Pology Magazine  -  Adventures in Travel and World Culture.
Travel and World Culture   
Travel Image: Hong Kong
Travel Image: Hong Kong

Senses in a Blender: Hong Kong’s Multiple Personalities
By Arun Mistry

Chunks of scent whirled around me in the thick, hot air of Tsim Sha Tsui. Here, Hong Kong’s cultural food processor has overflowed to the mainland, mixing the aromas from every kind of merchant and food vendor you can imagine into its soup of pollution from endless, jostling lines of cars.

Upon my arrival in Tsim Sha Tsui, I had been warned about the dangers of a tourist black-hole, otherwise known as Chungking Mansions. The building, styled in no-nonsense sixties architecture, is on the hectic Nathan road, surrounded by modern hotels and office buildings.

Originally built as a five-block apartment development, the building now houses many budget hostels, tailors, shops and restaurants. It houses a labyrinth of passageways and dimly lit areas, exotic smells. The crowds of men who loiter at its entrance reinforce the shady reputation it earned during its days as a gold smuggling center. Rumors suggest that smuggling continues to this day.

As I approached the entrance, the hawkers smelled fresh tourist blood. While wading through a sea of flailing arms and business cards, I learned I was in need of a fake watch, a hand-tailored suit and an early dinner.

I had not eaten in ten hours, so I could not resist an offer of the “best Indian food in Hong Kong” from a man named Ramesh. Once I had chosen a partner for this dance, my other suitors lost interest and moved on to the next mark.

Ramesh led me through a maze of dimly-lit passages, the walls stained with red streaks of beetle nut juice. The local young men chew the beetle nut to increases virility and keep them awake. Its juice dyes everything it touches a blood red, including the mouths of anyone chewing it, as Ramesh was proud to show me.

The warm scents of cumin and garam masala washed over us as we climbed a flight of stairs. In the bright hallway at the top, a flickering sign announced that we had arrived at the Taj Mahal.

The owner emerged from the restaurant, glowing with pride, and welcomed me with a firm handshake. Ramesh disappeared into the darkness without a word.

To my surprise, the restaurant contained a well-lit, comfortable dining room. The place erupted with aromas so strong I could practically taste the food as I walked in.

The waiter presented me with rich, spicy dishes, each with its own array of flavors. I finished the meal stuffed and disappointed that I was not blessed with greater capacity.

After my feast, I swam against the flow of fresh tourists, back to the main entrance of Chungking Mansions. Like many aspects of Hong Kong, the myths surrounding Chungking Mansions seem to attract more tourists than they repel.

After experiencing the chaos of Tsim Sha Tsui, I decided to cross Victoria Harbor to meet a friend living on Hong Kong Island.

The Star Ferry, a slice of Hong Kong’s colonial past that has run for the past 100 years, ferries tourists and business people across the short stretch of water that joins the two main areas of the territory.

Page 1 of 2   Next Page


All contents copyright ©2005 Pology Magazine. Unauthorized use of any content is strictly prohibited.