Of touts and tourists



Nathan Road Tsim Sha Tsui-2Tsim Sha Tsui (or “TST”) is a particularly touristy corner of Hong Kong. The area includes lots of shopping, a Star Ferry pier, heaps of restaurants and many lovely cross-harbor viewpoints.

It is also full of tourists and amongst these tourists there is a healthy sprinkling of street touts. As such, there are several blocks in TST where you are guaranteed to be asked multiple times: “Tailored suit? Copy watch? Copy handbag?”

In my own experience these touts are only mildly annoying and not at all persistent: a negative head shake accompanied by an “I live here” eye roll and they move on.

A certain Mr. Clumer from Vancouver, however, finds the touts repellant as he explains in his recent letter to the editor of the South China Morning Post:

I love visiting Hong Kong but hate walking along Nathan Road [in Tsim Sha Tsui].

The continual barrage of unscrupulous tailors and sleazy point men trying to unload their tacky tailoring skills and fake Rolex watches on the unwary white tourists is nothing short of harassment.

Why does Hong Kong allow this behavior to continue in what is otherwise a modern civilized city?

Justin Culmer, Vancouver, Canada

An open letter to the incensed and adjective-loving Mr Culmer:

Dear Mr Culmer,

There are several solutions to the problem of the TST touts to whom you refer.

Firstly, simply ignore them like everyone else does. Categorize their questions as part of the background noise of TST and shut it all out.

Secondly, you could spend your time in Hong Kong outside of the three block radius where the TST touts operate (hint: don’t stay at the Holiday Inn on Nathan Road’s “Golden Mile”). I suggest visiting any one of Hong Kong’s trillion other interesting neighborhoods. Sai Kung? Mong Kok? Lama Island? Sheung Wan? Wan Chai? Tai Po? Stanley? All worth visiting. All completely tailoring-tout-free.

Thirdly, you might decide to be amused rather than annoyed by the touts. I’ve stood in front of Chung King Mansions on Nathan Road and watched the touts approach people (after asking me once, they all simply ignored me). Fascinating to watch them work. Their days are full of rejection. Must be similar to Mormon Missionary work.

Fourthly, if you can’t beat them, join them. Line the inside of your jacket with fake watches. When the touts approach you, open your jacket and ask if they’re interested in one of your copy watches.

Finally, if the occasional mention of “copy watch sir?” by a man of South Asian descent is the most irritating part of your trip to Hong Kong as a “white tourist” you should probably loosen up.


Expat Lingo

12 responses to “Of touts and tourists

  1. The question in his letter is not addressed: Why does Hong Kong allow this behavior…? He may have a point. Shop owners pay huge rent in that area, administration, profit tax, and probably a few other things. These illegal touts pay none of this, taking advantage of the traffic legal stores generate.

    • Yes, it would be very interesting to hear more about this from the shop owners in the area. At the same time I imagine it might be a tricky thing to regulate as they’re really just guys standing on the sidewalk occasionally saying “copy watch?” The sales pitch is truthful and I haven’t noticed them following people.

      In addition to the tailoring-touts targeting mainly Western tourists, I have recently noticed many new hotel/restaurant touts targeting Mainland Chinese tourists. These (usually Chinese) ladies seem more aggressive, but I’m not their target audience so I haven’t yet watched them so closely.

  2. Mr Clumer’s grievance sounds petty compare to the aggressive panhandling one can experience on Market Street in San Francisco or midtown Manhattan in New York – Aggression as in physical contact and verbal assault.

    • That’s what I was thinking! The panhandling in downtown Seattle is far, far more annoying than the TST touts. Actually the people seeking donations from charities during the lunch hour in Seattle are also way more annoying and persistent.

  3. I was laughing all the way through your post. I think your responses were perfect.
    I am always amazed at the things that people will complain about in their travels, everything from ants in a hotel room (that only costs $20 a night), or the fact that a restaurant was not able to accommodate them exactly when they wanted, or my absolute favorite.. the servers didn’t speak the travelers native tongue well enough. Hahah
    We have people selling everything here, though they never call them copies…which are technically illegal, though luckily the law looks the other way so I can still enjoy my Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, and Gucci. 🙂
    Just one more thing, one of my favorite times to be asked if I want a suit is when I have just left the beach and am still wet and sandy, standing in my swimming suit and coverup. “Why yes, I think I would like a suit right now, thanks” LOL

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