I was excited to read a new book about Hong Kong for its photos, but was drawn in by the fascinating essays. Kowloon: Unknown Territory (Blacksmith Books, 2012) looks at parts of Kowloon that the average traveler–and expat resident–usually misses. The text is written by Nicole Chabot and the photos shot by Ira Chaplain. The result is stunning.
One thing that struck me is that an area that I thought I knew–Kowloon City–includes a part that is called Little Bangkok. I spent a lot of time in Kowloon City, home to the former Kai Tak Airport and my best friend, but never knew about the Thai connection. According to Chabot, men from the Chiu Chow region of southern China migrated to Bangkok decades ago, married local women, and stayed for a while. Many returned to Hong Kong where they settled in Kowloon City, an area where Chiu Chow folks live. Thai restaurants and groceries popped up, and Little Bangkok was born. This all happened years before I lived in Hong Kong. And I never knew about it.
Another essay I particularly enjoyed (loved them all, in fact) is one about the textile industry in Sham Shui Po. I knew about the factories and head offices in that area, but just assumed they had all moved north to mainland China. According to Chabot, though, these companies are still doing well in Sham Shui Po, even though many of the factories have relocated. (Many are leaving China for S.E.Asia, where expenses are even cheaper than in the PRC. Check your clothing labels.)
For Chungking Mansions aficionados, there’s an excellent essay that includes extensive interviews with Gordon Mathews, author of Ghetto in the Center of the World (University of Chicago Press, 2011), the authority on the Mansions.
I also learned that the face of prostitution has changed over the years with the introduction of the 7-day visa for mainland Chinese. Women and girls now flutter in and out of the territory, working as prostititutes during their one-week stay. This is nowhere more prevalent than in Kowloon.
I read this book in one day, but spent much longer on it than I first imagined. Be prepared to enjoy the photos but also to sit down for a while and read the different essays about this especially vibrant part of Hong Kong.