Consumer Communism

Well, Christina and I have spent almost two full weeks in Anyang and we’re beginning to settle in nicely. We’ve certainly bought a whole bunch of stuff. Cleaning supplies, a shower curtain, pots, pans, and, well, a few DVDs. I already own The Dark Knight (thank you, Chinese DVD market) and the entire Planet Earth series (which, being legitimate, was a little more pricey. I wanna say it was … $10?). Robert, a foreign teacher from New Zealand showed us a nice little DVD shop where I could find just about anything I could want, so long as I have the patience to sift through the boxes. Alas, no Arrested Development or Battlestar Galactica. Yet.

Most of our shopping, however, has been done at a local hypermarket—that’s right; it’s not just super, it’s hyper–named Dennis. Oh, Dennis, why do you treat us so well? There are a few advantages to going to Dennis for our needs. 1) It has a shit-load of stuff. Everything from books to clothes to food to dinnerware to bedding supplies. Puts Wal-Mart to shame. 2) The prices are fixed. See, here in China, they still employ the lost art of haggling. Christina and I suck at it. What’s more, we can barely make out what anyone is saying to know what the price even is. I know we’ve been over-charged for things, but I’ve just been so relieved to understand anything that I pay whatever they first ask. But not at Dennis. True, its goods are a little expensive, but at least we know we’re only getting a little ripped off. Not that getting ripped off is anything major here. Christina and I have fully stocked our apartment with all manner of consumer goods—just about everything besides the big furniture and a few appliances—and we did it for probably $230.

There are some drawbacks to shopping at Dennis, though. One is the people. If you happen to go there during a peak shopping period, there will be people everywhere. Packed in so close that bumping into people becomes a casual fact of life. Imagine a two-story Wal-Mart Supercenter absolutely crammed with people. Second, Christina and I remain a spectacle, and with all those people around, it guarantees that we will be approached by complete strangers who want to be our friends, get our telephone numbers, speak English with us, offer us gifts. It becomes quite surreal. During one trip in particular, I made the mistake of asking a Dennis employee where I might find undershirts. I tried to ask at least, as I don’t know the word for “undershirt.” By the time I had mimed what an undershirt was to the poor employee, twenty people had gathered in a semi-circle to watch the show. Then they all tried to help me at once—everyone doing or showing me a different thing. Christina fled.

We’re learning the rhythms of the Chinese, though, and avoiding these types of places at their busiest times. We’re also exploring our neighborhood more and more, especially now that we have bikes. There are shops everywhere. I love that aspect of it. I can take a quick walk up and down the block and come back with fresh vegetables, fried bread, and anything from one of four smaller supermarkets. I much prefer it to an American suburb, where your only option is to jump in your car and drive to the nearest shopping district.

It also brings to light the realities of the Chinese economic system. Ideologically, I suppose communism still has some meaning, but economically speaking it’s all but dead. Anyang, at least, is a thriving den of capitalism. Oh well. So goes the revolution. Now if they could just chill out a little on this censorship thing….

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