Ghetto at the Center of the WorldMonday, 3 October 2011
In Ghetto at the Center of the World Hong Kong-based academic Gordon Mathews analyses a single building ghetto. It’s probably the world’s best example of ‘low-end globalization’ and all crammed into a 17-storey building on Nathan Rd in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon.
He points out that globalization isn’t all multi-national companies, international brand names and billion dollar marketing budgets. There are also young African entrepreneurs, camping out in rock bottom guest houses, dealing with Pakistani mobile phone dealers and carting home suitcases of Chinese mobile phones to sell on the streets of Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Kigali – all African cities I’ve been to recently. And all that economic activity takes place in Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong.
I’m kind of pleased that Mathews reckons I played a part in the Chungking Mansions story – ‘Tony Wheeler’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring had a pivotal role in bring Chungking Mansions to the attention of many young Western travellers.’ Maureen and first stayed in one of Chungking Mansions’ guest houses in 1977 and in subsequent years we returned on numerous occasions. These days I’m very glad to have left it behind, but I don’t think I ever go to Hong Kong without at least sticking my head in the place and checking out what’s going on. It’s just as fascinating today as it was on that first visit, 34 years ago, and I’m glad somebody has found it so intriguing that it deserves a whole book. I wrote about Chungking Mansions, and other much more expensive Hong Kong hotels, on a visit to Hong Kong in 2010 and I’ve been back again earlier this year.