We’re doing it wrong.
America does many things well, but shopping organization is an area in which we lack. In Idaho, if I am looking for a particular item, say a plumbing part, I’d have to go to Home Depot, but then when I don’t find my needed part there, I have to get back in my car and check Lowe’s, D&B, Plumbers ‘R Us (I’m sure this store exists somewhere!), crisscrossing town until I find the store with my niche plumbing gewgaw. (Plumbing may have been a bad choice for this example, as I know exactly nothing about anything plumbing related, but I thought a household-fix item would hold more credibility than say a cute purse or the perfect pair of summer sandals.)
Suburban Stateside shopping is set up in a much more “all-in-one” fashion, where I can go to Target and get the latest best seller, as well as a case of Diet Mountain Dew for Thad, then with just a quick walk up the strip mall, I can stop in and get a wedding gift from Bed, Bath and Beyond, some brightly colored throw pillows at Cost Plus World Market and wrap up my wanderings with some cute shorts and a tank top from Old Navy. At this point, my arms are full of bags that may or may not all fit in my trunk and it is time to hop in the car and head home. This is great for checking a lot of items off a list (although that list probably only had “Diet Mountain Dew” on it, which means this set-up is also great for spending way more of my paycheck than I had intended), but it is not great for comparison shopping.
In China, on the other hand, when it comes to a varied shopping list and convenience, you are just plumb out of luck. But, if you are looking for a selection, shopping is a breeze. It’s all about the “streets.”
Want a dog? Go to Pet Street. You can get a pup, a kitten, a baby chinchilla or even a pot-bellied pig. (I was tempted!)
Need a bank safe? Go to Safe Street. (I regularly pass this area of town and am always amazed at the number of stores selling safe after safe. What are people keeping in them?!)
Need a Halloween costume? Go to Costume Street.( You can buy off the rack or get your Jem, from Jem and the Holograms, costume custom made.)
Need dishes and chopsticks? Go to Restaurant Street. (Also available: Lazy Susans, waitress uniforms, weird blown-glass centerpieces and baskets- lots and lots of baskets.)
Need a light fixture? Go to Lamp Street. (The lamp section of Chengdu is very close to my house, so I frequent it often. Since my house is decked out in very locally-styled light fixtures, all with about a million lights each, I am often there buying another bag full of less-than-long-lasting bulbs.)
My “street directory” could go on and on, rivaling the New York City Yellow Pages. In China, shopping is just a matter of knowing which small area of town your item in found in and then once you are there, you’ve got more selection than you could ever want!
Usually, I get overwhelmed with the choices and walk away without actually making a purchase. This happened last summer when I was looking to buy an electric scooter. We went to Scooter Street and walked up and down the length of it- twice. Having too many bike options in my head to act, I headed home to ponder my next move. The following Saturday, we again went to Scooter Street (luckily it isn’t too far from our apartment) and walked the entire row. This time I actually test drove some scooters (on the sidewalk, of course!), making sure they were both stylish and equipped with a powerful horn. I actually narrowed down the options to about three, but couldn’t pull the purchasing trigger. It took a third trip to the street the following day to decide upon and bring home my newest form of transportation. (If you’ve not seen pictures, check them out here!)
Streets. They really are the way to organize a shopping trip if it is in search of one particular item that you go. All it takes is a quick explanation of what you want to a taxi driver and before you know it you are down a hidden alley, facing a multitude of stores, all stocked with the single item you want.
What are you in need of? Yarn? A purse? Or even a plumbing part? Chengdu has a street for you!