The place to go for Hong Kong curios
Rats, cats and tat
If you’re in Hong Kong and find yourself overcome by the sudden urge to get your hands on some Mao memorabilia or a Bruce Lee movie poster or two, there’s no better place to go, than Upper Lascar Row.
More commonly known as Cat Street Market, it is said the name derives from the days when it was the most likely place you would find your recently stolen items waiting to be bought back. These stolen goods, or ‘rat goods’, in Cantonese, had their complement in the ‘cats’ that came rummaging through the junk, waiting to pounce; while the lascars of the street’s official name, references the Indian community that grew up around the old police headquarters in the area, many of whom were stationed in Hong Kong as members of the colonial police force.
Nowadays, though some of the stuff looks like it could have been there since those early years, Upper Lascar Row is more a place to pick up some cool souvenirs rather than a place to go hunting for treasure. With most of the genuine antiques likely found in the stores along neighbouring Hollywood Road, Cat Street is more flea market than potential gold mine. There are curios and collectibles amongst the vintage postcards and Communist kitsch. But to find anything of real value, you either need to know what you’re looking for, or get damn lucky when you get there; probably both.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Upper Lascar Row, however, are not the market stalls themselves, but the nearby bric-a-brac stores selling any type of vintage kitsch you could image. These Aladdin’s caves, found just off Cat Street itself, are literally full to the roof of second-hand vases, chandeliers, musical instruments, toys, clocks, cameras, ceramics and the accumulated junk from decades of acquiring more crap than people are willing to buy.
There are vintage telephones, old records, electronics, books and anything else you could care to mention within, including, it should be said, second-hand (or should that be ‘used’) porn. It may be almost impossible to move for fear of sending the whole lot tumbling, but if it’s a little item of curiosity to take home from Hong Kong that you’re after, maybe these few shops are the best place to look.
It goes without saying that you should be prepared to haggle. This is a market after all. No trader worth his salt will quote anything less than double what he thinks an item is really worth. But remember that haggling is part of the fun, not a reason to feel insulted. Everybody knows that that lovely necklace could never be worth HK$900. But either come to a price you can both agree on or walk away.
The stuff at Upper Lascar Row is, in truth, fairly hit and miss. Much of it is the usual tat you can find at markets across China. If genuine antiques are what you’re looking for, one of the more reputable stores on Hollywood Road would be a better bet. But if knick-knacks are your thing and you want to try and fish a diamond out of the crap, or even if you just want to try and take some photographs without getting lynched, then Cat Street is the place for you.
How to get to Upper Lascar Row
By MTR, take the train to Sheung Wan Station and take exit A2. You can get to Cat Street via Hillier Street and Ladder Street.
You can also take bus 10 or bus 5 along Queen’s Road from Causeway Bay via Central and get off at the Hollywood Terrace stop on Queen’s Road Central.
Check it out on Google maps.