Chungking Mansions a study of life lived in the raw

An alleged rape at Chungking Mansions is just the latest chapter in the life of a notorious destination with a rich history of anything goes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2015, 5:53pm

Check into a guest house in Chungking Mansions where a student was allegedly raped recently and the shadowy nature of the place comes into focus.

The maze of corridors in the five, 17-storey blocks has sat in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui for more than half a century.

But it was the 1994 Wong Kar-wai movie Chungking Express that earned the buildings in Nathan Road their iconic status.

Time magazine has called it the best example of globalisation in action. The Economist has compared it to the Spaceport Cantina in the original Star Wars movie. It has even starred in a Locked Up Abroad episode.

And it has featured in novels - ones that usually involve a traveller who disappears.

Social media websites have been buzzing about Chungking Mansions since the attack.

Every day 10,000 people walk through its doors to work or visit its restaurants and shops, and an estimated 5,000 people stay there every night.

On June 1, a torture claimant from India appeared in Kowloon City Court accused of raping a mainland student at the Rhine guesthouse on the 13th floor of Block A just after midnight.

The suspect, Mohammad Farhan, 26, who rents a room in the rabbit warren of guest houses, had been delivering goods in the building when the alleged attack took place. The case was adjourned to July 30.

The Rhine guest house has nine rooms and you have to share the bathroom.

The cheapest digs cost HK$180, for a bed in a three-square-metre room.

To secure your place for the night you don't have to show your passport, just write down its number, which of course could also be the first numbers that come into your head.

It worked that way for me.

In the guest house next door to the Rhine, a jaded staff member, 29-year-old Singh, from India, said he didn't know anything about the alleged rape of the student but had his own take on the general goings on at the infamous address.

"When a place has such cheap rooms and hostels it's going to attract a lot of tourists," he said. "That will attract drug dealers and sex workers. It is the same all over the world in these types of places."

Drug dealers sell their wares outside the building and in the neighbouring streets.

One of them, a 32-year-old from Pakistan, was offering a gram of cocaine for HK$2,000 and an ounce of hashish for HK$500.

"We don't need to sell in the building at all. Our regular customers know where to find us," he said.

A few mamasans patrolled the street outside, offering a "full" massage for HK$800 from one of their girls.

They keep an eye out for police and immigration officers, who say that most arrests they make in the area are for immigration violations and drug-related crimes.