It was a late Thursday afternoon in December of 1999 around the Christmas holiday when I found myself packing the most important of my belongings into a single backpack and being forced to leave Taiwan after a visa violation.
Hours earlier I had been forced to sign my name in a big black book while having my photo taken at the Taipei Police station and now I was on a China Air flight on my way to Hong Kong. Had a change of clothes for two days and my remaining savings with me and nothing more. Had to borrow money from a friend for the flight to Hong Kong as I had already used up the majority of my money on school tuition prior to the visa issue.
It was rainy and bitterly cold that first night as I left the airport, but after talking to a Taiwanese American business man on the plane to Hong Kong I had a name for a place to stay. I quickly found myself on 尖沙咀 or Tsim Sha Tsui hustling around many a foreign vendor offering me every possible deal on a watch and other items for purchase searching for the address for Chungking Mansions.
I can still remember this older Chinese gentleman asking me if I needed a room. Before I could even decide whether it was a good idea I was being hustled into an elevator and down a hallway to my room for the night. Doubt if I paid anymore than $15 for it, but it afforded me an opportunity to decompress from everything that had happened in the past 24 hours.
My room was no bigger than a closet, but it had a TV, a bed, a private bathroom, and it would stave off the rain for a night until I made my way to a friend’s house in the New Territories. I can recall it was noisy and filled with sounds of languages other than either Cantonese and Mandarin. During the night was awoken to the sound of what sounded like a police arrest or raid on the floor above me. After securing the door by propping the chair under the doorknob I was able to eventually pass out from exhaustion.
The next morning’s need to get to the Taiwanese consulate office by 8:30AM afforded me no opportunities to explore or relish my night at the Chungking Mansion, but seeing it again under different circumstances brought back a lot of warm and fond memories from my experiences living and studying abroad.