Chungking Mansion is the little India of Hong Kong. It is a warren of shops selling desi stuff, little restaurants with desi food, electronics shops and some Chinese related things. The upper floors house various guesthouses of varying degrees of shadiness. Apart from desi folk, the place also attracts African traders.

Yesterday, we went for dinner to Sedequi Halal Mess. We decided to pay a visit to the Indian store and order some stuff, including mangoes. Since I didn’t want to cart the mangoes up to dinner, the lady at the counter kept it for me and I said I would return at 9 pm before the shop closed. That lady is a story in herself – she is usually surly and according to one of the men who runs the shop “a bit crack” but yesterday she was bright and cheerful and putting forward her best sales pitch for the mangoes. She even allowed me to exchange mangoes from one box to another.

So we went up to dinner and the place was full because I think yesterday was the first day of Ramzan and people were breaking their fast. Also, there is like one waiter and people seemed to just push their way through and take a seat instead of waiting to be seated. Luckily V saw what was happening and did the same and we got a table pretty quick. The food, however, took ages to come. There was like a half hour interval between things. So I realised that I would have to go fetch my mangoes or the shop would close.

Now, the lift in Chungking Mansions is another thing. There was a crowd of people waiting so when two paavam looking desi guys took the stairs, I followed them. Now, this is not something to be generally done, and what happened was that on some floor, they veered off and the staircase basically ended, but it didn’t look like the ground floor. I went into the lift lobby and asked the haaji guy waiting there if it was the ground floor. After some confusion, I realised I was on the third floor, but the door led out to a podium that allowed one to change to other blocks. I went back to the lobby and the man said, “Take the lift. It’s the safest.” That gave me pause, but I stood there. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a Chinese hostel owner I presumed arguing with a possibly Filipino tourist: “You are talking too much,” he said aggressively. The Filipino guy didn’t get the hint/threat and kept arguing for a room with less noise.

The lift came and I went and collected my mangoes. On the way up, I could choose the less crowded odd number lift and walk one floor down – but I was leery of taking the silent but menacing stairs again – or take the even floor lift to the sixth floor where I needed to go even though there were four people in the line already and I knew the lift was small. I chose the even number lift, and soon an older desi man and a young Chinese girl came and stood behind me. There was a shop right next to us, and she asked: “Should we buy some fruit?” “Later,” he said. “I’ve ordered food and someone is making a pizza.” They were a strange pair, and I immediately concluded that she was a sex worker.

When the lift came, not only did I get in, but the two behind me and I was shoved up against the Filipino guys behind me. I clutched my mangoes and considered whether i should hold them defensively behind me or in front of me, and decided I’d rather have a barricade between my boobs and my countryman than my ass and the Filipino. Just as the lift was closing, the Indian guy puts his hand out and stops the lift to allow this sardar to get in. It was as packed in there as a Bombay local, except I wasn’t in a ladies compartment. Then, the man stuck his hand out again and the sardar who got in decided to exchange places with another sardar. Only when that guy got in, the lift wouldn’t move because he was too heavy. So he got out and the original sardar got in again. But now the lift wouldn’t move either. Finally, the Chinese security guard shouted, “one person out, one person out” and the original sardar had to get out grumbling. So we all had a bit more breathing room.

The reached hit the 5th floor and I got out and dashed back to the mess, only to find that in the 20 minutes I’d been gone only one lassi had been brought to our table. The food when it eventually arrived was yummy if oily. I’m still dreaming of the kebabs.

For an elegy to Chungking Mansion, watch Wong Kar Wai’s film of the same name.