HK Alphabet :: C

C :: Chungking Mansions

Taking the Star Ferry or the MTR across the harbor makes it feel like an expedition from the start, but walking into the crowded entryway of the Chung King Mansions is where the real fun starts. Crammed with money changers, backpackers and the insistent refrain of "copy watch," "copy handbag", Chung King Mansions is notorious in Hong Kong as the place for cheap Indian food, knock off mobile phones, and just about any illicit activity you can imagine. Its labyrinthine hallways teem with life, and it's fun to see the vibrancy, but there's a lot of desperation in those hallways too. Refugees, newly arrived immigrant families, drug addicts ... these people all call Chung King Mansions home. Honestly, it's part of what I like about going ... a very visceral reminder of the poverty that exists everywhere, even though it's mostly hidden in Hong Kong.

(I'm a little uncomfortable with this, by the way, ... certainly don't want to romanticize it or participate in "poverty porn" --which is what it felt like when I took pictures in anticipation of this post. Right now I'm going with the idea that as long as the reminder of poverty moves me into action or helps me keep a larger perspective it's OK. When it comes to poverty, it's always better to face it and acknowledge it than to keep it hidden.)

It must be assumed that any Caucasian venturing into the Mansions is in search of Indian food, because as soon as you walk in, the restaurant touts all start their pitches. Men stand around the entrance, waiting to guide customers through the maze, but first they have to get customers, and they take that job very seriously. Luckily, you only have to visit a restaurant once to get a VIP card, and then you just flash that card and the right man finds you.

He escorts you to the right elevator block, which is essential since there are 5 blocks to choose from and each has several elevators. Or he'll take the back way, and lead you through alleys, hallways and stairwells. Windows are broken, wiring is a mess and trash bins overflow ... it's not a place for squeamish stomachs. Eventually you get to your destination, which resembles nothing so much as a bleak apartment with the furniture pushed aside and tables set up.

We've been in two restaurants now in Chung King Mansions, and one actually looked like a restaurant rather than someone's dining room, but both had the same year-round Christmas decor. Both also had delicious, classic Indian food, and in neither would I want to see the kitchen. But, wow, fragrant garlic naan piled with spicy lamb vindaloo (the server called it 'the spicy one') and washed down with a Kingfisher? I'll happily eat that out of any kitchen.

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