Back into the light

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am


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To a roll of drums and showers of confetti, Chungking Mansions, once dubbed the 'ghetto at the centre of the world', celebrated its official 50th anniversary yesterday with a ceremony that also marked the first facelift since it was built in 1961.

Salina Lam Wai-lung, chairwoman of the incorporated owners, greeted guests and officials in a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the former eyesore in Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. They included Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing, who praised the owners for bringing the iconic building back to life. 'We all know Chungking Mansions used to be an eyesore,' he said. 'It is a miracle that the building is now standing proud, with a new facade, thanks to the work of the owners.'

As a small crowd of flat owners, businessmen and curious passers-by gathered to watch a dragon dance, Lam, sporting a pink suit, said the two-year renovation had been a challenge - not least in persuading the owners of the 920 shares in the building to spend the required HK$19 million.

'We had to let them understand that it was about the safety of the building,' she said. 'In 50 years, we had never renovated the exterior. It was difficult to make it look modern.' The new facade is highlighted by about 600 multicoloured LED lights that were turned on for the first time at 8pm last night. Wasim Ahmed, owner of several shops in Chungking Mansions, said the building was very dangerous two decades ago. 'But now, things have changed,' the Pakistani said. 'You have CCTV cameras everywhere and the guestrooms all have safety standards to abide by.'