Feature

Global Thinkers, Fill in the Blanks

The world's smartest people tell us what to think about Barack Obama, the Arab Spring, and the dizzying events of 2011.

THE BEST MUSE FOR THESE TIMES IS

The millions of Egyptians on Feb. 11 who were gathered when Mubarak decided to leave. Alaa Al Aswany

Mohamed Bouazizi. —Mohamed ElBaradei

The chanting of Syrian protesters: people want to topple the regime. —Razan Zaitouneh

The voice of the youth. —Wadah Khanfar

Gandhi. —Eman Al Nafjan

Seeing peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience succeed in bringing down dictatorships. —Manal al-Sharif

Desmond Tutu. —Srdja Popovic

Mahatma Gandhi; simplicity in life, morality in character. —Azim Premji

My wife and son. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Optimism. —Gene Cretz

Caïssa. —Kenneth Rogoff

Steve Jobs. —Salam Fayyad

Natalie Portman. —Mizuho Fukushima

Jessica Alba, especially in Dark Angel. —Yuichi Kaido

Lady Gaga. —Nouriel Roubini

Tariq Jahan, the grieving father who called for peace and tolerance just hours after his son was killed in the Birmingham riots this summer. —Amy Chua

Seamus McGraw, author of The End of Country (2011). —Terry Engelder

That we should have faith in this country's future and gain inspiration from its past. —Gary Lash

The Rolling Stones. After all, you can't always get what you want. —Paul Ryan

Yogi Berra: "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." —Robert Zoellick

Clio. —Edward Glaeser

Keynes. —Saskia Sassen

The courage of the nameless protester against tyranny. —David Scheffer

Steve Jobs, with his knowledge and knife-edged mind, followed closely by a woman, any woman, as ayatollah or pope. —Sherry Rehman

Statisticians. —Steven Pinker

Thomas Merton. —Andrew Sullivan

Pollyanna: someone has to stay optimistic. —Gareth Evans

William Shakespeare. —Martin Wolf

Martin Wolf. —Paul Collier

Voltaire: His combination of reason and skepticism, tempered with irony and hope, will help keep us sane. —Abhijit Banerjee

Twitter. —Mikko Hypponen

The Internet. —Herman Chinery-Hesse

Open. —Joseph Nye

Bob Dylan (the times they are a-changin'). —Nancy Birdsall

Aimee Mann. —Barry Eichengreen

The yearning for dignity and justice in the developing world. —Robert D. Kaplan

Honest self-reflection. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

The people of Japan, for their resilience and dignity in coping with the aftermath of the devastating tsunami. —Zaha Hadid

Foreign Policy magazine? —Tyler Cowen

Vaclav Havel. —Ethan Zuckerman

As always, rationality. —Bjorn Lomborg

My family. —Cem Özdemir

Warren Buffett. —Deepa Narayan

The freedom brought by new technologies. —Yoani Sánchez

It would be a bipartisan commission chaired by FDR and Reagan. —Jared Cohen

Theodore Roosevelt. —Alec Ross

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. —Mustafa Barghouti

Our planet is sick, losing the wealth of life forms gifted by its countless ages. Yet humans insist on placing their economy at the center of the universe, forgetting that without the biosphere there can be atoms but no life. —Pervez Hoodbhoy

To meditate and clear the mind. —Andy Sumner

Inequality rules, and the youth shall define both what it means and how it will shape the future. —John Githongo

FDR. —Paul Farmer.

Franklin Roosevelt, for continually learning and adapting to change. —Anne-Marie Slaughter

Niccolo Machiavelli. —Kishore Mahbubani

Still Springsteen. —Lant Pritchett

Lady Gaga. —Mari Kuraishi

As for all times, Mahatma Gandhi. —Arvind Subramanian

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty. —Rick Falkvinge

Calliope. —Stéphane Hessel


BARACK OBAMA IS…

A very inspiring human model. —Alaa Al Aswany

Has his heart in the right place but is bogged down by partisan politics. —Mohamed ElBaradei

Another president of the U.S. —Razan Zaitouneh

A president with good intentions but who lacks the ability to implement them. —Rached Ghannouchi

A president besieged by unrealized dreams. —Wadah Khanfar

Living proof that democracy and the voice of the people is a reality. —Eman Al Nafjan

The black man in the White House! Makes you believe that miracles do happen! —Manal al-Sharif

In front of many challenges. By far the biggest international challenge is whether to support principles of democracy on which the USA is founded or "traditional allies" like Mubarak. —Srdja Popovic

Having one of the toughest jobs on the planet. He needs to do a balancing act on the tightrope while keeping the audience happy (win the elections). —Azim Premji

More like a character from a tragedy than a comedy. —He Weifang

A president whom we can all admire. —Gene Cretz

Another man walking in the same shoes. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Still facing the fallout of the huge financial crisis he inherited on coming to office. —Kenneth Rogoff

Under a lot of pressure. —Salam Fayyad

Still hope. —Mizuho Fukushima

Doing well fighting with neoliberals, but due to the world economic crisis, he cannot get enough results until now. —Yuichi Kaido

Doing his best against a GOP that has taken the Leninist approach of "the worst, the better." —Nouriel Roubini

The inheritor of a tough situation. —Amy Chua

Swimming upstream against Congress. —Terry Engelder

Fighting an uphill battle at the moment. —Gary Lash

A leader who missed an opportunity to lead. —Paul Ryan

In a near impossible position. —Edward Glaeser

Finding his stride. —Saskia Sassen

The most challenged president in modern times. —David Scheffer

Brought promise, but so far has been caught in the cross hairs of overcaution, triggered by managing competing expectations and a crisis of global capitalism that needs a new leadership model. —Sherry Rehman

Unlucky. —Steven Pinker

The best conservative president since Bill Clinton. —Andrew Sullivan

Still a potentially very great American president. —Gareth Evans

A disappointment. —Martin Wolf

Too academic. —Paul Collier

A pigeon among the cats. —Abhijit Banerjee

President of the United States of America -- and that's it. He's not the "leader of the free world." —Mikko Hypponen

In power during extraordinary times. —Herman Chinery-Hesse

Worthy of reelection. —Joseph Nye

Still in OJT phase (on-the-job training). —Nancy Birdsall

Going to have to now show that he is as inspiring a president as he was a candidate. —Barry Eichengreen

A much better president than media coverage indicates. —Robert D. Kaplan

In need of a stronger, more visionary foreign-policy team. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Far more gutsy in his foreign policy than he has been in dealing with Congress. —Kenneth Roth

Doing his utmost in very challenging circumstances. —Zaha Hadid

Floundering. —Tyler Cowen

Not as disappointing as U.S. Congress is. —Ethan Zuckerman

A realist, but needs more conviction. —Bjorn Lomborg

Still the best alternative. —Cem Özdemir

A great thinker and a disappointing leader. —Deepa Narayan

A man like any other. —Yoani Sánchez

Facing one of the toughest blends of domestic and foreign-policy challenges we have seen in a very long time. —Jared Cohen

President at a time of greater challenges than the United States has seen since Lincoln's presidency. —Alec Ross

Could have done much better. —Mustafa Barghouti

Brainy, witty, perceptive. But he doesn't have what makes a president great -- the grit to fight it out. —Pervez Hoodbhoy

Going to get reelected (fingers crossed). —Andy Sumner

The personification of hope, a beacon. —John Githongo

A native-born U.S. citizen. —Paul Farmer

To be credited for having made the right decision on Libya and creating the conditions and the coalition necessary for success. —Anne-Marie Slaughter

The only American president who genuinely understands how the rest really think about our world order. —Kishore Mahbubani

A policy wonk's president, which probably explains his unpopularity. —Lant Pritchett

An icon as much as president, and has not fully internalized the impact he has for both good and bad as an icon. —Mari Kuraishi

Philosopher-king, but could be more king than philosopher. —Arvind Subramanian

The Gorbachev of the United States. —Rick Falkvinge

Still the greatest promise for the USA. —Stéphane Hessel

THE ARAB SPRING IS…

A turning point in Arab history. —Alaa Al Aswany

A work in progress. —Mohamed ElBaradei

The Arab birthday. —Razan Zaitouneh

A glimpse of hope to all peoples living under oppression. —Rached Ghannouchi

A dawn of a new reality. —Wadah Khanfar

About justice and equity and not ideology or religion. —Eman Al Nafjan

Where there is a place for the youth, the women, the minorities, and simple unarmed people to rewrite history and decide their destiny now. —Manal al-Sharif

Definite proof that "people power" or "nonviolent struggle" is the most powerful force for changing societies, however isolated or repressive the environment. —Srdja Popovic

Is influenced by globalization, which is not only about goods but about ideas. —He Weifang

A representation of citizens' basic need for a life with dignity and equal economic opportunities, delivered by a just government. —Azim Premji

Just the beginning. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Promising but full of risks. —Anne Patterson

A phenomenon that many of us would never have expected to have happened this soon. —Gene Cretz

Fundamentally a huge positive development, for all its risks and uncertainties. —Kenneth Rogoff

About the possibilities of freedom. —David Beers

Overdue. —Salam Fayyad

A good sign toward democratic society, but I am concerned about emerging intolerance in Arabic society. —Mizuho Fukushima

A hope to new democracy, but there will be a possibility to turn to confusion and intolerance in the region. —Yuichi Kaido

At risk of ending up like Iraq, Iran, Gaza, and Lebanon, where elections did not lead to true democracy. —Nouriel Roubini

The name of Banana Republic's next competitor. —Amy Chua

A small step in a good direction. —Terry Engelder

An unstoppable force. —Gary Lash

Promising. —Paul Ryan

Another reminder to never underestimate people's desire for dignity and liberty. —Robert Zoellick

Coming in like a lion, and let's hope we see an ovine ending. —Edward Glaeser

Thrilling. —Saskia Sassen

Without end now, for it has unleashed the idea of freedom among the Arab peoples. —David Scheffer

A radical shift in the core political dynamic of the Middle East. The anger on the Arab street is hydraulic and will continue to erupt, with far reaching, tectonic shifts that need close watching. Instability need not be the last winner if new governments can secure consensus transitions and consolidate gains for democracy. —Sherry Rehman

A reminder of the unpredictability of political change. —Steven Pinker

Long overdue. —Andrew Sullivan

The most encouraging reaffirmation of the human spirit we've seen for a long time. —Gareth Evans

Exciting. —Martin Wolf

The restoration of Arab dignity. —Paul Collier

Like spring here in Boston -- there is always the risk that there are one or two more snowstorms around the corner. —Abhijit Banerjee

Evidence of the growing influence of the global information culture that has developed. Viral marketing is becoming viral revolutions. —Mikko Hypponen

The start of something big and unpredictable. —Herman Chinery-Hesse

The first act of a long and exciting drama. —Joseph Nye

A poor metaphor for a movement that, while out of full bloom, will survive the winter. —Nancy Birdsall

1991 all over again: If the rough patch is successfully navigated, the promise is unlimited. —Barry Eichengreen

Less about democracy than about the crisis of central authority. —Robert D. Kaplan

A movement toward a little more freedom in the Middle East that will translate into stronger anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment and policy. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

Will require an urgent reappraisal of the West's traditional embrace of authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. —Kenneth Roth

A critical moment in a region with a history that already dates back over 7,000 years to the beginnings of civilization. —Zaha Hadid

Overhyped. —Tyler Cowen

As complex, intricate and unpredictable as the fall of the Berlin Wall. —Ethan Zuckerman

A blessing for its people and the West. —Bjorn Lomborg

Just beginning. —Cem Özdemir

A beacon of hope and a lighthouse of courage. —Deepa Narayan

Something no political scientist had calculated. —Yoanni Sánchez

A demonstration that the youth of the Middle East are the de facto opposition. —Jared Cohen

Exhibit 1 demonstrating the devolution of power from the nation-state to individuals because of the power of networks. —Alec Ross

Hopeful and promising. —Mustafa Barghouti

A political revolution not a cultural one. Enlightenment may come someday, but it is not around the corner. —Pervez Hoodbhoy

Just the beginning. —Andy Sumner

As historic as the fall of the Berlin Wall. —John Githongo

A test. —Paul Farmer

The first significant example of the continual disruption that will characterize global affairs now that individuals have the technology that will allow them to challenge governments continually through information, organization, and transparency. —Anne-Marie Slaughter

Destined to demonstrate Europe's strategic folly in not exporting modernization to North Africa. —Kishore Mahbubani

Just the first of many seasons on the path to democracy. —Lant Pritchett

Has a nonlinear link with the Spring of Nations (1848). —Mari Kuraishi

Going to disappoint. —Arvind Subramanian

Maybe the end of the beginning. —Rick Falkvinge

Only a beginning. —Stéphane Hessel

THE YEAR THAT MOST RESEMBLES 2011 IS…

409, the year that the Vandals invaded Roman Hispania. —Terry Engelder

1789 -- the world is pregnant with possibilities, for better and for worse. —Abhijit Banerjee

1848. —Mustafa Barghouti, Robert D. Kaplan, Mari Kuraishi, Steven Pinker, Alec Ross, Martin Wolf, Robert Zoellick

1890. —Kishore Mahbubani ("When the USA passed Britain economically.")

1894. —Edward Glaeser

1916-1918, when Arabs revolted against the Ottomans. —Manal al-Sharif

1920 -- for Egypt. —Alaa Al Aswany

1929. —Herman Chinery-Hesse, Stéphane Hessel, Andy Sumner ("But 2012 won't necessarily resemble 1930. ")

1930. —Paul Collier

1930-1931. —Tyler Cowen

1931. —Barry Eichengreen, Nouriel Roubini, Andrew Sullivan

1936-1937. —Nancy Birdsall

1937. —Deepa Narayan, Saskia Sassen, Robert Zoellick

1945. —Rached Ghannouchi

Japan in 1945. —Mizuho Fukushima

1949 to 1960. —Anne-Marie Slaughter ("When many colonies achieved independence.")

1952. —Eman Al Nafjan

1956. —Arvind Subramanian ("Because they both augur the twilight of empires.")

1958. —Jared Cohen ("Because of nationalist revolutions that swept the Middle East and North Africa.")

1968. —Gareth Evans ("Revolutions and hope in the air."), John Githongo ("Multicultural"), Yuichi Kaido ("There is a lot of turmoil, but there remains new hope for a positive future.")

1974. —Srdja Popovic

1979. —Joseph Nye, Anne Patterson

1983. —Rick Falkvinge ("The times looming darkly before 1984.")

1984. —Daniel Domscheit-Berg ("In some parts of the world, and 1989 in others.")

1989. —Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Gene Cretz, Mohamed ElBaradei, Salam Fayyad, Wadah Khanfar, Gary Lash, Lant Pritchett ("As the last regional bastion of autocracy was irrevocably breached."), Kenneth Roth ("In each case, the guardians of repressive rule stood little chance against a people animated by the values of freedom and dignity."), Yoani Sánchez, David Scheffer, Ethan Zuckerman

2008. —David Beers, Paul Farmer, He Weifang

2008-2009, in terms of economic uncertainty. —Azim Premji

2010. —Mikko Hypponen ("We are moving to the future at a faster pace than ever before."), Paul Ryan

2012. —Cem Özdemir, Kenneth Rogoff

It's hard to remember a year with so many events that impacted so many people. The tsunami in Japan, the Arab Spring, famine in East Africa, riots in London, the eurozone crisis… —Zaha Hadid

No way there is one. —Razan Zaitouneh

Not particularly helpful to identify, but gives columnists much to chew over. —Bjorn Lomborg

Feature

The Mall of the World

What a Hong Kong shopping complex tells us about the true nature of globalization.

The dilapidated, 17-story building known as Chungking Mansions sits in the heart of Hong Kong's glittery tourist district, on the busy shopping thoroughfare of Nathan Road. But visitors entering the building may be surprised to find themselves in something that looks much more like the markets of Kolkata, Kathmandu, or Kampala -- or all of them at once. There are Africans in bright robes and hip-hop fashions, Pakistani men in skullcaps, young Indonesian women in their slinky best, European hippies, and Indian and Nepalese touts offering a room, a watch of questionable authenticity, a suit, or hashish.

Chungking Mansions wasn't always a low-budget United Nations. Built in 1961 as a luxurious apartment complex, the building soon fell into disrepair. By the late 1960s, it had become the haunt of American GIs on R&R from Vietnam looking for prostitutes; in the decade that followed, its cheap guesthouses became a haven for backpackers on a budget in a newly prospering -- and expensive -- city.

By the time I first visited the building in 2006, Chungking Mansions had evolved into something else entirely. Over the past 15 years, south China's emergence as the world's manufacturer of cheap goods, coupled with Hong Kong's relaxed visa regulations, has turned Chungking Mansions into a central hub of what I call "low-end globalization." For instance, 20 percent of the mobile phones now in use in sub-Saharan Africa, by my estimates, have passed through this building. The backpackers are still to be found in Chungking Mansions, as are, increasingly, tourists from mainland China. But the complex is now primarily the haunt of traders from around the world. Entrepreneurs from South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond have come to seek their fortunes, buying cheap mobile phones, computers, watches, and clothes from Pakistani, Indian, and Chinese vendors. They hawk their wares alongside Asian and African asylum-seekers looking for refuge and among Indian temporary workers flying in from Kolkata. When we think of globalization, we tend to think of the work that happens a mile away from Chungking Mansions in the glassed-in skyscrapers of Hong Kong's financial district, the province of multinational corporations and their attendant armies of lawyers and consultants. This kind of globalization has no doubt remade much of the world we live in. But over the five years that I have spent living in and studying Chungking Mansions as an anthropologist, I have seen a different form of globalization. The time I've spent listening to the stories of African traders and Pakistani merchants and sleeping in the complex's guesthouses -- from the roach-infested to the flatscreen-TV-endowed -- has added up to an advanced course in the intricacies of developing-world economics.

Store managers and clerks in Chungking Mansions come from all over the world, but most are South Asian. The building is the only one in Hong Kong with free-to-air South Asian TV: Indian, Pakistani, and Nepali TV channels available to everyone. Bollywood movie stalls and South Asian grocery stores and restaurants abound. The mobile phone trade in particular, carried out in a hundred wholesale stalls on the building's second floor, is dominated by Pakistanis. It is said that in the 1990s, Pakistani gangs roamed the building intimidating store owners, but by all accounts this is not the case today. As one Pakistani phone stall proprietor told me, "Why should anyone extort money? We can make money much more easily by selling mobile phones!"

In the last two years, more mainland Chinese have opened stores in the building, often with direct links to Chinese factories, seeking to undercut the prices of the Pakistani middlemen. But their businesses often fold on account of the language barrier --Chungking Mansions may sit on Chinese soil, but its lingua franca is English. The Chinese merchants' relative ignorance of the world beyond China hurts them, too. As one West African trader maintained to me, "Chinese have been in a bottle too long." Nonetheless, they may be the wave of the future; as a Pakistani merchant in Chungking Mansions said, "Between the Chinese and the Africans, maybe in a few years there will be no room for the Pakistanis anymore."

I spent many months behind the counter of a Chungking Mansions mobile phone stall with my Pakistani friend Mahmood, who sold phones primarily to African traders. None of the phones on offer had price stickers. Instead, a trader would approach and ask the wholesale price of a particular model. Mahmood would then ask about a comparable model. If the trader knew nothing of that model, Mahmood raised his initial price 10 percent, based on the customer's ignorance of the game. But if the customer recognized the model that Mahmood had mentioned, Mahmood knew to keep his price low, for he had a worthy adversary. From there, the haggling would take days, with Mahmood and the trader making offers and counteroffers until the last possible moment, when the trader's van was waiting outside.

The deal would be for 1,000 or more phones, typically weighed to the final ounce of the 32-kilogram baggage limit imposed by airlines such as Ethiopian or Emirates. Within two days, the phones would be sold in the street markets of Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, or Lagos. Mahmood sold an array of different kinds of phones: branded Chinese models, unbranded knockoffs, used phones, and copies of well-known brands (intellectual property rights, it probably goes without saying, are mostly honored in the breach in Chungking Mansions). He also sold "14-day phones": Nokia and Samsung models returned by their original owners and warehoused, then sold and shipped to Chungking Mansions phone merchants for a fraction of their original price. Mahmood never bothered with new Nokias, Samsungs, Sony-Ericssons, or iPhones -- who in the developing world could afford such extravagant products?

The merchants are only half the equation, of course -- there are also the traders. Some 80 percent of the traders in Chungking Mansions are from sub-Saharan Africa. The large majority are men, and most come from the upper crust of their societies -- they have to be able to afford the plane fare to Hong Kong. For some young men on their initial trips, their entire family's savings have been invested in them, to be compounded or lost. Older, more experienced traders may have made the trip back and forth between China and Africa dozens or even hundreds of times.

The schemes are often ingenious. A Congolese trader explained to me how to send three used cars by container around the Cape of Good Hope to Matadi, then drive them overland to Kinshasa -- then asked me to invest in this venture, saying, "I can guarantee you 300 percent profit." The gas tanks of the cars could also be loaded with mobile phones, he added, which would never be seen by customs agents. A Kenyan trader buys an item of clothing she likes in Hong Kong and then orders 10,000 copies from a factory in China, which she ships back home under her own label. Another East African trader buys knock-off Jacuzzis, made by a south China company and sent back home to be sold to cabinet ministers and business magnates who want televisions, CD players, and computers in their baths. A Senegalese trader buys gemstones in Congo -- where he has been robbed at gunpoint -- and carries them to Hong Kong; he pulls out a vial from his pocket to show me his wares, which he can sell in south China, using the proceeds to buy phones to carry back home. A trader from Gabon tells me -- when he's not busy chatting up the Filipina and Indonesian girls that he seems effortlessly to attract in the restaurant where we're sitting -- that of the mobile phones he buys, the real phones go to his friends and customers in the city, and the pirated ones go to the village, where "they don't know any better." A trader from Mali tells me he would never cheat his customers, though he himself has often been cheated. "I'm a Muslim," he says, "and Allah is watching me."

Many traders go into mainland China to buy goods such as clothing, but it's easy to lose one's shirt there, due to language barriers and the lack of legal protections. But with the high risk comes high reward. "The big fish go to China," a Tanzanian trader told me. "We little fish stay in Hong Kong." Most traders deal in U.S. dollars, carrying hard cash (African banks' letters of credit may not go far) -- I've seen traders pull as much as $30,000 out of their pockets. There is a cautionary -- and maybe apocryphal -- tale making the rounds of Chungking Mansions concerning an African trader who was relieved of $50,000 in cash by a Chinese prostitute while he took a shower.

Other risks include currency fluctuations -- exchange rates between various African currencies and the U. S. dollar often oscillate wildly -- and the gauntlet of customs inspections between China and Hong Kong (where unauthorized knockoffs are occasionally confiscated) and in traders' own countries (where bribery and uncertainty are often the rule). Experienced traders estimate that fewer than half of first-time African traders coming to Hong Kong and China clear enough of a profit to come back for more.

Chungking Mansions' informal economy also supports hundreds of temporary workers -- a surprising number from a single Muslim neighborhood of Kolkata called Kidderpore -- who work as touts, dishwashers, store clerks, or goods carriers. They are working illegally, allowed into Hong Kong visa-free as tourists. But as soon as police -- even undercover police, who are easily recognized -- enter the complex, mobile phones are quickly dialed and the illegal workers step away from their stations and blend into the crowd. These temporary workers make tiny salaries by Hong Kong standards, but enough to support their families back in Kolkata. I went back to India with a Chungking Mansions restaurant tout who was a hero back home, financing his two sisters' weddings and wheeling his shiny new motorcycle before half-a-dozen starry-eyed teenagers dreaming of following in his footsteps. These temporary workers are also merchants in their own right, financing their flights to and from Hong Kong by carrying clothing with them from Hong Kong to India and rice and other foodstuffs back from India.

There are also the hundreds of asylum seekers who make up a significant portion of Chungking Mansions' labor force. African asylum seekers can easily be caught if they are working conspicuously, since few Africans have Hong Kong residence and thus legal working rights. Some work as managers in the guesthouses on Chungking Mansions' higher floors, where police -- at the mercy of the building's slow elevators -- cannot quickly get to them. South Asian asylum seekers, on the other hand, can blend right in at the building's lower two floors, where most businesses are located.

Chungking Mansions' status as a nexus of low-end globalization depends on these illegal workers -- it is only by virtue of their low wages that developing-world traders and entrepreneurs can afford to stay in the building's guesthouses, eat at its restaurants, and buy its goods. Higher prices would reduce the building to another third-rate Chinese shopping mall. The building's managers seem to understand this -- as do the police, who generally take a laissez faire approach to relatively minor offenses committed in the building. Since few Hong Kong Chinese would ever work in Chungking Mansions, no one is accusing the workers of stealing jobs from the locals.

Indeed, most Hong Kongers are terrified of Chungking Mansions. In the evenings, you can see expatriates and Hong Kong Chinese leaving various fashionable bars and restaurants on Nathan Road and walking by the Africans and South Asians milling outside Chungking Mansions: the "yellows" and "whites" in their suits and dresses and the "browns" and "blacks" in their various garb, eyeing each other with gazes of utter incomprehension. But in truth, they share more than they may be aware in their view of the world: Many Hong Kong Chinese have obtained the dream of developed-world middle-class affluence, a holy grail the Africans and South Asians in Chungking Mansions are fervently pursuing, one refurbished cell phone at a time.

If the copyright laws and corporate strictures of the developed world were strictly enforced, this grail would be unattainable; traders on a limited budget might never get their China-made goods back home to market, and their consumers would never be able to afford them in any case. Without Chungking Mansions, and the industrial powerhouse of south China lying behind it, many citizens of Africa and much of South Asia might be altogether shut off from globalization.

When the economic histories of the early 21st century are written, it may be that this is China's greatest contribution: enabling vast swaths of the developing world to experience globalization through its manufacture of cheap, shoddy, often pirated goods. Chungking Mansions' niche has been bringing globalization not just to the developed world but to all the world, even if it means cutting corners. To be sure, there are very real issues of legality and exploitation. But on balance, who on earth could say that it's a bad thing?

ANTONY DICKSON/AFP/Getty Images