When a Mansion Is Not Really a Mansion....
Trip Start Feb 03, 2010
56Trip End Jul 09, 2010
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Where I stayed
Chung King Mansion
A few weeks ago I got a great deal on a return flight to Canada....therefore officially ending my "one-way ticket" journey. I only paid $86 - Canadian!!! for a direct flight from Paris to Toronto. with taxes - still under $275!!! Oh - I love a bargain. and this facilitated my visiting my friend Clem and her family in France. So....I am returning to Toronto on June 20, stay with my Dad and Marion in Guelph for 10 days and return to Calgary on June 30 - just in time for Stampede!!! I love Stampede.
So, Hong Kong it was and it looked like it was going to be for a week. I looked at so many flight routes between Asia and Paris - at one point I had a plan to go to Katmandu - Delhi - Bombay - Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok - Paris. I am definitely a cheap traveller and you know you spend too much time on the computer when you know most of the Asian cities by their Airport codes.....
In the end I booked a Royal Jordanian flight - Hong Kong - Bangkok - Jordan - Paris. Very long route, but cheap is cheap and sometimes you have to pay in other ways for cheap routes.
Being cheap and in Hong Kong is a difficult mix. The accomodations in this very very expensive City are crazy. I just couldn't find anything in my price range (cheap, cheap) that didn't come in hourly rates or that didn's have issues with rodents and bed bugs.....until I read about The Mansion.......hmmmmm.....a cheap mansion......????
Chung King Mansion kept coming up on my internet searches but with various different names. So many Guest houses, but with all the same address. The address and reviews boasted that the place was in an amazing location - on the Kowloon side - just minutes from the metro and right in the heart of the action. And cheap, cheap......cheap in Hong Kong means $100 night for a no star and $500 a night for a few stars and, for a week, that just was not in my budget - not for a place I would be out all day and just needed a clean place to sleep. The reviews also directly said this place was not for the faint of heart or the newbie traveller: some reviews said it just wasn't a place for women - too scary, etc.
I must say I was a little worried when a number of the Guest Houses started their marketing pitch with - "IIf you expect normal place - do not come here!!!!" I was intrigued, nervous but most of all attracted by price. Single room for $30, the next available price point was over $120 so......as they say in India...."Why Not"???
Booked in over the weekend to lock up the reservation - these big cities really get booked up on the weekends.
Hopped on the train from Guangzhou to Shenzhen, got off, shopped some more in Shenzhen - still not buying much and then walked through a mall into the border between China and Hong Kong!!! Did the paperwork and 30 minutes later was out of China and into Hong Kong. Amazing - I walked both into and out of China!!! Overland from Vietnam and now overland into Hong Kong. Who knew you could do that?
Hoped on the Metro (subway) which is right at the border - to facilitate the shopping crowds between the two countries - and 30 minutes later (in crazy squished gleaming new subway car) arrived at the station I was headed to.
Up out of the ground into the streets of Hong Kong to find my very own mansion. I thought China was crowded......ay ay ay.....last time I was in Hong Kong was in the early eighties and I remembered it being very crowded......the islands have not gotten any bigger but it seems that many more millions have found their way across that very same border crossing. It is packed!!!! Jam packed and I alighted to the hot and steamy pavement mid day. The scene was remenescent of swarming bees on a hive. Non stop noise and people and people and more noise and signs and neon and billboards - a full fledged assault on every sense. It was over 30 degrees, full sun, as I started to unfold myself from the crumpled mess I had become in the squished subway car. It had been difficult to be on the train with my backpack, hold onto my big pack and wonder if any of the bodies rubbing up against you have hands inside your stuff. It takes a little while in each new country to assess all of these types of worries and I prefer to have time to do the assessing on my own terms. Welcome to the madness of Hong Kong.
I parked in the shade for a little bit just to catch my breath before hitting up the first guy with my inquiry for the street 'the mansion' was on. Right away - it was obvious I wasn't in China anymore. Everybody could speak English. OK, not everybody, but in the area I was in, right in the heart of designer row, everybody was westernized. The other funny thing was how different the fashions were. On the China side - one half hour away, as in all of the Chinese cities I was in, the women dress super fancy - every single day. Like how we would dress on New Years Eve Really. It is something mentioned on many people's China blogs....I didn''t get it til I saw it. Sparkly fancy dresses, rhinestone high heeled shoes, hair ornaments, beautiful grooming.....hours and hours spent on hair and makeup. Or super super short shorts with those same sexy rhinestone shoes. Never do you see women under 45 in flat shoes. always super high sexy shoes. On those blasted cobblestones to boot! They used to pooh pooh my sensible sandals. I read a story in the Chinese newpaper about the first two weeks of Expo in Shanghai. The medical facilities had been busy with 650 patients in the first two weeks - 500 of them with injuries resultant from high heels - the officials were asking visitors to please not wear high heels to Expo!!!
On the Hong Kong side - only the Chinese tourists were in their fancy outfits - the Hong Kong women were in very casual jeans or normal shorts with flip flops. But the men.....oh....so nice in beautifully tailored suits - men very groomed, women, not so much.
The first guy I stopped knew exactly where I was going....hmmm....I followed his directions - only 5 minutes away past Burburrys and a bunch of other big designer stores, past the Sheraton....hmmm...good neighborhood........to mid block....then a bottle neck on the street.....I hit 20 touts at once. On the sidewalk, every nationality imaginable - pushing their paper flyers and business cards in my face....."Tailor, tailor? One day - you want Tailor? You want room? You want room? You want change money? You want watch, you want handbag? Gucci, Chanel?? you want, you want, you want??" The cross section of nationalities was the most startleing. Africans in suits, in native outfits, Southern Indians, Sikhs, Arabs, all on the sidewalk blocking passerbys. All in one place. I fought through the little mob, slowed down long enough to look up and......yup.....".Chung King Mansion." A 17 storey crap building in the middle of glittering designer and jewelry row. This stretch of Hong Kong real estate is known as the 'Golden Mile' and features some of the fanciest Jewelry stores and watch stores and designer stores.
Chung King Mansion is a relic from days long ago and is pretty famous in its on right - It was written up in Time magazine - the article explaining the significance of this building to new comers to Hong Kong. Seems it has, for decades, been the first stop for new immigrants to Hong Kong. The only place they could afford to stay and live.
It wasn't the only place I could afford but it was the price I wanted to pay and although the entrance and street action was intimidating, I braced myself for what the rest of the building might be like. The street level touts made way to the entrance level touts. Money changing booths of all styles scattered the first floor and the touts inside were grabbing at my bags trying to get me to come with them to the guest Houses they represented. Like crows fighting over that last French Fry in a McDonald's parking lot. I was fresh pickings - looking a little dazed and hopefully stupid enough to believe that age old tout storey that your Guest House sent them to find you and bring you up to a different location than you had anticipated. Every country, every tout scam in action here. "You looking for Phillip? I am Phillip. "You looking for John?" " I am John." " come with me" "You want watch? Handbag? Gucci? Prada?" And I hadn't even made it past the first 20 feet towards the elevators. As I sashaded through the money lenders, the fake watch and purse sellers and through the curry stalls, past the roti booths, through the Indian DVD store, I found a very long lineup curling around a central area.
Again it was the participants in the line - men in colorful African full length tunics, big beautiful black African women in skin tight clothing exposing all the 'junk in the trunk' you could imagine, Indian men in their mini skirts I have described here before, Arabs in their long flowing white tunics with accompanying head gear and most of them shuffling huge bales of stuff - the stuff I had seen in Guangzhou - clothing and other stuff, bundled into bales and packaged in plastic woven material. That is how they ship things here in Asia - they sew your parcels. sometimes first into a box and then you pay someone to "sew' tight plastic or fabric around to make a very tight seal. Pretty ingenious and practical with all the humidity and theft issues.
Anyway, back to the long lineup. I wondered if there might be free stuff so joined in, only to find that this was the lineup for the elevator!. Two tiny little 5 man elevators for a 17 storey building with hundreds of residents and businesses. And the state of the two elevators! - see picture - the wires and electric parts were fully exposed and hanging down in the very very humid air. I dragged me and my bags into the lineup - making sure not to allow any space between me and the next guy, because after all, this is Chinese Asia and bodychecking for a closer space in any line is a contact sport practiced by all ages. I can't describe the heat and the smells of the curry and the roti and the mixed race BO....and I had not even made it up to the 15th floor where my own little slice of paradise was waiting. I reconsidered my cheapness, but decided to reframe my thinking and to try and soak up this incredibly unique experience to share the world in one elevator.
The lineup took forever with much grumbling and sparring between the nations. Sometimes you could get ten in - mosh pit style, other times 5 and 5 bundles - some people on top of the bundles and so on..... I kept looking around for other western travellers like me - maybe someone else with a backpack or a suitcase - someone who didn't live here or hope to live here. I had seen two Swedish or Finnish looking young kids near the money changers but I don't think they were aggressive enough to make it into the bowels of the Mansion. I now completely understood the essence of the reviews I read and the warnings of the Guest House owners. This place is so unique - not for the first time traveller and definitely not for the easily frightened.
When it was my time to finally be expelled from the elevator - I spewed out onto the 16th floor only to find an absolute myriad of signage to numerous Guest Houses. How it works is people have bought up little spaces on each floor and partition that space into tiny, cell like cubicles. They may have 10 cubicles or 8 and they rely on the touts out front to find cheap or desparate travellers or refugees or illegal aliens looking for a place to stay/live. Me - I was looking for Mr. Phillip of the Ocen Guest House. I had read he ran a tight ship and was a stckler for cleanliness. I was not disappointed in either. As I turned the corner I ran into two fresh faced boys - two young guys, new Graduates from UNB - Fredericton New Brunswick kids! Homeys!
We started chatting about the absurdity of the whole place - they were pretty new to travelling - this was their first stop on a three month Asian adventure. They filled me in on life at the Mansion - they were on their way out, and I was able to give them valuable advice for what to see and where to stay in each of the countries they were headed. As they were taking copius notes (engineering grads!), Mr Phillip arrived and all was good....except.....no room at the Inn for Deb!!
Yes I had a reservation, but no, i couldn't have a private room. The boys got to see expereince in action and later told me they were glad to watch and learn... So much fun being old and wiser on the road - the mentorship opportunities are really really fun. At the end of the discussion, Mr Phillip found me a three bed cell block with private bath and we both were happy. me - more happy than Mr Phillip, but both of us starting our new relationship off nicely.
My cell/room had three twin beds pushed together and a bath that was a toilet with a shower right over top of it and a sink the size of little mixing bowl. The entire room and bath completely tiled in white sparkly clean tiles. Kind of like being in a large clean shower stall. Mini flat screen TV over top of the bed and, if you needed to move to the bed, you had to step over your bag or slep with your bag. And this was a 3 bed room!!!!! funny though - I really liked it. It had a tiny barred window, that if you stood on a bed you could see out.......my own little Hong Kong Mansion......a $30 mansion!
It wasn't Thailand where everything is pretty and perfect but it was somewhere new to start to explore.