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#OnlyInHongKong: 10 things only Hongkongers carry in their bags

By Jen Paolini 23 August 2019 | Last Updated 31 March 2021

Considering how much time we spend outside of our homes on a regular basis—either at work or just on the go with friends—is it really any wonder that Hongkongers seem to be especially well-equipped with, well, all sorts of stuff? From daily essentials to bizarre must-haves that are unique to our city, these habitual items may have become second nature to us, but they definitely stop new arrivals and tourists in their tracks. Ask yourself: Are you really a true Hongkonger if you don’t have these items in your bag at all times?

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1. Pocket umbrella

With weather as unpredictable as we have it in Hong Kong (principally in the summertime), a pocket-sized umbrella is a godsent. But who says umbrellas are just for the rain? We use ours all day, every day—to shield ourselves from the burning glare of the sun, to unceremoniously poke tall people in the eye, to take up space on the pavement under covered areas when we really should be out on the street, bearing the brunt of a torrential downpour. Oh, you know, all in a day’s work.

2. Power bank

Is there anything worse than your phone battery dying while you’re commuting home and stuck in traffic with no end in sight? Wouldn’t know, because things like that don’t happen to us seasoned Hongkongers. Out comes the power bank, and if you’ve got a fancy one, it’ll come equipped with a charging cable built in and several USB ports for you to share your battery juice with friends and family. Power banks have become such an undeniable fixture in Hong Kong, they may as well be permanently attached to your phone. Just don’t forget to keep it charged and ready for deployment.

3. Mini fan

Judge all you want, but mini fans are the unsung heroes of Hong Kong summers. Yes, surely they invite a certain level of ridicule, but can any of us honestly say that we haven’t gone green—or sweaty—with envy when we see someone pass us by, cool as a breeze, while we wheeze and heave in humid air? No, thanks. Mini fan to the rescue, and we’re owning them, loud and proud.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

4. Tissue packs

Mummy was right—tissue packs are necessary wherever you go in Hong Kong. Whether you’re making an urgent trip to a rather unsavoury-looking public bathroom or you’ve just popped into a no-frills cha chaan teng—where neither napkins nor customer service is available—carrying a tissue pack on you can often get you out of a tight spot. If you’re out of a Tempo pack for the day, just ask your mum for one—we’ll bet she has plenty to spare.

5. Hand sanitiser

After spending all day outside, we all lose track of what we’ve laid our grubby hands on. Cue: the hand sanitiser, to wash away the grime of an overpopulated city. Mini bottles of such disinfectants have become a staple of Hongkongers’ bags, so much so that manufacturers have begun branding their wares with cute cartoons like Line Friends, Despicable Me minions, and Disney and Marvel characters in a bid to transform them into coveted accessories. Not sure what we mean? Just check out how many of these adorable, personalised bottles now dangle from the straps of handbags and backpacks.

6. Octopus card

Doot. Ah, the angelic, mechanical chorus of morning rush hours—wherever would we be without our reliable Octopus card? Good for trains, buses, ferries, 7-11s, supermarket groceries, and your guilty late-night McDonald’s binge, the Octopus card is what elevated us Hongkongers to the upper echelons of convenience. 

Just make sure you know how to properly wield your awesome weapon before you step into the unforgiving hellscape of Hong Kong rush hours. Hell hath no fury like your fellow commuters if you haven’t mastered that peculiar tango with the MTR station gates, whereby you slap your Octopus card on the sensor at just the right moment to smoothly breeze through the gates without having to stop at all. It’s a talent that only true Hongkongers possess.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

7. Oil blotting papers

There’s no denying that they’re pretty gross once used, but oil blotting papers for oily are absolutely necessary to withstand Hong Kong’s humid weather and the havoc it wreaks on your skin. As such, they are an absolute must-have in our bags. The usual suspects used by Hongkongers include Clean & Clear and Gatsby, though the posh amongst us might opt for more luxe versions, like the one from Fenty Beauty (which, if you ask us, looks a whole lot like a miniature roll of baking paper, complete with a serrated edge on the side of its carrying case).

8. Medical face masks

Can’t leave home without one—the ubiquitous medical face mask used to see a surge in popularity around the winter months and flu season in Hong Kong, but it slowly became a common sight throughout the rest of the year, especially on heavily polluted days. A relic of the SARS epidemic and bird flu outbreak that swept through Hong Kong in the early 2000s, the face mask can appear alarming at first to the uninitiated, but seasoned Hongkongers won’t even bat an eyelid at the thought of them, especially now that we have been wearing one all day, every day, for well over a year (thanks, Covid-19). Better safe than sorry—we keep a spare face mask in our bags at all times these days, as well as a handy mask holder.

9. Toothpicks

We can think of innumerable situations in which toothpicks come in handy. Use them to clean your teeth after meals, test foods for doneness, pick locks—just kidding. The humble toothpick resides in the pits of a Hongkonger’s bag, snug in its paper envelope, forever waiting to be called upon (and growing slightly manky in the process). 

It’s always ready to stab us in the fingers every time we rummage around, like a loving reminder that, hey, maybe we don’t need to keep swiping them off of the dim sum table as if we’re afraid of losing our endless supply of free toothpicks. Never mind that we rarely use them and the collection we have is already mountainous…

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

10. Bag hooks

We’ve all seen these on Hong Kong buses, and let’s admit, the ladies using them are pretty resourceful. Hanging off of seat handles, everyday S-hooks are transformed into genius bag holders, able to carry everything from totes to LV handbags. They’re perfect for that return trip home after your spontaneous shopping bender or weekly grocery haul.

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Jen Paolini

Content director

Born in Hong Kong, raised in Germany, and educated in the U.S., Jen is an award-winning creative with a background in illustration, communication design, art direction, and content creation. When she’s not getting lost in a good book, you’ll find her doing crosswords, eating dim sum, covering all sides of a “Hamilton” number, and taking naps.