New Lucky House
The porter sitting at the entrance to New Lucky House didn’t even bother to look up as we trundled past, dragging our sturdy Samsonites over rain-sodden cardboard. And why should he? The hulking Babylonian ziggurat he minds is home to a myriad tiny guesthouses, flats and bedsits. Travellers and residents constantly wash in and out of this crumbling monolith on Jordan Road and, were he to start checking credentials, he’d have no time to pore over the racing pages of his newspaper.
Hong Kong, the Manhattan of the East, has long overtaken New York as the city with the most skyscrapers; its spikey sci-fi skyline of soaring glass towers is a visually stunning backdrop for movies such as Batman’s ‘The Dark Knight.’ But I think Gotham City, with its connotations of a dark, sinister underworld, is better evoked by the hulking and decayed tenement blocks of Nathan Road and Jordan than by the gleaming towers of Central.
Stuck up around the lift doors of New Lucky House are posters showing how to properly secure windows and doors against burglars; one notice showed CCTV stills of a man in a yellow T-shirt. ‘Who’s he?’ I asked. My Cantonese-speaking partner scanned the characters marshalled below the blurred images of the balding man. ‘He’s wanted for stealing ladies’ underwear.’ So there was a panty thief on the loose. In the clanking lift I snatched a quick look at our fellow passengers, an elderly Pakistani gentleman in a grey salwar kameez, a short middle-aged woman with a bulging red-white-blue nylon carrier bag, and a curly-haired youth with a framed rucksack on his back. No suspects there.
New Lucky House, originally painted cream and with a distinctive pattern of green triangles, is now smeared with grime – hang your washing out and whites will come back charcoal grey. As we walked to our room along a peeling corridor under a tangle of electric cables, I saw washing hanging out to dry, row upon row around an inner courtyard – but no sign of a lurker in a yellow T-shirt.
Despite such raggedness, Hong Kong is safe compared to cities in the West. Returning late at night to dimly lit corridors lined with prison rows of iron-shuttered doors, I felt no serious sense of threat. And the dreams I dreamt in our acorn-sized chamber were massive, mythic, unforgettable. What fertile source was I tapping into? From that night and that dream the building turned from a crumbling tenement to a palace of the imagination.
When I asked young Hong Kong friends what they thought about the old tenement blocks of Jordan they were surprisingly appreciative, even protective towards them. ‘I like them. They’re the soul of the past. If they pulled them down they would be replaced by yet more boring lookalike skyscrapers and shopping malls. Those old buildings have character, mystery, danger. When you enter them there’s a feeling of adventure.’
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