Two weeks into life in Changchun, and it is apparent that most things can be purchased without leaving your neighborhood. The term “convenience store” has a loose definition here. Some of them are similar in scope to a small store you might find in the US, perhaps attached to a gas station. But many are no bigger than a walk-in closet, and are jammed to the ceiling with whatever the owner could fit in the space available. There are often 2-3 of these stores on every block, competing for your business.
At these smaller stores, you’ll find salty snacks, bottled drinks (though rarely chilled), basic toiletries, huge displays of ramen noodles, dried sausages, etc. The small stores don’t carry cigarettes or alcohol, which is likely a tax collection issue. And obviously they don’t carry big ticket items. For those, it’s time for a run to Walmart.
Walmart? Yes, Walmart.
I get the sense the department store concept was very foreign to the citizens of Changchun before Walmart’s arrival. When getting suggestions of large markets to buy local goods, invariably the suggestions wind up being for shopping areas, where there might be 70 different vendors inside the same building. The idea of shopping in one store for lots of different things and paying for it altogether just wasn’t the way things were done here. But Walmart is here now, and boy has it been embraced.
The Walmart we went to is in the same shopping center as the movie theater where we saw the Avengers. Walmart takes the 2nd and 3rd floors of one end of the building, with fancy escalator ramps that let you take your cart back and forth between levels. At first glance it looks a lot like a Walmart back home, but without the giant yellow smiley faces everywhere, and without the large endcaps with huge price signs above them. It was not, however, without customers. There were hundreds of customers on a random weekday afternoon. I suspect I won’t go back on a weekend if I can avoid it.
Most everything was available here, from clothing to furnishings to toiletries to groceries to televisions, just as you would see back home. The prices for “American” goods were comparable or even slightly higher than in the U.S. but prices for “local” goods were very cheap. We bought a nice oscillating fan with a built-in timer for 43RMB (about $7), and a decorative rug 30″x60″ for 32RMB (about $5.20). Back in the shampoo aisle we found this sign:
That’s a pretty good price, but you will need to act quickly. Because this is a limited time offer! It’s only good for six months plus a week! So hurry!!!
Many of the same brands you would see back home are here; that’s Head & Shoulders occupying a large display area in the back of that picture.
But you will also find more unusual offerings right beside them. Such as this shampoo:
I don’t know what is creepier about this package… Jackie Chan’s lipstick? The incredibly obvious Photoshop job on Jackie’s hair? Or the fact that the guy on the package for “anti-hair fall shampoo” has a receding hairline… The Bearded Giant may be willing to sample unusual Oreos for his readers, but this shampoo is staying right there on the shelf. Sorry.
Wandering around the Walmart after everything on our list was found, just seeing what there was to see, it was staggering how many displays of condoms there were. Condoms were EVERYWHERE. They were on hanging clip displays in the middle of the shampoo. There were along the walls in the escalator tunnel. They were in the middle of housewares. They were next to televisions. There were big displays next to children’s clothing. Small displays in the grocery aisles. Everywhere. Think about how many different places your local Walmart might have a display of AA or AAA batteries and multiply by twenty.
At the checkout lanes, there were fifteen to twenty different kinds of condoms in every lane where you might normally see gum and candy as impulse options in the U.S. Durex was the most common brand I saw, but there were several other brands as well. And every variety you can think of.
Lanes moved fairly quickly and checkout was efficient. There’s no sales tax added to prices in China, so what you see is what you pay. And despite this enticing display at the checkout, The Bearded Giant passed on purchasing condoms.
Til next time, Walmart… Til next time.