“This place is SO small, Dave.”
“Yeah, but it’s cool, isn’t it, Yumiko?”
“Does cool mean small?”
Our hotel room at the Chungking Mansions is perhaps the smallest room I’ve ever stayed in. You can literally stretch your arms wide and touch opposing walls. However, at the time (~1987), a stay at the Mansions is also one of the cheapest ways to experience Hong Kong without breaking the budget. Myself, I don’t really mind the small room. You stash your bags in the corner; you only take out of them what you absolutely need; you pretty much live on your bed – reading, writing post cards, other stuff (wink wink). What’s the problem?
The Chungking Mansions, in my opinion, is way more than just a cheap accommodation option; it’s an actual destination. Located in Kowloon, the building (built in 1961) was originally intended to be residential but somehow morphed into a high-rise collection of independent low-budget hotels, restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices. The floors are staggered so that on, say, odd levels, you’ll find nothing but guesthouses, while on even levels you’ll discover inexpensive restaurants, clothing shops, and every service you can imagine. As a variety junky, I love the Chunking Mansions. It’s like Hong Kong in microcosm.
“Hey Yumiko, you want to go get some cheap Indian curry?”
“Great, I saw shops on levels 4, 8, 12 and 14.”
“Is there any Japanese food?”
“Yeah, 2, 6, 10 and 16.”
“What about a place to fix my broken shoes?”
“1, 3, 7, 9 and 11.”
Essentially, the Chungking Mansions are Silo (the great sci-fi show on Apple TV+): the whole world in one beaten-up Chinese building. Would I stay there again, now that I’m a middle-aged man? Yeah, I think I just might. Traveling is all about authentic experience, and the Chungking Mansions are about as authentic as it gets. Of course, it also depends on whom you’re staying with, if you know what I mean.
(If you’ve ever been to a holiday gift exchange, you know that good things (like a Chungking Mansion hotel room) often come in small packages. That big, enticing box you’re coveting might just wind up being someone’s hand-me-down sleeping bag. But that little tiny present that everyone has neglected? Why, it’s a $100 Amazon gift card, plus $20 in postage stamps! What big flashy, thing have you been lusting after? A car? A boat? A trip to Bali? Don’t forget to take pleasure in the simpler things in life: a stroll in the park with your sweetie, Saturday morning watching cartoons with your kids, walking the dog around the block on a crisp autumn morning. As Tony Shaloub’s character in Galaxy Quest says upon transporting a rock monster into the enemy’s barracks, “It’s the little things that make life grand.”