I had heard from a reddit poster, that had heard from a friend, that the rooftop of Chungking Mansions was easy to access. So we sat on the bus with our newly purchased tripod in order to get some shots.
Chungking Mansions is the new Kowloon, a lawless all in one building, to get in you must weave your way in and out of people trying to sell you watches, suits, women, and sim cards (the latter would have actually helped earlier on in the trip). The first floor is a bazaar of stalls, sim card dealers sandwiched between Indian and Mediterranean food stalls.
The first elevator had a guard, so we went to the second elevator with no guard, but a very drunk, very agitated man and a girl that was picking at one of the scabs on her face.
The elevator was not big enough for all four of us, so I tried to become one with the wall.
He kicked the elevator panel and shouted a few times in Cantonese.
The girl that was itching her face tittered nervously and looked at us. “What floor?”
“Fifteen is fine.”
Was this suspicious? Probably. I looked up at the security camera on the ceiling.
She giggled and continued to itch her face.
The elevator seemed to take an eternity to ding, he continued to sip on his coke, and she kept stealing looks at us.
When it did, we unloaded onto the narrow hallway of the fifteenth floor and he began to shout at her, and then kicked on a locked door. I headed for a beach photo that said GUESTHOUSE in english and took another turn through the fire doors.
One floor, two, and then a metal spiral staircase that lead to nowhere
I went up first, eager, and pressed on the metal hatch that was entirely too heavy for me, but then I yanked on it sideways and it slid.
“Are you in?” He called from the bottom.
“It’s heavy.” I said and yanked again, metal scraping against metal, and then rain began to drizzle on my face.
I was sure then and there that we were going to get caught, and so I disappeared onto the roof only to come face to face with two security cameras, and then four, and then six as I moved to get away from the initial two.
I could see all of Tsum Sha Tsui, and across the bay to Hong Kong Island, and fire cracker shells.
We were not the first.
Trying to get the SOGO shot was an adventure that ended in failure, we gained access to a building after finding a dozen others locked or armed (I am by no means a lockpick). We found a building nearby, the door open as someone loaded a wheel barrow with trash.
The first floor went by, a poster with eyes watched us: 24 HOUR SURVEILLANCE. There were no visible cameras in the fire escape.
We passed the second floor, and then as we rushed up the third, finally, the SOGO shot was within reach, and my foot hit the wrong stair and alarms started to scream, echoing in the concrete well.
We rushed back out of the building, disappearing into the y-3 store across the street, out of breath, our hands covered in grime.
“Is this the right one?” We were back in our neighborhood.
“Not sure.” The stairwell was lined with cat carriers. “I mean, how many roofs are there in one building?”
The door was propped open, he was ahead of me, and he looked back, worried that we’d meet someone else and have to explain, in that broken American way, that we were lost.
No one was on the roof, just a plastic tarp that rustled with the wind and the machine noise of the elevator.
Before us was all of central Hong Kong, and a ladder that went higher.
“I’m not a ladder person, this is not my type of thing.” I said, climbing the ladder. “It’s too high.”
We were out there until they started to turn the lights off the buildings in central and the skyline seemed more intimate.
Sometimes the local view is even better than the shots we failed to get.