Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Praise of Brightness

On Sunday, all the guys behind the windows of the currency exchange booths at Chungking Mansions perk right up. Their smiles are brilliant and their eyes sweep across the crowd that passes them. It's the day off for Filipina maids and they throng CKM's ground floor, shopping, wandering, going to the exchange booths to send money home.

These are women who turn wherever they may be into a festival. They move across the grim, fluorescent-lit ugliness of CKM like flowers, laughing and chattering and lovely. Even the ones who are not conventionally pretty are beautiful on Sunday. They fill the nearby green space of Kowloon Park and bring to it the joy of an instant picnic and they transform Chungking Mansions into a town square as they move in and take it over for a day. They are delightful and the currency exchange guys aren't the only ones to think so. When I see them, I think of sunlight and mangoes and music; I remember that Carabao, my favorite Thai band, developed their chops in the Philippines and that the girls who are passing in front of me are close relatives of the people I love and miss in Bangkok.

Today is life as usual and the morning seemed a little more Monday than it should be. I got in the elevator to go back to my room after having coffee and the sounds of drums filled it long before I reached the fourth floor. Music entered with the man waiting at that stop, and I got off.

Down a dark and squalid-looking hallway was an open door leading to a room filled with metal folding chairs and people of all colors seated on them. I would have thought it was an AA meeting except for the drums and singing and African music that came out into the hallway and made it a joyful spot.

This is the reason I stay in Chungking Mansions--the surprises, the music, the occasional blaze of loveliness and light.


Jessi Cotterill said...

Happy for them, the Filipina maids, that they've got a day off in a week. I know how valuable it is for them to have a day off and to send their wages back home.

And happy for you too to be staying in that amazing place!


Sarah Mackenzie said...

I love your vivid description. I can just imagine them flitting around like butterflies :-)

The Phnom Penh said...

You should go over to Central of a Sunday and see it when it's taken over by HK's Filipinas. Don't miss the strange acoustics under the HSBC building.

Sarah Mackenzie said...

Reading this article reminded me of your story and just why those women brighten up the day. Hope it's not too smoggy right now.