By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Ghetto at the Centre of the World : Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, Gordon Mathews, University of Chicago, Pp 241 (PB), $19.00
Amidst the pomp and flourish of Hong Kong stands a building, a quaint not-too-old structure that is a veritable urban anthropological delight. Chungking Mansions in the heart of Hong Kong’s busy commercial area is positioned between super star hotels, malls and fashionable shopping arcades. But Chungking Mansions itself looks rather worn off, crowded chock-o-bloc. Gordon Mathews, professor of anthropology at the Chinese University Hong Kong found this building so fascinating that he studied it to do a book Ghetto at the Centre of the World : Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong.
The seventeen-story building has all kinds of wares, places to stay, eateries and offices. Says Mathews, “Some 4,000 people stay in Chungking Mansions on any given night. I’ve counted 129 different nationalities in its guesthouse logs and in my own meetings with people, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, by way of Bhutan, Iraq, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Madagascar, and the Maldives Islands.”
Mathews discusses the architecture of the building that came up in the 1960s, its structure, how it is similar to and different from buildings which serve the same uses as Chungking Mansions. English is the lingua franca of Chungking Mansions. While people try and find persons with whom they can speak their tongue, Mathews says there have been curious situations. Once he ended in a table with a Bangladeshi and a Cameroonian, and they were all talking in Japanese! He also discusses in an engaging way the interethnic play in the building.
The structured book has five chapters — Place, People, Goods, Laws and Future. Discussing its future, Mathews says “I would guess that Chungking Mansions will probably remain, for at least another decade or two, as a center of low-end globalization, but it will eventually be torn down — that is inevitable….However, in a larger sense, Chungking Mansions will remain… Chungking Mansions, although perhaps unique in the world is also the world we will increasingly all live within.” He sees it as a sample of how globalisation works on the lowest tier.
(University of Chicago, Chicago 60637)
Maths writings in an anthology
By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
The Best Writing on Mathematics 2011, edited by Mircea Pitici, Princeton University Press, Pp 380 (PB), $19.95
The Best Writing on Mathematics 2011 is a power packed volume, with 26 select articles on mathematics published during the year. What adds punch is the forward by Freeman Dyson renowned physicist and mathematician.
Says Dyson, “Hobbies are the spice of life. Recreational mathematics is a splendid hobby which young and old can equally enjoy. The popularity of Sudoku shows that an aptitude for recreational mathematics is widespread in the population.” He assures readers that one need not know the modern mathematical jargons. The “good old” nineteenth century mathematics, taught in high-schools with a little arithmetic, algebra and geometry will be sufficient to pursue the hobby, he says.
This volume contains essays and articles written by professional mathematicians, mostly dealing with higher levels of problems. This is the second volume of anthology. The first came out last year containing collections of articles written in 2010. Mircea Pitici is the editor of both volumes. In her introduction she says it “reflects the literature on mathematics available out there in myriad publications, some difficult to consult even for people who have access to exceptional academic resources… By editing this series I also want to make widely available good texts about mathematics that otherwise would be lost in the deluge of information that surrounds us.”
The volume is a single-shot source to keep in touch with all that is going on in the world of mathematics.
(Published by Princeton University 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540)