National Geographic : 2012 Jun
the Hong Kong Memory Project, a $6.4 million e ort to address Hong Kong's identity problem by creating an interactive website of old objects and photographs. " e pace of the city is too fast for memory." Yes, Hong Kong is changing again, but into what and molded by whom? A SHORT WALK from the tony designer stores along Canton Road and the opulent Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district, a rundown, 17-story building called Chungking Mansions spreads over a block---home to 4,000 people who constitute an international brigade of buy- ers and sellers. ey can be found at all hours under neon glare, ferreting through this world of no-frills hotels, restaurants o ering African stews and Indian curries, and shops that sell everything from whiskey in a glass to saris and prayer mats. Gordon Mathews, an American anthropolo- gist who's studied and written about Chung- king Mansions for the past six years, says 130 nationalities embark here each year, hoping to do big business in what he labels "the ghetto at the center of the world." When it was rst built, Chungking Mansions was the domain of Chinese immigrants, who moved up and out. Today "this is more a ird World gentlemen's club," says Mathews, who estimates that 20 per- cent of the cell phones in use in sub-Saharan Africa pass through here. " is is probably the most important building in the world for low- end globalization," he says. Hong Kong was built on this sort of global trade, owing its birth to opium, which may explain why to this day the city blurs the line between its legal and extralegal activities. When British traders arrived by frigate in the 1800s, looking to swap an embarrassment of Indian opium packed in wooden chests, they spied the granite island that would become Hong Kong on their way up the Pearl River estuary to Guangzhou. en came the First Opium War in 1839: e Security cameras eye the traffic in Chungking Mansions, a - story hive of market stalls, restaurants, and cheap lodgings where global traders do business. Yemenis, Nigerians, Pakistanis all show up, buying made-in-China goods to sell back home. Michael Paterniti is an award-winning writer working on a book about cheese and murder in Spain. Photographer Mark Leong documented the Asian wildlife trade in the January 2010 issue.