February 8, 2011: Toy Shopping In Hong Kong
I managed to get in and out of Chicago's O'Hare airport last week right before the snow started, which meant that I made it home from Hong Kong just a few hours late and didn't have to face the snowpocalypse that canceled far, far too many flights. The trip was fantastic -- a lot more fun than last year's visit to the city, but that's because this time I was there for vacation and not meetings -- and I'll no doubt be posting photos to Flickr for several more days. And on top of the pics I'll be posting toy reviews to battlegrip.com for months to come, but instead of talking about what I'll be doing, I'd like to take a little time to talk about what I did in Hong Kong. Specifically, I'd like to talk about toy shopping in Hong Kong.
Wander down Sugar Street in Causeway Bay and you'll find a large building named the Causeway Bay Commercial Building. Step inside and take the elevator to the 16th floor, where you'll encounter toy heaven; the shop (I can't remember the name, but you can't miss it) carries everything from unreleased Transformers toys to MIB toys of the sixties and seventies. Last year when I visited Hong Kong I went to this shop twice, and this year was no different; even after four visits to the shop I think I've uncovered maybe 25% of what's hiding in the display cases and on the dusty shelves. This photo I took last year is an example of what's in the cases. It's an amazing shop, and if you visit only one toy store in Hong Kong, this is the one to hit. Just be sure to plan to spend a few hours and don't expect to escape dust-free.
Also on Sugar Street, just a little down the block from the Causeway Bay Commercial Building, you'll find a basement shop that has more Japanese toys and 12-inch scale action figures than I've ever seen in one place. I don't know the name of the building, but just search in every basement on Sugar Street (it's short) and you're sure to find it. Actually, there was a total of three stores in the basement, but only two were open while I was there. Maybe you'll be lucky and that third shop -- which had some great window displays -- will be open when you visit.
Across the harbor -- I suggest taking the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui and walking north on Nathan Street -- find the intersection of Sai Yeung Choi and Dundas streets, and go north on Sai Yeung Choi until you spot the CTMA Centre on your left. Go inside and take the maze of escalators and stairways either up or down; this shopping center is loaded with toy stores, including the official Hot Toys shop and several others that were so small I had to back out after walking in; that's right, there wasn't enough room to turn around. There are fantastic deals here and at most of the shops the friendly folk behind the counters were ready to make deals. This center has the best selection of blind boxed toys I found in the city. I could have spent an entire day digging through the center for surprises.
After walking out of the CTMA Centre, if you look straight across the street and up one floor you'll spot a massive display window for a store called "Animate." The stairs are tough to find, but once you work your way to the second floor you'll find more robot toys than you can handle. Trust me, there are a lot of robot toys here. The deals aren't the greatest, but if you dig through the lower shelves you might find a gem. I took a photo of the display window last year for everyone who wants to get an idea of what the shop looks like from the street.
And once you finish at Animate, keep walking north and prepare yourself for the Hong Kong Ladies' Market. It's one block to your right when walking north, but as long as you follow the crowd you'll find this outdoor market where bootleg toys and games (and lots of stranger things) are waiting for you. This is a great market; you really get the Hong Kong feeling as you force your way through the crowds and barter at each of the stalls.
Back across the harbor (if it's too late the ferry will be closed and you'll have to take the Hong Kong MTR), go to North Point and head to the Java Road exit. After you take the steps up to the street level, turn left and look right for a McDonald's. Head directly towards it and you'll find a shopping center that includes a stationery and toy shop called Wonderland. Amazingly, this large store was just minutes from our hotel and it had some amazing bargains on robot and mecha toys. I was grabbing great toys for less than $5 US -- including a great transforming robot toy named Construction King that I reviewed as soon as I got home. The next time I'm in Hong Kong I'm going to this store first and will completely load a suitcase with robots and mecha. I accidentally found this shop and, in the end, it might be my favorite Hong Kong toy store because it has just so many weird things and great prices.
Don't think that there aren't toys in other parts of the city. Capsule toys (known as gashapon toys) are at every 7-11 and on almost every street corner -- not to mention at one of the largest tourist traps where I found this insane assortment of capsule machines. These aren't like the capsule toys here in the US; no, most of these are either really neat robots and mecha, or they're odd things like food and shoes. In almost every corner you can find toys, from stalls on the street to corners of the grocery stores. It's a real treat for toy collectors.
Whew, no wonder I'm tired from vacation. But as I already mentioned, New York Toy Fair is coming and I'm really looking forward to that trip. I have no doubt that I'll also be toy shopping while I'm in New York. After all, Toy Tokyo is in NY and it's one of those great toy stores that every toy collector must visit . . . at least a dozen times each trip to New York. I can't wait to get there and see their new shop!
-- Phil Reed
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