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Shopping is a national sport in Hong Kong. Gleaming malls punctuate the city’s skyline and smart boutiques line its narrow streets; virtually every design label of note lists a flagship outpost in the city.

But some shopkeepers still look to the classic rather than the Next Big Thing. “I love the timelessness of old designs,” says Chau Chi Pang, owner of homeware concept store Hak Dei, which stocks everything from traditional bamboo steamer baskets (from HK$50, about £5) to ceramic chopsticks (about £1.80). “The items I sell have been used for generations, but people these days don’t always appreciate this kind of quality any more.” 

Wooden shelves upcycled from a school library at Hak Dei in Hong Kong
Wooden shelves upcycled from a school library at Hak Dei in Hong Kong © Chris Schalkx

Chau opened Hak Dei near his home on Wai Chi Street in north-east Kowloon in 2016 after hitting a wall in his career as a magazine designer. “I wanted to open a local spot selling practical, everyday objects,” Chau says. “Durable and simple, without extra frills. Many of them are still in production but have largely been forgotten about.” For the concept, he decided to play with the aesthetic of Hong Kong’s old-time grocery shops selling sundries and kitchenware. The name “Hak Dei”, Cantonese for “black ground”, refers to the rubber-tiled playground he overlooked from his original store. 

Glassware and crockery in the store
Glassware and crockery in the store © Chris Schalkx
Porcelain tea cup, from about £9, iron plate, about £2.20, and scoop, about £2.20
Porcelain tea cup, from about £9, iron plate, about £2.20, and scoop, about £2.20 © Chris Schalkx

In 2019 Chau relocated to a redeveloped 1960s residential building on Kowloon’s Shanghai Street, and now neighbours the same chock-a-block grocery stores he first took inspiration from. He kept his shop’s shelves intentionally busy to mimic their appearance: almost every square inch of the space is packed with copper teapots (about £135), bamboo-handled ladles (about £8) and floral-patterned enamel plates (about £22).

The Hak Dei shopfront
The Hak Dei shopfront © Chris Schalkx

Chau sources most of his wares from around Asia. There’s glassware, both new and vintage, from Japan, including milky borosilicate cups and mugs by Fire-King Japan (from about £40). Sturdy metal toolboxes (from about £13) come from Osaka-based TOYO Steel, which has been around since the 1960s. Among his bestsellers are Chinese glass soup spoons (from about £1.40) and ceramic bowls with hand-painted rooster patterns (from about £4.50) of the type found in almost every Cantonese household. There are classic matchboxes from Thailand emblazoned with prints of folksy naga creatures (about £1), colourful plastic shopping bags from Taiwan (about £5.50) and the same white cotton red-lettered tea towels (about £1.20) you’ll find in old-school restaurants around the city. Only a handful of local manufacturers have stood the test of time: colourful jelly cups by long-standing Kowloon plasticware producer Star Industrial and thermos flasks by the 1940-founded Camel brand (from about £28) are some of the few wares still sporting the made-in-Hong-Kong label. 

Taiwanese nylon bags
Taiwanese nylon bags © Chris Schalkx
Porcelain in the shop entrance
Porcelain in the shop entrance © Chris Schalkx

Chau’s passion for specialty coffee and outdoor adventures has also inspired a small corner of high-grade camping gear and coffee utensils, including yolk-yellow plastic boxes designed to transport eggs (about £4.60), leather water bags, portable pour-over kits, and LED lanterns by time-honoured brands such as Coleman, Stanley and Coghlan’s. It’s all part of Chau’s effort to keep the nostalgia associated with Hong Kong’s grocery stores alive. “The young people who come in to buy coffee or outdoor gear discover the classic kitchenware,” Chau says. “And a lot of customers from the older generation end up going home with a modern coffee kit.”

Stencil art of Bruce Lee in the shop
Stencil art of Bruce Lee in the shop © Chris Schalkx

One elderly customer who has been a regular since the store’s relocation visits like clockwork every Sunday to pick up new arrivals – whether a brass sake cup or a flashlight. “We call him ‘Sunday old man’,” Chau says. “It feels like he’s my future self, which pushes me to keep searching for new items, to not disappoint him.” 

Hak Dei, 618 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon, Hong Kong; hakdei.com

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