More Hong Kong Stories: The Silk Road

Our first morning in Hong Kong, I headed north to Hong Kong City. Thoughts of silk had been running around my mind since the moment I first found out we were going to Hong Kong, so had done my research. I’d read a great deal about Cheung Sha Wan Road in Sham Shui Po being a mecca for fabric and embellishments. This area is considered the fashion district and is where the designers go for supplies. I’d also read several accounts of a silk merchant named Angus, who was over in Ho Man Tin, who was said to have quality silk at the best prices.

I emerged from the subway onto Cheung Sha Wan Road and set off to find the fabric shops. I walked up and down the road and couldn’t find them. I found lots of fashion retailers, with merchants that looked askance at my large American size body in their shops full of size zeros. Those clothes were so pretty though, dresses the color of the ocean, with filmy, floaty layers that brought to mind frothy waves lapping the shore. But I was just looking for someone who I could ask where the fabric was. I was learning that English wasn’t going to get me very far.

I had read that most shop owners or clerks in the city had enough English to make a sale, but that wasn’t my experience. One woman told me it was two streets over, so I went in that direction. On the way, I stumbled upon a market street, filled with vendors selling all sorts of things. On one table I found a small, but very heavy, bronze statue of a mermaid. I wanted it really bad, but knew that carrying that in my bag all day would be a pain. I reluctantly put it down and turned to go. The seller chased me down, punching numbers into a calculator, jabbing his finger at it insisting, even as I walked away shaking my head. I had no language to explain my dilemma. Now I’m wishing I had sucked it up and carried it. At the time I was saving my bag space and carrying muscles for silk.

ribbon shop Hong Kong cityI turned my attention back to the hunt. I wandered into a shop selling handbags and found a very helpful English speaking woman. She told me I could find what I was looking for over on Tai Nan Street. Along the way, I found shops that specialized in ribbons and others in buttons or lace, the goods spilling out the doors and onto the sidewalk. As I approached Tai Nan Road, the smell of leather grew strong. I realized then that she must have thought I was asking where to buy leather to sew my own handbag. Tai Nan was one long street full of leather shops.

I continued to wander. I finally found fabric on Ki Lung Street. Shops lined each side of the road and canopied stalls filled the sidewalks with more fabric. Many of the stores just had swatches for the customer to peruse. You make your selections, then have the fabric lengths delivered to you (so I’m given to understand from what I read online). I had also read that most of the fabric stores were wholesale, but that many will sell to the retail customer.
I didn’t see much silk, and what I did see, I really had no way of knowing if it was real. Not without a match to burn it with and I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have gone over well. I was already guilty of being American. Again, I had no language to discuss fabric content or prices.

I did find a nice piece of Japanese linen printed with owls. It was hanging on a rack outside of a shop and had a sign with a good price. I carried it inside to pay. The clerk punched a price in a calculator that was not what the sign said. I turned to go point at the sign and the guy came running after me. He may have thought I was stealing it, or then again, he did have his calculator. I got it for the published price.

The day was hot and humid and my tongue was dry. I’d brought one bottle of water, not accounting for the liters I would sweat out. I had passed a couple of convenience stores on my journey and the thought of getting additional water flitted in and out of my head. Now, I was done looking at fabric and ready for the next stops on my itinerary, as I made my way toward the silk merchant. I couldn’t even be bothered to buy a length of ribbon or packet of buttons; I needed water.

Hong KongAs I wandered on foot to Flower Market Road, I was moving away from the more commercial district. Hot and thirsty, I finished the last sip of the water I carried. I told myself I’d stop at the very next convenience store I found. Except I couldn’t find one. I must have been getting delirious with dehydration and heat because I could see on the map a fairly straight shot from the flower market to the bird market but I seemed to have gone in a big circle out of my way.

I finally found the bird market, but still no water, and by this time I was really questioning my reasoning of “I’ll be fine.” I’ve been in Australia too long; I’m starting to fall for the “she’ll be right” line of thinking. After winding my way through the birdcage-filled lanes, and considering drinking out of their water cups, I turned in the direction of the silk merchant’s home. I saw on the map the MOKO shopping mall sat between me and the silk, so I headed there first. On the way, I was blessed with a brief misting of rain. I had to fight the temptation to turn my open mouth to the sky, and tried instead to imbibe the moisture through my skin.

I decided to have a liquid lunch, but not the fun kind. I sat at a table and pointed to the liquidy looking items on the picture menu. After a bowl of soup and a pot of tea, I was ready to continue my quest, but not before finding another bottle of water.

I walked out of the mall, heading in the direction of the silk. Sometimes I am amazed at the difficulty I have with simple tasks. I could not for the life of me find a pedestrian path across the street I was on to get to the street I needed to traverse. It appeared the only way to do it was in a car. There were no sidewalks, no room to walk between brick walls and the busy road, and a tall wall stood between the east and west sides of the street. I kept going, hoping not to be run over, and finally found my way out of the maze.

fabric shop in Hong Kong cityThe silk merchant was at 8 Soares Avenue. “Go up to a penthouse apartment and knock on the door,” were the instructions I’d found on the internet. OK, except you can’t just walk in, you need a key for the front door of the building. As I stood there wondering what next, someone else came along and held the door for me. There was a woman sitting just inside in a small, dark foyer, at a tiny table, who appeared to be the gatekeeper. I told her the name of the person I sought and she sent me up a rickety lift to the penthouse level. At the top I stepped out. There was a door to an apartment, some stairs leading to the rooftop and a confusing sign that made it sound like the fabric sales took place on the roof. But that didn’t make sense, so I went back and knocked at the door. Mrs. Silk Merchant opened the door, and wiping her hands on her apron, told me that Angus had retired from the silk business just one year ago. I think she questioned the sanity of this strange American woman laughing hysterically in her hallway.