Hong Kong Markets: Electronic vibrating diamond-encrusted laptop underwear phones, y'all!!

Culture | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Updated: January 20th, 2011 | Comments
There is a market for pretty much everything in Hong Kong. There's a Ladies' Market, an electronics market, a sneaker market, a couple goldfish markets, a name card bazaar, a locksmith guild operating across several streets, antiques, leather shoes, diamonds and jewels ...  pretty much anything that China produces has a market street or three in Hong Kong for its very own. Ironically, middle class Chinese from the Mainland love to travel to Hong Kong to shop, although everything that is sold in Hong Kong was made in  or around Guangzhou. The big difference is that most of the Mainland markets have to make do with what gets shipped out of the back door of the factories, whereas Hong Kong gets the side door (the American Midwest gets all of the stuff headed out the front door). In terms of quality, I think there is a minimal drop-off, but there is without a doubt a drop-off in price to go along with that quality discrepancy. I, unfortunately, have been in China too long to browse markets. I shop there for a reason: swift acquisition of the cheapest version of what I need. In this case: underwear. The visa situation that brought me here (wait for the next post for that doozy) also kept me here longer than I thought. So I needed a change of clothes. And there is no better place to find good men's underwear than Hong Kong's famous Ladies Market.... I think there might be another reason why people come to Hong Kong to shop. Its not just the staggering variety, great prices or excellent quality -- its also the dignity with which a Hong Kong hawker snatches your cash. There is something human about the markets in Hong Kong that is sometimes missing from the straight cut-throat bazaars of the Mainland. If you're selling in Hong Kong, then you are already better off than the vast majority of Mainland market stall owners. There is less desperation here. What I also noticed right away are the calm crowds -- teeming though they were -- and a conspicuous lack of the deafening market place roar. I don't know why that is (or if it's all in my imagination anyway, seeing was in a good mood following those my excellent experiences with Hong Kong dining), but I would like to take a stab at it.... The streets and buildings in Hong Kong (the same streets that once repulsed me back into my Chungking Mansions hotel room, shivering and gibbering and struck with crowd vertigo) are built in such a way as to promote pedestrian traffic and ground floor business. What I noticed was that the market areas don't have dozens of vehicles jostling for space with the people, yet they were built wide enough to accommodate several streams of humanity as well as the odd cargo truck unloading sneakers or iPhone accessories. The buildings along the waterfront are massive and imposing, but back toward Mong Kok and Prince Edward, the buildings are shorter, narrower, set shoulder to shoulder and connected by lines and stairwells and third floor passages. This is what a bazaar should feel like: tight and packed, but with space to move. "People walk slow here," said Anna. "If this were New York there would be problems."

Thank God, says I. I am a slow-walking-browser type of shopper and it seems that Hong Kong has that style too. First stop on the way to buying my underwear was the Sneaker Market (Mong Kok, Fa Yuen Street). I wasn't looking for shoes, but I am trying to get into the Shanghai Basketball league, so I took a look at the new Lebrons and some of the classic Jordan remakes while Anna browsed hipster Converse and New Balance kicks.

(No the sneaker market is not going anywhere, this slideshow from 2009 at www.awhatup.com predicted an early demise, but I can tell you that sneaks are being slung here in '11.)

Neither of us bought any shoes, so we wandered through Mong Kok until we stumbled upon another market (the place where I bought the fruit juice), which turned out to be an offshoot of the famous Temple Street Market. This market begins setting up around 2pm or later, maybe 4pm and I noticed that the haggling is fiercest then. In fact I heard many of the ladies exclaim, "Market just open! You my first sale! Have to help me make money!" Temple Street sells all sorts of clothes and belts and souvenir hats and such. I found some boxer briefs and a couple pair of black socks and went about my business. Wanchai Electronics Market, Hong Kong My favorite market by far is the electronics markets (the one in Mong Kok on Nelson Road and the Wanchai one on Hennessy). It isn't for the faint hearted. The whole "chaotic yet calm" theory that applies to many of the outdoor markets in Hong Kong doesn't apply here, as most of the shops are clustered together in 5-8 level buildings, squished together in blocks of glittering, blinking, beeping madness. It feels like what the ground level Blade Runner world might be like. I tend to assume a Buddha pose as I stroll through, one eye on the stalls, another on the open spaces that appear between bodies that I have to squeeze through in order to continue on. As I jostle my way through the levels, I hear cries of DVD. But those are for amateur computer market shoppers. As soon as the hawkers see that my inscrutable expressions changes little at the mention of bad porn or fuzzy versions on Inception, they narrow their beady little eyes and shrewdly switch tacks. "New hard drive!" "Wireless mouse!" "Cable! Cable!" and then, miraculously, I hear it: "Yo I got that laptop cooling pad yer looking for right here dawg!" Sike. I just saw it there gathering dust atop a pile of wireless routers and picked it up to see what kind of quality we're looking at here. A harried representative rose up from the floor tiles like a genie and said, "Hm. For laptop. Here. USB too." Simple construction. Sturdy aluminum. USB hub. Two fans. Operated via USB cable connected to my laptop. Steepled-finger excellence. "How much?" "5 billion dollah!" "13 cents!" We settled on HK$120 for the cooling pad and a mouse. Underwear, check. Socks, check. Computer gadget that will extend the life of laptop 2-3 years, check. Now I'm hungry. Where the fried fishballs at!
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