So you’re looking forward to an incredible Hong Kong shopping frenzy. The mythical experience that Getaway and The Great Outdoors are always talking about. Well, definitely bring a spare suitcase but be wary of shopping utopia. There are a few catches.
The shopping novice will actually lick their lips as they stand at the beginning of the deliciously long Nathan Road with its showy boutiques and sale signs in shop windows. It’s not a bad place to start but resist spending your entire budget on this strip. The road is full of mainstream global chains at reasonable prices. You can do better. Plus, you have to play heartless tourist by shooing away equally heartless counterfeiters who approach you on the street and would like to take you, madam, to a more private place, yes, down this dark alley madam, where they can show you the ‘real’ stuff at super cheap prices. You’re a grown up, just walk away.
The first time I went to Hong Kong I was lucky enough to be with a seasoned shopper friend. She steered me well away from Nathan Road and introduced me to the side streets and the all important office block. Office blocks in Hong Kong are quite different to office blocks in Adelaide. In Adelaide you step out of the lift and you’ll find a good old fashioned office. Step out of the lifts in Hong Kong and you could find cavernous restaurants, bars, massage places, karaoke clubs and a little Portuguese cafe called The Little Flying Elephant. Or ‘Dumbo’ in your Lonely Planet.
Most importantly, you could step out and find yourself in a department store. If you find one of these, your shopping itch can be well and truly scratched. The trick is not to draw blood. Here is a shopping girl’s dream – brand name shoes, handbags, clothes, perfume, make-up and jewelry ridiculously cheap, especially when bought with a strong Australian dollar. A word of caution, however – take a moment to breathe into a paper bag and really think about what you’re shoving into your shopping basket and flinging over your shoulder. That fluffy green number with the silver feathers? Put it back. Those strappy Prada platform sandals on sale? That’s your whole budget, even on sale. Put it back. That enormous, heavy full length bright purple woolen coat? Are you going to carry it on the plane? Put it back. On second thoughts…. it’s not that heavy, right?
If, like me, you have a slightly unnatural obsession with pharmacies, you have found your Mecca. It’s called Sasa and it’s a chain you’ll find on almost every street corner. The stores vary in size and product variety but this is the mother lode of cosmetics, hair products, nail products, cheap vitamins, non-prescription drugs, and even prescription drugs. Here is where you can buy intriguing tonics, lotions and potions. Does it matter if the packaging is not in English? It’s only $2. Figure it out later. (Perhaps just don’t ingest anything.)
And then, of course, you have to visit one (or all) of Hong Kong’s markets. Many are uncannily themed and impractical for tourists – think birds (live), fish (live) and meat (definitely dead). But others, like electronics and jade, are just made for the tourist with an expandable suitcase. The multi-product markets like the Night Markets are incredibly cheap, but this is for a good and practical reason – many things are essentially rubbish. But here’s where you can buy that yellow evening handbag you’ll only ever carry once, or a dozen pashminas in every colour imaginable, or those tracksuit pants perfectly suited to cold Sunday nights. They have their place. But like every Hong Kong shopping experience, market shopping does have its drawbacks. I played tug of war, not over a shopping item, but over a friend who was being physically pulled into a stall because he showed undue interest in a Mahjong set. We literally had to drag him out and scurry away through the complex labyrinth of shoppers to escape the stall holder’s clutches.
Shopping in Hong Kong is a cultural experience in itself and not to be missed. But, a final friendly word of warning to my fellow adults who are not a waif-like 45kg. There are times when you will be disappointed with the clothing – you will be confronted with an extra large that wouldn’t fit a small Western child, or a dearth of shoes over size 7. Be patient. Buy a scarf in the mean time. I asked a store attendant if she had a pair of jeans one size bigger than the pair I had squeezed into (a size 12 and for the record I’m only just 5ft tall). She sniggered very politely, smiled and shook her head. ‘We don’t stock those sizes’, she told me. Very well.
As I left that store with my ill fitting purchases under my arm and a subdued expression on my face, I passed a women who was just entering. She was at least 6ft tall, thin but curvaceous and toned. I opened my mouth to warn her and then I closed it again. She would figure it out.