Friday, May 28, 2010

Shopping in Hong Kong with a Pro



Hong Kong residents are some of the world’s best shoppers. They, of course, observe the Chinese New Year’s but have also adopted Valentine’s Day and Christmas as additional opportunities to buy presents. The world’s products are easily available and at good prices. But how can a visitor take full advantage of these offerings? Enter Alicia Daigle, a former resident of Paris.

An Oklahoma native, Alicia lived in Seoul for five years and Hong Kong for four. One bedroom of their apartment stored the many bargains she found in her time in Asia. I knew I was in the hands of a shopping master in our early e-mail contact. She quickly displayed her knowledge of “vendors” as in “I have a purse lady”, a “lady at the Jade Market” and a “fabric guy, too”. At Yuet Tung, you can design your own dinnerware and have it hand painted and shipped. You must go to Shanghai Tang - “expensive but fabulous”. Every e-mail had a new suggestion.

We set up a shopping day which came with a set of instructions from Alicia, all of which proved helpful.

1. “It takes time.” Starting at 9 a.m. with a long metro ride to Yuet Tung, we arrived at a porcelain warehouse of gigantic proportions. Down many aisles were hand painted dishes stacked to the ceiling. As Alicia noted, there was no apparent inventory control. A large purse could do some damage here. It was tempting to order a set of hand painted dishes, especially after seeing the prices and the painting apparatus. This is becoming a lost art. But they couldn’t assure me that the set would be microwavable - a requirement in our household.

2. “Your hands will get dirty. Bring wet ones and tissue.” Bathrooms were precious commodities and wet ones saved us from the dust of many products.

3. “Bring water and snack bars/crackers.” It was going to be a full day and we would not have time for lunch. We stopped, briefly, at a bakery for bread to go. Otherwise, it was full speed ahead with only snacks on the metro.


4. “Wear comfortable shoes.” As we slowly passed through the beautiful flower and bird markets, we were glad to be in our ugly, black walking shoes. The birds noisily visited with each other. Owners bring their birds back to the avarian market on a regular basis to mingle with their own. Of course, the owners also visit. If only we had had more luggage, I would be the proud owner of an exquisite bamboo bird cage.


5. “The Jade Market has reasonable prices.” Alicia’s lady at the Jade Market was a find. Her specialty was “slightly chunky to very chunky with an Asian flair”. All of us bought necklaces, tassels, and key chains in that style. Considering the prices, we weren’t sure all purchases were really jade but we could truthfully say we had bought them at the Jade Market. It was up to our friends and family to inquire more if they really wanted to know.


Last stop was at Om International, a pearl store that can’t be beat for quality and price. The experience included just finding the showroom. Located on a side street in Kowloon, across from Hong Kong island, an overhead sign on the sidewalk pointed us into a stairway. One floor up was a steel door. We rang the bell and a small window behind bars opened to a slight, bespectacled woman. Since we didn’t look threatening, she allowed us to enter a lovely, small showroom with displays of beautiful pearls. There was no way we could leave without a purchase (or two).

So ended one of the most intense shopping days I’ve experienced. We rode on five different metro trains, shopped the enormous and the intimate, observed the Chinese spoiling their birds and buying buckets of flowers, took advantage of the famous Chinese jade and bought pearls with a story to match. We couldn’t have done it without our pro. Alicia monitored our time and steered us down the right streets and hallways. She knew quality and prices. She would tell us that “they’re giving it away” if we hesitated about buying. And she was right every time. In fact, our only regret is that we didn’t buy more.

Yuet Tung Call for directions. http://www.porcelainware.com.hk/

Shanghai Tang - Pedder Building (built 1924) on Pedder Street between Queen's Road Central and Des Voeux Road. This is dead center of the central business district on Hong Kong Island.

Jade Market - MTR Red Line to Tsuen Wan. Get off at Yau Ma Tei Station - Exit C. You will be facing Nathan Road - turn right and walk several blocks to Public Square Street. Turn right on Public Square street, walk one block to the temple which will be on your left. It is worth it to walk into the temple and also to check all the guys playing Go on the temple grounds. Shanghai Street runs in front of the temple. Cross Shanghai Street. You should be facing a large cream colored building - Yau Ma Tei Community Center. Turn left on Shanghai Street in front of the YMT Community Center. Walk about one block, turn right and walk between the small playground with the turquoise blue fence and the YMT Community Center. The Jade Market will be right in front of you. It is an unassuming red, blue and green building.
Eva Ho's stall is #308. She does not bargain much - maybe 10% depending on how good or bad business is at that time.


Om International - # 6 Carnarvon Road, Friends House, First Floor, Suite A3.
MTR Red Line 1 or Line 2 to Tsuen Wan. Get off at Tism Sha Tsui (most folks just call it TST because it is difficult to pronounce) Station - Carnarvon Road D2 Exit. As you exit, just look straight ahead and OM is across the street on the left about half a block from the D2 exit. You can see their sign as you step onto the street. Remember it is on the first floor which is our second floor. Their first floor is the ground floor. This is not on HK Island it is on the Kowloon side. www.ompearls.com

Flower Market - MTR Red Line 1 or Line 2 to Tsuen Wan. Get off at Prince Edward Station - Exit B1. You will be at the corner of Nathan Road and Prince Edward Road, West. Turn left on PERW. If you are going the right direction, the Mong Kok Police Station will be on your left and an elevated road on your right. Walk about three or four blocks to Sai Yee Street. This is where the Flower Market starts. Turn left on Sai Yee and walk one block to Flower Market Road. Right on Flower Market Road. You can just continue down PERW and come back up FMR.

Bird Market - Most people call it the Bird Market but the correct name is Yuen Po Bird Garden. It is at the end of FMR at Yuen Po Street - far left back corner of the Flower Market if you are walking down FMR to Yeun Po Street.

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