HK Travelogue – Day 2: Shopping, tea, and more shopping

My title makes it sound like we spent this whole day buying things, but we didn’t. We just went to a lot of places where we could buy things. It was quite exhausting.

We began our day with another bountiful breakfast at the YMCA, then Caroline met us and we set out to explore Tsim Sha Tsui (the neighborhood where we were staying). Our first stop was Chinese Arts and Crafts, described in the guidebook as “the best place to buy quality bric-a-brac and other Chinese tchotchkies.” What does that sound like to you? I imagined nice teapots, embroidered cushion covers, cute jewelry, and other such gift items. I did not expect two stories of intricate ivory carvings with five-digit price tags, antiques that looked exactly like those we saw the day before in the Museum of Art, and silk and wool clothing so fine that I couldn’t justify wearing it even if I could afford it (which I couldn’t). After a brief dalliance with a Mongolian cashmere sweater I liked (at $53 US, one of the cheapest things in the shop), we left the store empty-handed.

From there, it was a short skip to the enormous Harbour City mall (really enormous — just search their shopping directory), where I discovered to my delight that there was a Sylvanian Families anniversary exhibit.

Sylvanian Families are ridiculously cute little animal figurines, always presented with adorable backdrops and evocative sets of accessories. I always longed for them when I was younger, and here I was, bursting in on the grand family reunion in Hong Kong! I indulged myself by taking many photos of the displays, which I’ve posted here.

After posing with the Sylvanians, Caroline and I continued our wanderings through the mall. We were soon stopped by a saleslady at one of those ubiquitous Dead Sea skincare-product kiosks. She didn’t speak much Mandarin or English, and I only understood about half her Cantonese, but before we knew it, she had us seated and undergoing mini facial treatments. The process went something like this:

LADY: *brandishing a facial masque* Complicated explanation of skincare rituals (in Cantonese)
ME: *quizzical expression*
LADY: *points at my nose and chin* Dirty! Very dirty!
ME: Oh.
LADY: *covers my nose and chin in black goop*

I believe Caroline took a photo of me thusly decorated… I will have to get it from her to share with the public. :b I must say my pores look very clean now. Interestingly enough, she didn’t try to sell me anything, but she laid the pressure on for Caroline to purchase a $135 US masque, and she wouldn’t listen to my attempts to decline politely in Mandarin. She even brought out an inventory sheet to “prove” that there was only one jar of that masque left, so Caroline had to purchase rightnow or else risk losing it forever! (If that’s a sales trick, it’s a pretty nifty one, I must say.) Finally we managed to escape without spending any money. It was a slightly harrowing experience, but I’m grateful for my free mini-facial, and for the opportunity to use some of my Chinese language skills!

By this point it was past our lunchtime, so we arranged to meet up with Joanna at the Peninsula Hotel for afternoon tea. The Peninsula is one of the oldest hotels in Hong Kong, and it’s extremely ritzy… and right across the street from the YMCA. There was a short queue for a table before we were seated to marinate in the glacially slow strains of Vivaldi played by a mismatched ensemble of musicians (“classy” live music). When Joanna arrived, we placed our orders from a menu that included traditional high tea… and hot dogs, salads, and coffee drinks. It seemed everything about this tea catered to both traditionalists and tourists who don’t know better, but we enjoyed it anyway. The tea was delicious, and all the tableware was really nice. The food looked dainty, but we were stuffed by the time we finished our raisin scones, sandwiches, cakes, and macarons! While we ate, we got to know Joanna a bit better. She told us about how she ended up at USC, and about the work she does for her dad’s Chinese-herb export company. She travels a lot for the company, and comes into contact with lots of different people. My journal from that evening reads simply, “Joanna has an interesting life.”

After tea, I was really feeling the effects of my sleep deprivation, so we retired to our room for a nap, while Joanna guided Caroline to the famous Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok. This is one of the best-known of Hong Kong’s street markets, and we were all eager to see it. After a not-very-successful nap attempt, Erik and I hopped on the MTR for a short ride to Mong Kok.

streets of Mong Kok

I did not like the Ladies’ Market at all. It was huge and immensely crowded, and it gave one the bad sense of being caught in a nightmare without end. Everywhere one looked, there was stall after stall of cheap trinkets, and they all seemed to be selling the same stuff: iPhone cases, t-shirts, knockoff handbags. Occasionally I’d see something different, like figurines or (strangely) craft punches, but it all blended together after a while. It felt like those tchotchke shops in the Ranch 99 plaza, times a thousand. I suspect it’s an okay place to go if you’re looking for something specific (like Caroline, who wanted souvenir tees), but for just browsing, I found it nearly unbearable. It’s so completely against my shopping values… and I was so tired already. Erik hates shopping no matter where it happens, and he hates crowds even more. So we fled the market and found a little park where we could sit quietly and reel from the craziness of it all. (I took the above photo from the gate of that park.)

It was quite late by the time Caroline completed her purchases, so we returned to TST for some dinner. We were going to hunt around Mody Road, but I got sidetracked by wanting to check out iSquare. I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded curious, so we went in. It turned out to be the perfect foil for the Ladies’ Market, at least for me.

Okay, I’ll admit… I really liked iSquare. It’s not that amazing, it’s just a mall, but it’s exactly the kind of mall I like: sleekly gorgeous, spacious, and clean, with one awesome Japanese gift store, a nicely stocked supermarket, and tons of great eating places. The elevators played fake bird chirps, and the escalators had brightly lit flowers and plants projected onto the walls. There was also wi-fi and some great views of Nathan Road. It’s probably not worth making a special trip for, but if I lived in the neighborhood, I’d be there all the time. I just liked how it felt.

Mody Rd, seen from iSquare on Day 4

I exclaimed my happy way through the Japanese gift store (it was called Log-On) and its shelves of Moleskine notebooks, Nomadic bags (the bag I carried on this trip was a Nomadic), and imported chocolates, while Erik and Caroline waited patiently. Then we went in search of dinner, and ended up getting Japanese pasta and rice pizza, which totally hit the spot. We were falling-over tired, but it was the perfect end to our long day of shopping.

Tomorrow: such great heights!

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