Even when we’re traveling, Strategist staffers are never really “on vacation.” That’s because we would not be Strategist staffers if we did not scour whatever place we visit for great new products we can bring back and tell everyone about. My husband and I spent the past two weeks in China, zipping from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Beijing, and (to his chagrin) stopping at every mall, stall, and boutique along the way. Sadly, some of the stuff I bought — like the made-to-measure suit I got at William Cheng & Son in Hong Kong, the oversized “Enimals” rain jacket with one too many drawstrings that I picked up at Magmode in Shanghai, and the tomato-shaped pillow made from scraps of red silk that we found at one of the many stores inside Beijing’s Forbidden City — is not available online. But luckily, a lot of it is — including a new-to-me status candle, a comically large tote bag that I managed to pass off as carry-on luggage on our return flight, and a sleek pair of rubber booties to slip over my actual shoes when it rains. Read on for all the things we found on our trip that you can get without taking the 16-hour flight.
You can’t throw a rock in Hong Kong without hitting a Chanel store — or an outpost of any other blue-chip luxury brand, for that matter. And although those stores have their devoted customers, I tend to prefer smaller, more curated shops like the Sun Street location of Kapok, a local retailer that sells a selection of clothing brands alongside a curated assortment of home goods and accessories. That’s where we picked up a couple of these candles by Mad et Len, a brand I hadn’t heard of before but has been making its products in the south of France since 2007. The Terre Noir scent we got, according to the brand, “carries the soulful gravitas of forest soil, bark and minerals laced with the warmth of aged wood.” That translates to a smell I’d describe as rich, decadent, and somewhat seductive. All the candles come in supercool metal vessels with lids that have a very wabi-sabi feel. They’re a bit less flashy than Diptyque ones but no less elegant. And because the vessels aren’t plastered with ornate labels, they seem like something you could more easily repurpose into subtle but stylish storage for jewelry or other tiny trinkets once all the wax has burned.
Kapok also had a selection of home stuff from the Danish-inspired brand Hay, a Strategist favorite for its good-looking pieces at many price points. We couldn’t resist grabbing this set of cute dish sponges for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who love a nautical theme.
I knew I’d be walking out of Kapok with this Hay shopping tote the minute I locked eyes on its pattern, which recalls that of the plastic shoppers you see people lugging around Chinatown here in New York City. Except this model, which was apparently designed by the brand for the 2018 Milan Furniture Fair, is impressively sturdy and big enough that I can fit inside it. It’s not available via Hay’s U.S. online store, but I think it’s worth the extra shipping you’ll pay to get it from the Finnish Design Shop — not only because it will fit all of your weekend farmers’-market finds but also because it can double as a carry-on in a pinch (just insist that it folds down enough to fit inside the overhead compartment, which is all I had to do to get it — and all the souvenirs we stashed inside — onboard).
A few days after arriving in Hong Kong, we needed to make the requisite pharmacy stop for some medicine to clear our groggy minds and soothe our funky stomachs. While doing so at Watsons (which I took to be the Chinese equivalent of Walgreens, as its stores lined the streets of each city we visited), I wandered into the beauty section, where I asked an attendant what the most popular mask was, figuring we’d need something to do while waiting for the meds to kick in. Without hesitation she pointed me to the Birds Nest mask, a two-part treatment featuring a snail-mucin-loaded sheet mask and a cream to rub on your mucin-laced face after masking. The mask itself is kind of slippery and precarious; you can’t really do much other than lie there and wear it. And together, the mucin and cream feel a bit heavy on the face post-application — but they also genuinely (and immediately) brighten, at least to the naked eye of someone who dabbles in, but is in no way obsessed with, masks. Even after a shower, the healthy glow seemed to linger — two strangers guessed I was ten years younger than I am. That said, they were our hotel concierge and a woman we paid for a cooking class, so they could have just been angling for bigger tips.
In addition to the aforementioned rain jacket with one too many drawstrings, I also picked up a kooky and very inexpensive rain slicker like this one. I noticed it while browsing the many souvenir stalls at the top of the Peak Tram in Hong Kong (but saw them at similar shops in Shanghai and Beijing, too). Far more protective than your average poncho, it has a hood, actual sleeves, and a button-down front — and this similar style from Amazon boasts an extra feature in its drawstrings. The smock’s transparency makes it (kind of) fashionable, but because mine (and likely this one too) is all plastic, it is not breathable at all, making it oppressive to wear in humidity of any sort. Thankfully, the cooler months of fall seem like the perfect time to give it a spin.
I recently wrote about a pair of Crocs sandals I bought to wear when it rains (which, by the way, functioned very well in the many off-and-on downpours we trudged through in Hong Kong). But it’s time to retire those now that fall is basically here, which is why these rubber booties might just be my most exciting purchase of the trip. I found them at the hip, local 432HZ store on Hong Kong’s “Sneaker Street,” which for the most part is otherwise lined with large outposts of Nike, Adidas, Vans, Puma, and other popular brands. The rubber is thick and seems pretty durable, and has grips along the bottom that ostensibly help on slippery surfaces. Plus, each bootie is labeled either Left or Right, so you never forget which goes over what foot. I’m eagerly awaiting the next storm so I can try them out, and they also come in black, for those who may be worried about mucking up the transparent style. 432HZ does not specifically state its international-shipping costs, but it does have a customer-service email for inquiries about such orders.
Our newsletter subscribers may remember that I prefer Tevas to Birkenstocks, and even though I already own two pairs of them, I picked up this all-rubber pair of Hurricane Drift sandals from a shop on Sneaker Street. I really like the olive color, and that the soles are thicker, like those on my trusty pair of Hurricane XLT2s (which, incidentally, served as perfectly appropriate footwear on our hike of the Great Wall). Although I won’t be getting a ton of wear out of these for the rest of the year, I’ll be happy to have a like-new pair on hand when the warm-weather months return.
Another Kapok find, I couldn’t resist buying this design-y, at-a-glance desk calendar by Japanese stationer Good Morning Inc. Each month is printed on a different paper flower, which you stick into the included paper-vase base. You’re meant to keep the months in as they pass, so that over the year you put together a bouquet of 12 vibrant “stems.” It’s more for looking at than actual planning or anything like that, but it seemed a relatively inexpensive way to brighten up a desk or other workspace.
Technically I did not buy these —my husband did — but I am including them because I would totally wear them myself if he ever lets me. I am so not the type to ever gravitate toward drop-crotch anything, but these honestly looked so effortlessly cool on him when he walked out of the Magmode dressing room. The drop crotch is somehow less pronounced when the pants are on; it’s way more subtle than photos, or seeing them on a rack, suggest. And the pants’ tapered legs offset the slouchiness with just the right amount of sleek. On top, you could pair them as easily with a sweatshirt as you could a button-down; on the bottom, sneakers would complement them as well as dress shoes.
I left for the trip with notebooks on the brain, having just reviewed a bunch for our ranking of the 100 best. So when I saw this unusually shaped, marble-esque guy going for a reasonable $6 at a shop around the corner from Kapok, I felt compelled to pick it up (online buyers should know that Write Sketch & charges an extra $21 to ship to the States). It has a lot of the characteristics I like in a notebook — it’s lined, with a stapled spine, making it easy to fold in half. Of course, the stapled spine and thin cardboard cover mean it will likely get a little ragged with use. But even so, I think the unique shape and classic cover pattern make it worth tucking on a shelf for prosperity after its pages are filled.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.