Buying photographic equipment in Hong Kong

Nearly 15 years since the handover from the UK, Hong Kong still enjoys a special status in China and among other things it is a tax-free territory. This means that swarms of affluent Chinese visitors come to buy what is reputedly cheaper or else more difficult to come by in mainland China.

Hong Kong has therefore become replete with an astounding array of shopping centres and world fashion stores. Large parts of the Kowloon peninsula and the central district of the facing Hong Kong island have been converted into the biggest shopping district ever seen, an open air temple to consumerism and a testimony to the present-day Chinese infatuation for brand names.

As an Italian I couldn’t but feel flattered that so many fashion houses from my country have broken into the hearts of this vain lot. Although I can’t ruefully consider myself completely untouched by the conditioning of the fashion world, I don’t too much toe the line set by the latest trends, especially when they pander to the fatuous man’s craving to show his status and apparent wealth by wearing a brand, often too showy to be considered in good taste.


While I was proud that so many Italian fashion designer names are represented in this world class shopping Mecca with incredibly luxurious and prestigious outlets, I have enough horse sense to see sheer insanity in those people that I, with my own incredulous eyes, saw queuing for admittance, stubbornly waiting in the stifling humidity and heat of the tropical weather. But it’s all part of the game: you make something seem rare and people will go through hell to get it.

Among the things that people buy in Hong Kong a special place is reserved to technology and photographic equipment. By the effect of the tax exemption, the prices are indeed interesting, but you’d better open your eyes and prick up your ears if you embark on the adventure of a purchase. I tried the experience, so I can tell…

The first thing I thought wise to do was enquire for the prices at different shops. I was given different quotes for the required items and I was surprised to notice a significant variation. After much rambling around, the next day I obviously prepared to do business with the one that had quoted the lowest offer. But as they say, all is not gold that glitters.

The seller showed me the items I was requiring, then wrote out the receipt, and swiped the credit card at the end of the deal. He was playing his part with remarkable mastery, even grudgingly giving me a small discount on the total amount. But when I was ready to receive the goods, another character enters the scene, supposedly meant to point out the technical features of the purchased items. In fact there was little he could say on that, for his role was not to explain anything, but rather deceitfully talk you into buying a older model of camera and a different lens with lower specifications.

In order to convince me, he took a snap of me with the camera I had chosen and then with the one he wanted me to buy. The first image was indeed very dull and with faded colours, whereas the second was in comparison exceptionally better. Of course the quote for this set, that was supposed to give higher quality images, couldn’t but be several thousands HK dollars higher.

I couldn’t account for such a difference, and started to think that maybe the lens I had ordered was a used one and in bad condition too. With an excuse I went out of the shop to check the specifications of the camera and the lens he was proposing. A free wi-fi connection, widely available in Hong Kong, let me see that the camera was an old model and the lens was worth less than half the price of mine.

I went back to the shop insisting on my original choice, but still set to find out the truth about the bad images that would have been utterly unacceptable. I asked to switch the lenses on the cameras, took a couple more shots, but I still got terrible pictures. I inspected the front closely and I found no flaw. However, when I turned it over, I saw that the back lens had been smeared with a dirty finger!

Once the deceit was exposed, all of a sudden the camera I wanted was no longer available. It would take days to come and it would eventually after my departure. But of course the quote was excessively low and the deal would have been closed at a loss: it was just the decoy to sell me something else at a ridiculously expensive price. The credit card payment was torn to pieces and I walked out of the shop. This con trick, maybe not so impudently carried out, is not rare in Hong Kong.