Thursday, March 15, 2007

hong kong: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Our visit to Hong Kong was definitely a mix...

To start with the ugly, here is the building we lived in--the Mirador Mansions. I remember long ago, as a student living in China, hearing stories of Hong Kong being "modern" and "dazzlingly clean." None of the people I was listening to stayed anywhere near the Mirador Mansions. Our whole area (in Kowloon) was dirty and decayed looking--like nothing so much as an apocalyptic future city from a sci-fi movie. The Mirador Mansions (almost exactly like the other major budget accomodations option Chungking Mansion, but with a much lower incidence of cockroaches) is a huge building filled with various small businesses, tons of cheap guesthouses--many of which seem to be in league with one another, abandoned small businesses and guesthouses, and the world's most frustrating elevator. It is extremely creepy and depressing, especially at night. The guesthouse Katie picked was just one among the 50 or so in the building. It's run by a middle aged lady and staffed by several shy Chinese girls from the mainland (which was great for me, since it meant everyone there spoke Mandarin). Our room was small, but clean and cockroach-free, with a TV, AC, and an oddly green, exceptionally high (I couldn't both keep my feet on the ground and sit on it) toilet. All sorts of super sketchy looking people roamed the elevator, stairs, and hallways, admitted freely by the pointless security guards stationed at the entrance after 10 pm. We didn't really think much of the creepiness, except to find it funny, until the second or third night we were there. We walked into the Mansions kind of late, through the door-sized hole in the metal sheeting over the entrance, turned a corner, and saw a man lying on a stretcher. A sheet was pulled up to his chin, and my first thought was, "Oh my God, that guy's dead!" so I watched him carefully for any signs of life. He did not seem to be breathing and no one gave him any kind of medical attention. A policeman and one of the useless security guards stood next to the stretcher, talking seriously, and a crowd of mostly sketchy looking people had gathered. We got on the elevator and pressed the button for our floor...and then a really creepy looking guy in the crowd separated from his friends and followed us onto the elevator. He didn't press a button, just stood there looking at us creepily. When the elevator arrived on the floor, there was a stand-off, since we were not willing to get off in front of him, and he didn't have a destination other than to follow us. Finally, he left the elevator and started sort of drifting down the hallway, so we quickly performed some evasive maneuvers and then locked ourselves securely into our room. The next morning, while Katie and Mary were still asleep, I went to try and pick up our laundry. I overheard one of the Chinese workers say to another, "Did you hear that 4 people died last night?" and asked her in Chinese what had happened...but the owner lady came flying out from her little office and ordered both girls not to tell me anything. I guess she didn't want us to freak out and leave. In retrospect, maybe cockroaches would have been better than seeing a dead person.

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