I had this vision in my mind of what the Beijing Walmart would look like.
Elderly person at the front door welcoming you to the store. Wide aisles. Bright lighting. A little bit of Middle America in the middle of China’s capital.
My local Haidan district Walmart, just one subway stop south of Tsinghua University’s Wudaokou subway station, is a strange sort of American-Chinese hybrid. The Egg Foo Young of Chinese retailing.
First of all, there is no greeter. There isn’t even a front door, just those semi-transparent plastic flaps that substitute for doors all over China.
The store itself doesn’t resemble any Walmart in the USA. It looks more like your local dollar store. On steroids. Three floors of crowded bargains, from washing machines and treadmills to live turtles (not to bring home as pets).
What’s completely different is the product selection. You can buy Crest and Colgate and Laughing Cow cheese, but not much else that you’d buy in the American big box.
When’s the last time you saw the Walmart “Great Value” brand bag of Scarlet Caterpillar Fungus in the USA? Or Marinated Duck Gizzard? Or Prickly Ash Powder? Or Purple Sweet Potato snacks? Or Pineapple-flavored Beer? Or Apple Vinegar Drink?
The list goes on — check it out in my slide show.
I ended up on a shopping spree that cost me more than $40 in yuan. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well, think of it this way: That’s the cost of about 25 meals on campus. Or three months of cell phone service. I think I’ve stocked my apartment for a month with everything from loose Chinese tea and two kinds of tofu to, yes, purple sweet potato snacking pieces.
My most expensive purchase was a living room rug for the equivalent of $13. The second most costly purchases was imported almonds (for hiking, of course), at about $4.
My shopping journey took four hours, most of it pure entertainment. After all, how many of you can say that you carried a rug in a backpack while you rode a bicycle home from the subway while balancing two bags of groceries?