Houston Community News >> Hong Kong, AKA Treasure Island

12/21/2006 Hong Kong — THE photos hanging on the wall at Shanghai Tang show familiar faces: Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Keanu Reeves, Kate Moss, Jodie Foster. Each is wearing a Chinese jacket or cheongsam — dress — from the Hong Kong store. Similar dresses and jackets, many priced at well over $1,000, line the racks. The store is full of browsers and buyers.

Welcome to Hong Kong, where the A-list does its luxury shopping.

Ranking alongside New York, London and Tokyo as one of the world's economic giants, Hong Kong pushes the envelope on design, architecture and obsessive consumerism. It's a traveler's Xanadu, an exotic port of call with superb hotels, exceptional restaurants and flashy nightlife.

And, of course, world-class shopping: If you can't find what you want, you probably can have it made in 24 hours.

"I love it," said NBC4 news anchor Chuck Henry, who has visited several times. "It's fun, compact, one of the world's great cities." When he can't shop here in person, he gets in touch with a tailor who has his sizes on file.

Nearly a decade has elapsed since the British handover of Hong Kong to China — a development that residents and visitors alike feared. The territory, an East-West trading center since the mid-19th century, prospered during Britain's 156-year rule. There was apprehension it would regress when the Chinese took over.

Instead, commerce has skyrocketed, along with the gleaming skyline.

Multistory malls have sprung up, their übermodern spaces crammed with designer shops. The latest additions in the Central District — the international business center — are Harvey Nichols, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, which join veterans Chanel, Cartier, Prada, Fendi and Dior.

Although high-end shopping is a driving force in Hong Kong, the region's traditional low-end markets continue to draw tourists. Silk ties still cost $1 at Stanley Market; T-shirts and knockoff designer purses fill the aisles at Kowloon's Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market.

At the other end of the spectrum, shoppers looking for museum-quality antiques, Chinese furniture, paintings and religious icons can still find them in the tiny storefronts along twisting Hollywood Road.

Although prices on designer and brand-name clothing seem similar to those in the U.S., there's no sales tax and the selection is vast. The best times to find deals are during the annual Shopping Festival, late June through August, and Winterfest, which begins in late November and ends Jan. 1. Markdowns of up to 70% can be found. Sales also take place on the four days before Chinese New Year (Feb. 18 in 2007).

"Everyone should visit then," said Hong Kong shopping guru and guide Wing Lau.

"I tell my clients to shop first and then see the New Year's celebration. Prices are very low, and the parade and fireworks are spectacular."

(Contributed by Chicago Tribune)