrific, unexpected date over with, I took the subway back to Tsim Sha Tsui to return to my new Russian family. I reached the Chungking Mansions and glanced at my phone. 8:30 pm?! I don't want Anastasia to think her new sister's a geek...
I scanned the horizon for something to do. My moth instincts kicked in when I saw the top of a laser light show in the sky over Victoria Harbour. I fluttered, following the mysterious lights, to Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars.
Happily finding my second cozy Hong Kong bench, I sat breathing in the fresh sea air and watching tourists excitedly search the ground for Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.
Stab wounds from staying overnight at Chungking Mansions: 0.
iPhone 5s successfully delivered to mainland China: 2.
Fashion designer boyfriends: 0.
All in all, not bad for a weekend away.
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