Monday, April 20, 2009


I don't really understand blogs, if I'm honest. Is it supposed to be a work in progress? Should everything be finished? Do you just put things on here? What, basically, is the point? I might as well open my window and read this to the night sky. At least then it would be drowned out by the constant honking of Beijing's taxi drivers.

I'm on a bike. HONK. I'm on a bike and you're behind me. HONKETY HONK. The lights have changed. Honk honko honky HONK. Etc.

Anyway. This is something I wrote a while back, during an 'I'll write some fluffy stuff for real magazines' phase. I've also done 'Winter Skin Care: Do's and Don't's', and 'Bogeling: Is It The New Tango?' I'm thinking Time Out for the first one, Bella for the last two. Wish me luck.

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In Hong Kong, everyone is selling something. The city is one enormous shop. But let’s face it: we’re not here for the new mega-malls. I didn’t come to Honkers to go to Zara and buy sweat shop clothes from H&M. This is all about the markets, the dirty edges of commerce, where everything is fake, where bargains lurk, ready to be snared.

These markets can be a little overwhelming to your average westerner. Here’s a guide to survival on the mean streets.

1. Select market. In this instance, it’s the ladies market in Hong Kong, so called because some of the tat they sell is sort-of for women, if by ‘women’ you mean people who respond to shiny things. This demographic thus extends to Elton John, Liberace and magpies.

2. Walk down the length of the market. Marvel at the sheer range of tat. We’re talking gem-encrusted elephants, Aberkrombie and Fitcn t-shirts, child’s sunglasses with a GCCUI sticker on the side, plastic smoking buddhas, fake transformers that don’t, shrink wrap kits for all your shrink wrap needs. Absolute rubbish.

3. Select item you wish to purchase. March up to luckless stall owner and begin to bargain. CRUCIAL: at this stage have a rough idea of how much you are willing to pay. Try not to do the I’m-doing-currency-conversion-in-my-head-and-it’s-not-going-well look, or she’ll sense weakness.

4. Stall owner will be much too nice to you and flatter you with lies. Commonly heard mistruths include: they make you look thin, handsome, beautiful, buy all of them, you are very pretty. This is fine.

5. He or she will point out that the half-cocked sunglasses or dangerously miss-spelt t-shirt you are clutching is, in face, an authentic piece of designer ware. Do not laugh. You are equals in a life or death financial struggle.

5. Stall owner will produce a leaflet showing either a) Kanye West wearing said sunglasses or b) a photocopied certificate which attests to the UV blocking qualities of the lense. In Cantonese. Stall owner will hit/burn/pull/punch item to prove these claims.

6. COMMENCE HAGGLING. Ask the stall owner how much it costs. They name a price at least $100 too high. You name a price half what you’re willing to pay. They’ll bring there’s down to something more reasonable. You bring yours up to something less insulting. There’s still at least a $50 gap.

7. Impasse. Deadlock. This is where it gets testy. Both trader and customer now have a few options. First up: hastily improvised combo deal. Throw something else into the mix (why not add that giant fluffy Nintendo branded pencil-that-isn’t-a-pencil?) and add $10 on to your offer. See what happens.

8. Second option: actually pay something reasonable. Bear in mind that, as a westerner, you are a king in this country, and you should stop being so bloody tight. You’re already living the consumer high-life at home on the back of poor people in poor countries making crap so that you can use it once and throw it away: maybe you can take your foot off the oppression pedal for one evening? Offer $20 less than what they want.

9. Third. Nuclear option: walk away. You need balls for this one. Make sure the stall holder knows exactly what you’re offering. Put the item down, say thank you, and walk off. He or she will barrack you in as polite a way as possible (‘Hey Lady. LADY. WE ARE FRIENDS. COME BACK HERE. YOU COME BACK HERE.). If this happens, offer $5 more just to show you’re a human after all, and make your purchase. The alternative is that they’ll just shrug and mutter an insult/curse, and you’ll walk off into the night. It’s a risk you’ve got to take.

10. Success! You are now the proud owner of something made by a peasant in a hellish factory that will break by the time you get it home. And what’s better, it didn’t cost you much. Well done everybody!