This is my second real post about Hong Kong and, of course, it’s about a mall again. Malls are inescapable in this city, but I really don’t mind the opportunity to shop in an air-conditioned space with lots of reasonably-priced selections, especially if that selection is comprised of cute and nerdy goods.
Sino Centre (信和中心), located at 582-592 Nathan Road in Mong Kok (map!) is a favorite shopping destination for teens and geeks of all ages. You can easily spend a couple of hours in here wandering around, and I guarantee you won’t come out empty-handed.
There are basically four main levels of shopping, with some more shops hidden in higher floors. First is the basement, with a branch of e-animate (not to be confused with the Japanese-originated Animate, a branch of which is located in north Mong Kok) and many stores dedicated to imported CDs (lots of j-pop and k-pop), Japanese-language magazines, and weekly/monthly “phone book” manga (get the latest Shonen Jump here). If you want Japanese-language manga in tankoubon-form, you can get them at the Sogo Asahiya Bookstore in Causeway Bay or try the Animate linked above. You can score some cheap gems here and there, but for the most part, expect prices to reflect the Airmail paid to get them here from Japan. This stuff is for people who want the real deal.
Head back up the escalators to the 1st floor (ground floor is just elevators and the street), and you’ll be greeted with an assortment of little box stores selling all sorts of things to take up space in your apartment, but are potentially irresistible. The 2nd and 3rd floors are about the same. A more detailed sampling of what’s available:
1) Chinese-language manga/manhua (漫畫/漫画), either originating from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or translated from the latest Japanese series. Many of the books seem to come from Taiwan, as Hong Kong also uses traditional Chinese characters, and I imagine the translating/publishing industry is bigger in Taiwan. Any genre, you name it, they probably have it. If your Cantonese isn’t too rusty, you can probably ask a store clerk to order for you any titles not stocked on the shelves. Retail prices are printed right on the book covers themselves and usually range from US$3-$5, a steal compared to North America, but of course, you have to be able to read Chinese! I have not seen any manga using simplified characters. You can also get translated Japanese light novels, again in traditional characters.
There are a number of shops selling manga. The ones with the latest volumes are located near the escalators on each floor. For example, there’s a good one immediately to your right as you arrive on the 1st floor. This shop also often has flyers up advertising upcoming comic/cosplay/fan events happening in Hong Kong. Definitely worth a look.
Some manga shops, which can look like the home of a hoarder librarian, sell used volumes collected into full sets. If you are hankering to buy 50 volumes en masse of that vintage shonen manga that defined your adolescence, you can probably get it for a good price here.
2) Figurines – from cheap little plastic knock-offs the size of a strawberry to big hulking Gundams, there’s something here for everybody. There are perhaps half a dozen shops specializing in collectible figurines (e.g., Figma, Nenderoid) and are pretty up-to-date in their selection, although hot items do get sold out quickly. Prices will probably be cheaper than in Japan, but again, for the good stuff, expect to pay a reasonable market price. Some shops do charge more than others, so it’s best to walk around first and compare prices before buying, a method which should be applied to purchasing anything in this mall, really.
For the non-brand-name stuff, just a cute Luffy or Hatsune Miku for your computer desk, a few bucks should be enough to get what you need. Almost every other shop has a small selection of figures, so keep your eyes open for that perfect one.
3) Photos/tchotchkes of your favorite pop/movie star. There are around 3 “idol shops” that sell photos, posters, and accessories plastered with images of recently popular stars. There’s a lot more K-Pop representation recently, so expect lots of Girls’ Generation, Big Bang, and SHINee, but also many Hong Kong and Japanese stars. You can even get pics of Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, One Direction, and other Western celebrities. How much of this stuff is just pulled from websites without permission, we’ll never know, but if you’re planning on plastering your bedroom walls and ceiling with your favorite singer’s big shiny smile, you can get it done pretty cheaply from here.
4) Electronics accessories – have a smartphone or tablet? In addition to earbuds, wires, and chargers, Sino Centre has a giant selection of cases and covers for every taste and budget. You want that ostentatious Iron Man case with the light-up arc reactor? Got it. Just a cheapy little $1 bumper that barely does anything? Yep. A classy leather one for mom or dad? Sure. A lot of stores carry the same items, so shop around. If the price isn’t marked, you can try to gently bargain. The competition is pretty stiff as almost every store has some selection of smartphone cases, screen protector stickers, and spare battery packs. (If you’re thinking about picking anything up at Sino Centre, consider a spare battery pack. It often comes in handy on travels). If you buy a screen protector, the shop clerk should help stick it on for you in a way that no dust gets trapped underneath. I’ve had a clerk mess up 3 times and throw out the protector each time before getting one on to her satisfaction, and I wasn’t charged extra. This just shows how big a profit margin the stores are making on these things, where they’re comfortable throwing a bunch out.
For more advanced accessories geared towards iPads and laptops, you will have better luck at the Golden Computer Centre/Golden Shopping Centre in Sham Shui Po.
5) Scrapbooking materials – Sticker enthusiasts rejoice. Scattered around are shops with a very wide variety of well-designed and cute stickers (patterns, animals, flowers, mascots, etc.) at ridiculously cheap prices, i.e., HK$5/sheet (US$0.64). You can also get patterned tape, decals, notebooks, cards, letter-writing sets, and other little trinkets designed to add flair to an otherwise blank piece of paper. Definitely head to the 2nd or 3rd floors to find the cheapest ones. 1st floor shops sometimes price them as high as US$3/sheet. You might have to do a little digging around on the shelves inside, but these stores are usually easy to spot. You can make out like a crafting bandit with a giant pile of adorable stickers for just a few bucks U.S. This is something I know from experience.
6) Cute random – If you’re a fan of Arpakasso and his fuzzy alpaca friends, then prepare to have your head explode and all your money GONE, because there are tons and tons of Arpakassos of all colors, sizes, and tiny hats available. They’re quite cheap by Arpakasso standards (but perhaps not by general plushie price standards), so leave some room in your suitcase if you’re interested in an Arpakasso shopping spree.
There are also tons of other plush toys, Sanrio goods up the wazoo, Line mascot stuff, Disney (people still going nuts for Monsters University and Lilo & Stitch stuff), Despicable Me minions, anime goods not already referenced, and a shop selling bling and Bakelite goodies in the shape of animals, flowers, and pastries to glue onto any object you desire:
7) Beauty supplies and fashion accessories – There are a couple of hair care shops selling dyes and goo to make your mane do anything you’d like, along with places selling colored contact lenses of questionable safety (seriously, just go to an actual optometrist and get proper-fitting lenses so your eyeballs don’t die, there are plenty of reputable colored ones on the market). Hairclips and other cheap accessories are on sale, but you could do better in price by visiting the Argyle Center 旺角中心 in Mongkok. There’s also some shops selling belts and bags that are sometimes worth a peek.
8) Games and toys – a shop on the 1st floor sells board games and other miniature-sized things to goof around with. You can pick up a small Chinese chess or mahjong set and try challenging old men in parks or old ladies in dim sum houses when you feel ready (although I’m sure they would still slay you in battle). There are also many shops selling the modern video games we all love and hate, as well as a magic shop if you want to pull bunnies out of your shirt or…something.
9) The tawdry items – Just so you are prepared, there are still a few shops on the 3rd floor selling Japanese AV stuff, but I think they are slowly being taken over by more shops dealing in categories (1) through (8).
In case all of that wasn’t enough for you, you can take an elevator or stairs to the floors above 3rd and check out some truly hidden away shops. These caverns offer more toys/figures, CDs, character goods, etc. Just take a look at the directory listing near the elevators and pick a destination!
If you’re visiting Hong Kong, or living here and want to indulge in fandoms and neat little things, carve out some time and give Sino Centre a visit. Bring cash, have fun.