“In the funeral shop,” the older man instructed while gesturing vaguely down the street, “you can buy those cards in the funeral shop.”
We were looking for a set of Chinese domino cards and had already been told by several shopkeepers that they didn’t carry them. An older man overheard our latest request and stepped in to help. When we looked puzzled in response to his vague directions, he kindly walked us down the street to the funeral shop and pointed us right inside.
The shop was a traditional Hong Kong store selling all sorts of paper products to be burned for the use of dead relatives in the afterlife. Shops in more central parts of Hong Kong stock things like paper Gucci handbags and luxury cars, but here in Yuen Long the shop carried a modest array of paper wristwatches, paper dress shirts and paper cigarettes.
We waited a moment for an older Hakka lady, wearing a enormous woven straw hat, to complete her transaction. Then we once again tentatively asked about the cards (still wondering why they would be stocked in a funeral shop). To our surprise the shopkeeper nodded yes and asked whether we wanted an entire case of 24 packs. She asked this in a way that implied that the cards were commonly purchased in bulk. We opted for two single packs and headed back out onto the narrow streets of Yuen Long, a still old-fashioned neighborhood in Hong Kong’s northern New Territories.
This was one of many small purchases that we made that morning while wandering in and out of small stores stuffed with useful and interesting merchandise.
Need a new sink strainer? They have every variety known to man.
Looking for a rat trap or the sort of wooden-tile-style seat cover favored by Hong Kong taxi drivers? Easy to find.
Out of plastic bags for your takeaway shop? Buy them in bulk.
Are you 16 and do you want a mug to commemorate your summer love? Find a selection upstairs between the ash trays and metal cash boxes.
With the radius of a few blocks one could also buy fruits, vegetables, candy, books, stationary, bulk discount clothing, phone covers, rubber boots, dried goods and cooked food. Like a Target store in America but more odorous and with a much cooler vibe.
Yuen Long’s local shopping area is easy to navigate, inexpensive, practical and filled with life. It is the antithesis of the typical Hong Kong shopping mall. Fingers crossed it’s not “redeveloped” any time soon.
With many thanks to my friend, Adele Frankle, for showing me around Yuen Long, her second home. She’s inspired me to spend even more time exploring every nook and cranny of my own local neighborhood: Tai Po.