At a time of high political tension and turmoil, more than 800 Hongkongers – mostly ethnically Chinese – visited Chungking Mansions for a “cultural tour” organised by members of the city’s ethnic minority community on Friday.

One of the workers who welcomed visitors into the building. Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

From around 5.30pm, ethnic minority groups welcomed visitors inside in Tsim Sha Tsui, showed them around the building, and introduced them to its inhabitants; most of whom are of South Asian, Middle Eastern or African descent.

One of the tour guides, a man from Sub Saharan Africa. Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

Chungking Mansions, which has fought to shake off a long-held reputation as crime hotspot, saw hundreds of visitors queue down long corridors to buy food from the many restaurants and chat with store owners and residents.

Social workers Jeffrey Andrews and Jonnet Kudera. Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

“Today was a response to the potential threat ethnic minorities faced after the attack on Jimmy Sham,” said social worker Jonnet Kudera, 40, who has been working in the building for 10 years.

Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

“There’s a negative misconception about ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, but we want to show everyone that we are peaceful, colourful and a part of society,” she told HKFP.

On October 16, Civil Human Rights Front convenor, Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, was attacked by unidentified men with hammers in Kowloon. Some reports stated that the men behind the attacks were of South Asian descent, prompting fears that protesters might target minorities in retaliation.

Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

But in a turn of events, as hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Kowloon last Sunday, a group of South Asians stood outside Chungking Mansions, and offered water to passers-by while chanting: “We are all Hong Kongers!” Among them were pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo and comedian Vivek Mahbubani.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo holds up a sign reading ‘Solidarity with ethnic minorities’ outside Chungking Mansions on October 20. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Kulbir Singh Dhaliwal, the manager of a provisional store inside the building said that, in his 30 years of working there, he had never witnessed anything like the influx on Friday night. He was offering sweets to all the tour groups.

“Today is the first day I have seen so many local Hongkongers come into the building,” he said. “They don’t come because they are scared. There are rumours that the building is shady and a lot of bad things happen here, but it’s not true at all.”

Kulbir Singh Dhaliwal outside his store. Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

Karen Hui, a 23-year-old teacher who was on the tour, agreed: “I think the ethnic minority community in Hong Kong is very misunderstood,” she told HKFP. “This community is part of Hong Kong, and some of these people have lived here for generations. We can’t exclude them from society.”

Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

Visitors admired the Diwali decorations and took photographs of the many candles and delicacies on display. Many bought Indian sweets and candle holders to take back home in celebration of the Hindu festival of light.

Nimisha Vandan (second from left) and her family. Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

Nimisha Vandan, a 37-year-old mother of two from India, adorned the floor with coloured chalk and rice, ubiquitous to South Asian culture and tradition. In another corner, a group of men played Nigerian songs and sang to visitors.

Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

Despite the jovial scenes within the 17-floor building, residents have seen multiple police-protester clashes take place on its doorstep over the past 20 weeks. When police doused the nearby Kowloon Mosque in blue water cannon dye last Sunday, the chief executive visited the Muslim house of worship to apologise in person amid fears the incident could inflame community relations with the force.

One visitor on Friday – who only gave his first name as Joseph – said that although the government had tried to integrate the ethnic minority in Hong Kong, they haven’t succeeded.

“But tonight, it has been achieved by all these people!” he says. “Everyone is queuing for food and wants to learn about the new cultures.”

Tables inside and outside of the restaurants were full. Photo: Rhea Mogul/HKFP.

As of 10pm, the lines continued to grow outside the restaurants, as provisional stores, barbershops and phone repair stalls remained open to customers.

See also: ‘I can’t sleep, I can’t eat’: How Hong Kong’s extradition bill crisis is affecting the city’s refugees and asylum seekers

Kudera says that Chungking Mansions is so much more than a building. For her, it’s home: “What other place has more than 35 nationalities coexist under one roof?” she said. “We feel strongly about protecting and upholding the unique nature of the building. It’s truly a place where diversity comes to life.”

Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.

Rhea Mogul

Rhea is a Hong Kong-based journalist interested in gender issues and minority rights, whose work has appeared in a number of publications across Asia. She is also on the 2019 Diversity List: a list of ethnic minorities that are qualified and committed to serve on Hong Kong government committees.