Welcome to your nightmares – ChungKing Mansions
Our weekend in Kowloon began with a startling introduction to our accommodations. The ChungKing Mansions are a Steven King novel just waiting to happen. A twenty-something story building, rambling and totally derelict, it must have come straight out of Candy Man (a 1990’s horror movie for you non-blockbuster fans out there). Rats in the elevators, peeling paint, broken windows and a stairwell that even the bravest gangster would be hesitant to enter. The foyer of our home-sweet-home was full of Pakistani, Nigerian, and Indian men selling mobile phones, ugly clothes, and cheap calling cards. Walking through the bottom floor in an attempt to find my elevator, I often forgot what country I was visiting. The cat calls and whistles got just a bit annoying, but Cara and I eventually put ourselves on autopilot and steered straight through the leering crowds of hormonal men. Our only elevator to the 12th floor was usually broken or there was a line 20 minutes long full of slimy, touchy-feely salesmen carting up fifty kilo packages of who knows what.
Aside from the outside of the builiding, our pink-curtained room was wonderful (well, it was “quaint”). Two big beds, free towels, and a TV that, once in a great while, showed some type of English program. We were comfy for several nights and I was finally able to sleep soundly for the first time since arriving in China. The 3 a.m visit by the customs police kind of spoiled our fairy tale boudoir – an event that I still fully intend to complain about….to someone…haven’t figured out who yet.
Cara and I were attempting to sleep through the loud racket outside our door. Our neighbors were yakking on the phone for over an hour and it was well past the hours of using indoor quiet voices (didn’t anyone learn that in first grade?). Before we could go out and ask nicely for a bit of peace, they ended the phone call and all was quiet in the Mansions. Sound sleep at last! Until…20 minutes later—BANG, BANG, BANG—followed by insistent ringing of the hostel’s doorbell. Not knowing what sort of drunk fanatic was lurking outside we weren’t about to go open the door for them. So, hoping they would go away, we pulled our pillows over our heads in an silly attempt to cover the noise. Eventually, after 15 more minutes of constant bell blaring and door banging, our neighbor came out and investigated. That’s when we were thrown out of our beds by a sudden thumping on our own door. “Police, open up.”
Now, mom has trained me well and, although I have naive tendencies from growing up in small town farm country, I would gladly walk barefoot in the public toilets downstairs than have opened the door to strangers at 3 a.m. in the morning. What would the police be doing at that hour? More important, why would they want to see us? I’d like to say that after all my traveling that I have developed a rather brave persona…..not in this situation.
Therefore, since we hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on, Cara and I staunchly told them a flat out no, we were certainly not going to open the door. We were again ordered to open the door while we stood behind the door and said, “sorry ,absolutely not.” Eventually, since it seemed they weren’t about to leave us alone, we asked for ID, which they refused to push under the door. Since they weren’t offering any ID, there was no way in hell I was opening the door to some idiot of a man pounding on my door. I’ve watched enough ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and episodes of ‘Cops’ to let my imagination run away with me. What’s a girl to do in this situation? What would you do?
Looking back, we must have made quite an entertaining sight. We were both in our underwear; Cara clutching her Swiss army knife and me poised with the telephone receiver —the only weapon I could find on short notice. We eventually heard some of the voices move further down the hall while one of the men stood post at our door and continued to pound furiously. Finally, a female officer who spoke clear enough English explained that they were doing a routine customs check. For fear they would kick in our door in if we didn’t cooperate, we hastily opened the door a crack and shoved our passports out. By then, our darling 4-foot landlord showed up in his checkered boxers and tried to calm us down. Mr. Woo explained that this happened all the time. He had forgotten to remind us to be prepared. Whoops!! Finally, the now complacent customs official handed our passports back and we sheepishly smiled and wished them luck with the remaining 11 floors.