Mirador Mansions is "not as famous" as Chungking Mansions (featured in Wong Kar-Wai's 1994 film Chungking Express) "but entertaining nonetheless." It has "more weirdos" and "more confused backpackers." DK Eyewitness Top 10 Hong Kong travel guide.
I am one of those confused backpackers! I'm now reporting from Hong Kong's armpit mistakenly named Mirador Mansions. It is no mansion, my friends. It is 16 floors of sweat shops, drug-dealing dens, closet-sized rent-a-room brothels, several reputable business establishments, temporary living quarters for hordes of African, Indian, and mainland Chinese immigrants, and too cheap backpackers like myself. However, it has taken me a few days to figure this out.
It has taken me countless elevator rides with death staring African men and curious staring Indian men. I'm beginning to see my cleavage as a curse instead of a lovely asset. My cleavage and curves has lead me to interesting conversations with a number of African brothers which only seem to take place in the confines of elevators.
It is a conversation that is based on the alliance of skin color. I can see it in their eyes. They have this twinkle in their eyes which I call the "Oh, it is a Black woman" look. They are excited to see me. And I am surprised yet happy to see them. I get happy when I see Black folks far from the North American borders. However, our temporary and pleasant alliance of skin color tends to be short-lived. The normal interaction that occurs is that after inspecting me for a minute or two, I get asked the magic question.
Man: Where are you from?
Ms. World: America.
Our alliance of skin color seemingly dissolves at the mention of my nationality. Did I say something wrong? Did I do something to offend them? I thought I was being decent by submitting to the annual Black woman inspection which I find somewhat degrading since I'm not being auctioned for sale later this afternoon. Is there something wrong with being from the U.S.A.? Should I lie about my nation of origin?
I have found a few more adventurous African brothers will continue the conversation with me.
Ms. World: Where are you from?
Man: Senegal, Tanzania, etc. Do you know where it is?
Ms. World in an annoyed voice: Yes. It is a West/East African nation.
These more adventurous African brothers actually piss me off a little because they assume I don't know anything about the land which accounts for my lovely skin color. I know Americans have a worldwide reputation for being geography illiterate but some of us are informed. I also must add that I'm up on my West and East Africa geography. However, I will confess that I'm not too confident about my geographic knowledge on Central African nations.
My first night in Hong Kong, I decided to escape the mansion and have a look around the always too bright Kowloon district. I stepped into my first death staring experience with an African brother who didn't see a need to speak with the new Black woman with a very confused look in her eyes. I stepped out of the elevator because I thought it had landed on the ground floor. It hadn't.
I wandered around Dante's Hong Kong purgatory becoming increasingly fearful for my life. However, GOD is merciful and I heard an American voice speak to me in the dungeons. "Where are you going?" the Asian-American woman said.
This is how I met Diva S. a freshly minted law school graduate from Georgetown University who was basking in the glory of completing the New York bar exam. Since I'm a big fan of Diva Chai's weblog which documented the horror and hell of preparing for the California bar exam, I had some knowledge of Diva S.'s current mental state which seemed intent on indulging in lots of rest and relaxation. However, Diva S. had ventured into an unknown dungeon of seediness by booking a room at the Mirador Mansion.
Diva S. and I chatted as we wandered around Hong Kong's purgatory trying to find the front entrance. We were eventually successful and made our way out of the front entrance. This is where I noticed an interesting gathering. There were size-able numbers of African and Indian men hanging on the corners of Kowloon. I thought to myself, "Why are these men hanging on the corner?" as I explored the alleys and corners of Kowloon. I would realize a few answers to my question in the coming days.
There is a level of cross-cultural unity being played out in front of the Mirador Mansions which is a little heartening to my African-American/South Asia/Internationalist loving heart. However, it is a cross-cultural unity based on the black market economies of Hong Kong.
Diva S. and I eventually had a quick yet yummy very late dinner of Southeast Asian food. We decided to make our way back the mansion. However, before we could return to the dungeon of seediness to lay our humbled heads down, we proceeded to walk around in circles for at least 30 minutes. This was unknowingly a sign of what was to come during the next few days in Hong Kong for me. I would walk around in circles for hours. On Monday, I spent over an hour looking for a restroom in a tourist attraction. I eventually took a ferry ride in order to use the toilet.
Eventually, Diva S. and I got our bearings and made our way back to the mansion. It was now after midnight so weren't allowed to freely walk into the building. Two Chinese men dressed in security guard uniforms handed us a form to fill out. The form required me to give my name, nationality, passport number, and place where I was going. All of this information is required for me to get into Hong Kong's armpit to lay my confused head down.
I scribbled down my surname and gave a fake passport number. There was no way in hell I was going to give anyone associated with this dungeon of seediness my passport number. I knew I was getting off easy. I was an American, therefore I didn't have to show my actual passport or documentation like the Africans and Indians.
I made my way to my hostel room. I tried to come to terms with the fact that my cheapness had put myself in a very weird and scary situation. I had made a reservation on an backpackers accomodation website for the cheapest room I could find in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong. Boston Spice and Sexxy Jimmy had warned me that any bed for less than $20USD in Hong Kong had to be seedy. I couldn't be bothered to listen to their advice because all I was focusing on my bottomline.
I was now in possession of two keys for a room where I was renting a dormitory bed for about $9 USD. My Hong Kong accommodation cost would come to about $40USD which was a hardcore backpacker's badge of authenticity. I was keepin' it real backpacking style! I also thought if I could handle staying at the mansion, then I could lay my head almost anywhere in the world.
I am a woman of priorities. My priorities while traveling are to explore the culture and indulge in exploits that are beyond my everyday realm of possibilities. This has meant that I spend my money on winery tours in Australia, buying Buddhist art in Thailand, snorkeling on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, purchasing jewelry with Egyptian hieroglyphics for family members in Luxor. I can do all of this because I'll spend as little dollars possible on my accommodations. I only need a clean place to sleep, warm water to bath, and air-condition in hot climates. I don't need a double-bed, satellite TV, or pretty interiors.
I walked into my $9USD accommodation to find a bevy of testosterone in action. I was shocked! I had booked a bed in a 6-bed mixed dormitory room. Unfortunately, I was the mix! It was all guys and me! "Where is the other girl?" I whined to myself. "I thought this was a mixed dorm. I really don't want to be in a room full of guys."
Fortunately, three guys are harmless Brits and the other two guys are non-talking North Americans. Once I made peace with the fact that I really can be so cheap to sleep in a dorm room with 5 strange guys, I decided it was time to conquer the next hurdle-the bathroom!
There are 3 bathrooms in my section of the hostel. The bathroom is a very tiny room occupied by a toilet, a sink, a toilet paper dispenser, a number of hooks to hang clothing, and a shower head. If I was looking for a way to kill myself, I could walk around in a circle very fast and run smack into the wall. However, I have no interest in killing myself but simply fancy a shower. Japan has taught me the art of moving around very small spaces. I delicately remove all clothing and hang it on the hooks before showering. This step takes considerable time because my latest nightmare is that my clothing and other items will fall on the dirty and wet floor. I'm scared of the floor! Alas, I conquered the bathroom.
There is also a weird occurrence that has happened twice in the early evening. I was in the hostel room talking to a harmless Brit, when a Chinese man came into the room. He pushed some bags around and left. Then he came back with a futon and sleeping bag. The harmless Brit and I watched this stranger (to us) take a nap on our floor. We were stunned. Who was this man? Were the hostel owners subleasing sleeping space on the floor?
My first night of sleep in the dungeon of seediness went very well. I wasn't attacked, kidnapped, or raped. I enjoyed the strong gust of air-conditioned air throughout the night. I woke up on Monday morning alive and well.
Monday was my first full day in the hyper metropolis called Hong Kong. My first duty of the day was to find a cafe where I could sit and sip too hot coffee, read all the tourist information I gathered at the airport and plot my itinerary for the next few days. I was searching for a cafe when I come upon another interesting sight. There were a number of Indian women hanging on the street corners near the Mirador Mansion area.
"Why are these women hanging on the corner?," I pondered to myself. Some women were dressed in colorful and sometimes glittery salwar kameezes. A few women were dressed in Western fashion with a little too much make-up. It took me a few minutes to understand that these women were selling themselves. It was the make-up which actually tipped me off to this fact. And once I realized this, I was thoroughly shocked. I also finally understood how profoundly naive I am about the world.
I was returning to the dungeon of seediness on Tuesday evening when my hunches about the women were confirmed. I witnessed a Chinese man crossing the street, then a plump and pretty Indian woman in pink walking behind him. The Chinese man said, "How much?" The Indian woman gave him an answer. I was shocked and continued to make my way to the purgatory where I passed a row of Indian women sitting on some steps being lectured to by the head madam in an Indian language. Then I passed by a crowd of African and Indian men.
The Indian men always have this look of total bewilderment on their faces when I walk out and into the purgatory. All-non Asians stick out in Hong Kong but I think Black women stick out even more. I have a feeling the Indian men are trying to ascertain if I'm a tourist or down with their crew.
I was waiting for the elevator to the my personal room in the dungeon when the Chinese man and Indian woman from a few minutes early showed up in the lobby to catch an elevator. I kept staring at at the lobby bulletin board because I didn't want to look like I was watching them. However, I'm a trained journalist who is naive yet has keen extincts. I was keep tabs on their interaction while noting an interaction between an Indian man and a Chinese woman. I also think the area is home to some gay male hustlers too.
All of this observation still left one question unanswered. What are the African and Indian men doing on the corner? A few guys in my mixed dorm room have been offered drugs or prostitutes. I've also been accosted by way too many Indian men offering to lead me to a secret location where I could buy all the fake Gucci, LVMH, or Dior handbags a girl could dream off.
There are also lots of tailors who are dying to make me a suit or dress. Unfortunately, I'm one of those "keepin' it real" backpackers who sees no need for more than 10 pieces of clothing (excluding underwear, socks, & pajamas).
I also think some Indian men, African men and women work in the sweat shops in Mirador Mansions. Of course, when the sweat shop workers and the other workers pass by each other in the elevators in purgatory, uneasy looks are exchanged. I was in the midst of one of these exchanges. An Indian man with a beard got on the elevator which held me, a Chinese man, and two African brothers. The Indian man and the Chinese man kept staring at me and the African brothers like they knew I was being pimped out.
Please note that I'm not being pimped out. Honestly, my clothing is too backpackerish to be alluring to the fashionable Hong Kongites. The natives of this special Chinese territory keep looking at my shoes and giving me weird looks. I guess they really don't think trekking shoes go with my capri pants and casual blouses. I'm a backpacker! Screw fashion, I need to comfortable and have a bag light enough to travel with ease.
Finally, what are my thoughts on Hong Kong? I think they should change the special territory's name to "THIS IS HONG KONG BITCH!" The city has completely overwhelmed all of my senses. I've barely been able to find my way through the mazes called streets in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island.
I basically came to Hong Kong to get my fortune told at the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple which you can read about in my book, to eat yummy Chinese food, to visit an large bookstore with a hefty English-language section, enjoy the night market, and because I wanted to see it all. Fortunately, I've done much more than that and enjoyed myself thoroughly.
But my exposure to the other Hong Kong- the one you won't read about on the glossy pages of Travel and Leisure or get detailed touring information in Let's Go travel guides has been an eyeopening education on the realities of the world. I've realized that I may have grown up without a lot of economic means at my family's disposal but I was also very sheltered from a lot of life's hardships.
Please note that I hope I haven't offended any people of African, Indian, Chinese, British, or American descent in the telling of my Hong Kong report. I have no intent to portray anyone or group of people in a bad light. This is my experience which was partly brought on by being very cheap.
Please note I will post some photos later.