Saturday, March 3, 2012

Chungking Mansions Africans Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong guangzhou africans
Chungking Mansions is a building located at 36-44 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong Chungking Mansions is a building located at 36-44 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. The building is well known as nearly the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong with a single bed of US $8 one night. Though the building is supposedly residential, it is made up of many independent low-budget hotels, shops, and other services. The strange atmosphere of this building is sometimes called by some "the scent of Kowloon's Walled City". Chungking Mansions features a labyrinth of guesthouses, curry restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices. It often acts as a large gathering place for some of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly Indians, Middle Eastern people, Nepalese, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Nigerians, Europeans, Americans, Pakistanis, and many other peoples of the world. The building was completed in 1961, at which time Chinese residents predominated. Now, after more than four decades of use, there are an estimated 4,000 people living in the Mansions. is 17 stories tall and consists of 5 blocks, A, B, C, D, and E.
There are two elevators in each block, one of which serves even-numbered floors, the other one odd-numbered floors; there is often a queue for this lift. The price of a flat in the Chungking Mansions ranged from HK$1,000,000 to HK$2,000,000 as of August 2006. While the Chungking Mansions are nominally intended for residential use, there is a large variety of commercial establishments in the building. Chungking Mansions contains the largest number of guesthouses in Hong Kong in one building, with 1980 rooms in total. The rent ranges from HK$60 to HK$380 per day (as of 2006). Since it offers some of the cheapest rates in town, it has become a legendary haunt for backpackers and budget travellers. The age of the building, the diverse ownership, and management structure are the cause of the building's reputation for being a fire trap. The unsanitary conditions, security, ancient electrical wiring, block staircases contribute to the hazards. On February 21, 1988, a fire broke out in the building. A Danish tourist who was trapped inside was killed. The fire in this building, as well as a blaze in a similar building provoked a review of rules and regulations concerning public safety. CUHK anthropologist Prof. Gordon Mathews revealed that there are people from at least 120 different nationalities who have passed through Chungking Mansions in the past year.
With this lively mix of guest workers, mainlanders, local Chinese, tourists and backpackers, the Chungking neighbourhood is one of the most culturally diverse locations in Hong Kong. Chungking Mansions was elected as the "Best Example of Globalization in Action" by TIME Magazine in its annual feature The Best of Asia, although racial tensions are known to boil over occasionally. It is also known to be a centre of drugs, and a refuge for petty criminals, scammers, and illegal immigrants. For example, in a Police swoop in June 1995, about 1,750 people were questioned, 45 men and seven women from various Asian and African countries were arrested on suspicion of offences including failing to produce proof of identity, overstaying, using forged travel documents, possessing equipment for forging documents, and possessing dangerous drugs. In "Operation Sahara" in 1996, 52 men and seven women from 14 countries were arrested for violating immigration regulations NTDTV Gordon Mathews Anthropologist who studied Changking Mansions An estimated 20 percent of sub-Saharan African phones originate from Chugking Mansions, a dilapidated complex of thousand flats, guest houses and businesses located on some of Hong Kong's prime real estate. Traders from all over the world come here to source cheap Chinese goods, but overwhelmingly the trade has been in mobile phones destined for Africa. Mohamed Ali Diallo moved his phone dealership from the Chinese mainland three months ago. [Mohamed Ali, Owner, Brothers Co. Ltd]: "Chungking Mansions is very well known and is, I can say, the other end of the bridge linking Africa to China and most of the phones going to Africa, 20-30 percent came from this house." As a free trade area one trader who asked not to be named said buying phones already in Hong Kong cuts out the hassle of Chinese customs. "Sometimes you feel, why go through the stress of going over to the factories (on mainland China) yourself when you could have the middle man do that? So it's an easy way to for us to come over to Hong Kong and get these things easily from the locals." Having studied Chungking for years, Professor Gordon Matthews says traders come here because Hong Kong provides a degree of protection. [Gordon Matthews, Chinese University Professor]: "Mobile phones, from what I hear, China is not to be trusted. Because you might get goods that don't work very well. Hong Kong tends to be trusted much more and many of the dealers, most of the dealers give some sort of guarantee. You can much clearer, in a certain way, be certain of what you're getting. So Chungking Mansions has emerged as this major centre for buying phones." Granted a 15-day stay, dealers scour Chungking's 90 outlets for deals, making competition stiff. Nevertheless, an estimated 10 million handsets left Chungking Mansions for Africa last year. Phones are transported by air, or either sent by cargo - but like Oury from Guinea, most are carried home in luggage. [Barry Mamadou Oury, Mobile Phone Dealer]: "We can have 60kg to go for the airplane. Now we can take 60kg, for the phone, take small watch. 60kg for we go Africa." But the economic downturn has hit the business hard, with fluctuating exchange rates and slowing remittances making mobile phones a luxury to many Africans. African Traders in China and Substandard Goods photo credit: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker .. One of the primary complaints I hear on China-in-Africa is the issue of substandard Chinese goods in African markets. Clearly, Chinese traders are bringing in a lot of these goods. But an under reported factor is the role of African traders in the supply chain. As many as 20,000 African traders and entrepreneurs live, visit, and work in a suburb of the city of Guangzhou (Canton) called by locals "Chocolate City". The suburb is divided into different neighborhoods -- Nigerian, Malian, Benin and so on. From time to time the local police crack down on traders who have overstayed their visas. A report by Bill Schiller in The Star (Canada) on a crackdown last year caught my eye recently because it contained an illuminating reference to practices of some of the African traders and how substandard goods enter African markets. A Nigerian trader explains: "My brother came here first to seize the opportunity. So I came, too. Everything is so much cheaper here," he said one recent afternoon. He and other African buyers tour local factories regularly, he says, looking to buy "seconds" with minor imperfections. A pair of blue jeans can be had for as little as 15 Chinese yuan, the equivalent of $2.45, he says. These he can sell right here at his stall for 28 yuan, or about $4.60. But back home they can fetch as much as 45 yuan or $7.35, maybe even more. Other reporting elaborates on these practices. Here's an excerpt from the English translation of an article on Chocolate City that appeared in Southern Weekend (courtesy of Africafeed.com): “Every day after noon, “Chocolate City” begins to turn lively. Tens of thousands of black people seem to erupt from the ground in groups of twos and threes. Carrying large black plastic bags or wearing backpacks, they look through the stalls along the street. The stalls are filled with “tail goods” (excess production that did not meet quality standards) from thousands of small factories throughout Guangdong: blue jeans, unbranded television sets, hand-assembled cell phones.” For more visuals on Africans in China, click here for Evan Osnos's great slide show from the New Yorker. Complaints about substandard Chinese goods in African markets abound. Here's one way these goods enter, and why. The price differentials also help explain why African manufacturers are having such trouble competing with Chinese firms. In a future post I'll link to a paper on ways in which consumers in one Tanzanian market are successfully dealing with these challenges.

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