Life in China: How to Shop in Hong Kong

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So you moved to Shenzhen, China, and you’re doing well here. It’s a thriving city, isn’t it? But life in Shenzhen is lacking something. The shopping, that’s what it is. You can get some decent imported goods, but there are things from home that you just can’t find anywhere. Where’s a vegetarian to get Quorn products, for example? Well, it’s time to do like a local, and who doesn’t want to do that? Living like a local is part of the point of moving abroad and working overseas, right? So here’s how to live like a Shenzhen local. You’ve got to go shopping in Hong Kong, and you’ve got to do it right.

First, be sure to make a very long list. You’ll be needing Quorn products, such as the Turkey Roast, and you’ll also be needing all-natural peanut butter (forget this Skippy’s garbage you can get at the grocery store here in Shenzhen), and some legit whole grain bread would be great, plus toothpaste, and…well, you get the idea. But, hold on, those are all things that some expat wants to buy, not a local! Be sure to add diapers and baby formula to the list. That will help you fit right in, because those are things everybody in Shenzhen believes are best purchased across the border in Hong Kong.


Next, leave at 8:30am. Don’t go earlier, because if you do, you’ll beat the crowds to the border and whiz right through, which would be positively un-Chinese. You need to hit the border at the most crowded time possible, which would be between 9 and 11am.Life in China: How to Shop in Hong Kong Like a Local

Since you’re standing around in line, you don’t need to worry about taking extra time to fill out those pesky immigration cards beforehand. Yes, yes, you could have picked up a handful of cards last time you went to the border and filled them out in advance, meaning you wouldn’t have to do it at the border, but what’s the point? You’ve got to kill an hour anyway. Might as well have something to do. You have no hope at appearing like a local now, since you’ve never gotten around to registering for the e-channel border crossing. That’s a pain in the neck, because you have to register on both the Chinese and Hong Kong sides for the e-channel. Maybe one of these days you’ll do that, and you’ll get some bonus local points. In the meantime, you get to stand in the “Foreigner” line, but since there are fewer foreigners than Chinese locals, at least the line is short-ish.

Every local knows the best shopping is in Tuen Mun, because that’s easy to get to after you cross the border at Shenzhen Bay. Don’t worry about the lack of clear signage, this is old hat. All you’ve got to do is exit the building, turn slightly left, and join the queue to the B93X bus and have your 11 Hong Kong dollars at the ready for a ticket. Then you can chill out for half an hour and get off at the third stop, deposited neatly at the wonderfully confusing Town Plaza mall. Easy-peasy.

To be maximum local, be sure to bring your earphones and catch some Z’s as the bus motors along the highway which does a fancy curlicue to change from driving on the right side to the left and over a bridge which allows you to view floating fish farms. Act uninterested. To be extra local, before you even board, try to get up to the front of the queue by walking past most of the line and then cutting in before you get on the bus. If you don’t cut in line too close to the front, you might be able to push in without getting forced to the back of the line. Bonus points. Of course, if you do this where there’s an official watching, you’ll be unceremoniously bellowed at until you move to the rear, but then you’ll get serious score-enhancing local points.


Now, after you arrive at the mall, be certain to roll your wheeled luggage proudly. What? You forgot your wheeled luggage? You just lost all your bonus points. In fact, you lost all your points. You must bring your roller luggage. This is imperative to appear like a local. All the mainland Chinese know this is simply the best way to transport your purchases over the course of the day. Why carry bags when you can just roll a suitcase, which you obviously already own, seeing as you’re an expat living in Shenzhen, China, so stop being so proud and start being smart. Roll, don’t carry. Yes, carry-on sized bags are acceptable, but the bigger the better. Go big to score more points. Don’t worry, there’s suitcase parking outside Yves Saint Laurent and other shops that don’t allow you to bring your luggage inside.

life in china how to shop in Hong Kong spinner luggage See, seriously, why would you tote a bunch of stuff around in bags when you can just put it in here?

life in china how to shop in Hong Kong live like a local If need be, you can always put one of those annoying bags on top of your wheeled luggage, making it easier to deal with.

Now, at the end of the day, with all of the items on your long list purchased and stowed neatly inside your suitcase, it’s time to join the queue to get back on the bus to return to Shenzhen, China. Ideally, you should wait until dinner time, just as it’s starting to get dark, because that’s when everyone else will want to go home, too. This makes the line to board the bus nice and lengthy, which is perfect, because you’re used to crowds, and you have no qualms about raising your voice to talk to your shopping buddy as you’re biding your time in line. Besides, the line does move fairly quickly, given how big those buses are and how often they run!

Next, it’s time to cross the border again. This time, you must appreciate that time is of the essence. You really should have left sooner, but there were just too many fabulous items to fill your suitcase with. It doesn’t matter that you’ll have to stop at immigration controls for both Hong Kong and China, you should hurry manically from the time you get off the bus until the time you’re forced to stand still. Disregard everyone around you and race for it. If you have anything sharp, such as a metal label that’s come loose hanging off your luggage, don’t worry about it. You can still run, and if some hapless idiot happens to be walking or standing nearby, it’s his problem that he’s going to get his leg bloodied by your speeding knife-edged baggage. Go fast.

life in china how to shop in Hong Kong flesh wound
Don’t worry, ’tis but a flesh wound. Plainly the author should have been walking somewhere else.

Now, once through border control, you’ve completed your day of shopping in Hong Kong! That’s it! You can take pride knowing you’ve had a great day living like a local. Yes, you may still need to finish your journey to your apartment, but you can easily get a cab from here (after another 20 minutes in line, that is), so just relax and shout happily at your shopping buddy, because you’re doing everything right! Tally up your points and see how you performed!

For more (serious) stories about navigating China as expats, read our Life in China series.

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