About ROV


email Glenn

Shopping in Ricefields

I still remember my first visit to a Japanese convenience store. 
One of co-workers told me that he needed to buy some items from the nearby '7-11'.
He bought an iced coffee, a bag of dried squid, and a twin-pack of men's underwear.
I bought a coke.

I stood there thinking that this was a joke that didn't need a punch line.
He supplied it anyway, holding up the briefs and saying, "I really need these."
Now, I don't know if the underwear emergency was related to the squid/coffee combination, but I knew right then that shopping in Asia would not be like shopping in America.

Glenns' Wonderings

In the US, you see, I was a mall-rat.
Most of my shopping was done in these sanitized, climate-controlled, pleasure domes.
Magazines, photo supplies, clothes, music, movies, greasy food - everything I needed or wanted was under one roof.
What I didn't buy at the mall, I picked up at supermarkets or chain stores.
An occasional mail order was about as exotic as my shopping got.

That all changed when I moved to Japan, where my shopping experiences fell into one of two categories - Difficult or Bizarre.

The first time I tried to buy toothpaste would qualify as difficult shopping. 
After about ten minutes of looking at tubes labeled in Kanji (Japanese characters), I realized that, without the help of a translator, I might end up brushing my teeth with tile grouting.

A bizarre experience, on the other hand, would be the night I purchased a cold liter of Asahi beer from a vending machine that sat within eyesight of a high school. 
Then I noticed that the next vending machine sold cans of hot 'BM', a popular Japanese coffee.
Which would explain the need for the new underwear, I guess.

Still, these vending machines are just the tip of the iceberg.
To me, shopping has always implied the presence of a shop.
In Asia, however, the lack of a building is no barrier to the act of commerce.

In my neighborhood, for example, I can buy ethnic jewelry, a plastic Godzilla, hats of all varieties, Avon products, roasted chestnuts, steamed buns, octopus balls, beer, and sake - without ever entering a store or seeing a receipt.

In Asia, the shopping experience becomes more interesting than the actual items for sale.
No locale is too exotic for a cultural exchange of the shopping kind.
With all these opportunities, my wife Angie has become the Indiana Jones of souvenir-hunting. 
We've bargained for watches in cafes and back alleys.
We've bought massages in a Beijing park, purchased paintings in Angkor Wat, silk in a temple flea market, and ceramics in an active volcano.
We've wandered the Patpong night market of Bangkok, where cheap knock-off jeans are sold on one side, while cheap knock-off women are sold on the other.
And we've shopped in the rice fields of Bali, buying an elaborately carved coconut.

You might wonder if any place remains unsoiled by the hands of capitalism.
There is one. We have never bought anything in a public bathroom.
I'm sure it's just a matter of time before some enterprising soul notices this opportunity.

Coffee anyone?

GH 08/00
More Wonderings