Monday, September 10, 2012

How to buy a copy bag

For the first time in over a month we don't have any visitors staying with us.  Today I pooped with the bathroom door open and it was glorious.

I actually really like having guests because we get to do all of the touristy things that we usually ignore - the Peak, a ferry tour of the islands around Sai Kung, the Star Ferry, etc.  And when people say that they want to buy gifts or souvenirs, I head straight for Temple Street Night Market to buy the most iconic Hong Kong souvenir of all - a copy bag.*

The way it works is this: you wander through the market, walking past the stalls, until you hear someone say "Copy bag? Copy watch?" and you know you're in the right place.  The bags aren't actually in the stalls because they're, y'know, illegal, so you look through a handmade catalog, pick the handbag you want to see, and the market lady dispatches a runner to retrieve the bag from wherever her inventory is kept nearby.

You then look at the bag, she points out all of the ways that this is a quality bag ("good stitching!" "zipper!") and if you decide you want it then she quotes you an absurdly expensive price.  DO NOT EVER pay this price.  Offer a third of what she's asking and go from there.  And don't be afraid to walk away (actually, this can be a pretty good negotiating technique) and head to the next seller.

Recently my father-in-law was visiting and wanted a gift for his girlfriend, so we immediately headed to Temple Street. (Protip: do not try to drive there - it's a nightmare.  Take the MTR.)  We wandered the market until we heard the magical "Copy bag? Copy watch?" and headed in to talk to the lady.  She had a high-tech operation and had photos of the bags on her iPhone rather than in a physical catalog - very impressive.  My father-in-law is - of course - male, so all of the bags pretty much looked the same to him, so I chose a black Chanel bag and she sent her runner off to fetch it while we waited for him to return.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally we got tired of waiting and decided to move on, walking away while she yelled at our backs "two minutes!  two minutes!" (which she'd been saying for the last ten minutes).

A block and a half later, she came running up behind us yelling "bag!" so we returned to her stall to examine it.  It was a nice enough bag but my father-in-law wasn't impressed, so we declined.  She started to show us other bags on her phone but got frustrated when we seemed indecisive, so - and this was new to me - she offered to take us to where the bags were stored to look at her entire inventory.  I was a bit sketched out by this - images of mainland tourists being held hostage in jewelry shops until they buy something were running through my head - but my sweet naive husband said "Okay!"  Sigh.

Then she pointed and said "Only two."  Okay, only two of us could go.  The husband cheerily agreed to stay while his dad and I walked into certain death.  (Thanks honey!)

She led us to an old walk-up building where we climbed five stories in 130-degree heat, being admonished the whole way for making noise.  Step - step - step - "SHHHH!" - step - step - "SHHH!" until we came to a small flat.  This is the type of flat that's called a "coffin home" because it's the size of a single bed - no bigger.  But there was no bed, only bags from floor to ceiling.  Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Miu Miu, and on and on and on.  

We're sweating profusely and she's wildly pulling out bags for us to look at, shoving bag after bag in our faces, until we finally choose one (I'm not sure if it was because it was the one we liked best or if it was because we were incredibly close to passing out, but I tend towards the latter).  Then she quotes us the price - $1300 HKD.  Ha.  Hahaha.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Um, no.  We go back and forth a bit and I finally end up getting the bag for $500, which is probably still too much but hey - at least we're going to live through this.  

Then we walk back down to street level (complete with many more "SHHH!"s) and emerge with our copy bag firmly in hand.  To be honest I can't even remember what it looks like - the whole experience is a sweaty blur.  So yeah - that's how you buy a copy bag.  Now go forth and conquer in style.

* For the uninitiated, a copy bag is a counterfeit designer handbag.


  1. As you know me Ellen, I'm a visitor to Hong Kong every so often and this has happened to me in 2007. It was the first time my Wife came with me and we went to the Ladies Market. My Wife couldn't help hearing the "Copy Hand Bag and Copy Watch call!" like a bee to honey she went straight in to see what they had on offer. Her eyes lit up with the range of bags they had on offer. She couldn't make up her mind, so she had one of her friends lead us up 8 floors in a 70's style building. I thought we were going to be led into a place where we will never see daylight ever again. Maybe be murdered, robbed or something much more gruesome. A secret knock on the door and the sound of unlocking latches clicking for several seconds. Then the door opens behind the heavy iron gauge gate to keep intruders out and welcomed customers like us in. It was unbelievable. Every wall was lined up with shelves full of handbags from the floor to the ceiling. Other people were wandering around looking at handbags as well and deals were being made. My Wife eventually got what she wanted for a fair price.
    I on the other hand like acting the foreigner on holidays. I love speaking the perfect English to them (shop owners). Ask how much? They always give me the highest price as usual for any tourist. I bargain them down to the lowest as possible in English. Once there, I change my Language to Cantonese and watch there reaction. It's so funny to see their faces. Then in Cantonese I say to them now that's the gweilo price, now what is your best price for one of your own. You find that they do drop further and you do walk away with a bargain or two.
    David Woo

  2. Haha! I love doing the switch to Canto - it really throws them off their game. :)

  3. I enjoy reading your blog, Ellen! me and my husband are moving to HK soon and your blog would be very helpful for us :)


    1. Glad you enjoy it, and I hope you love Hong Kong as much as I do!