To Shop or Not to Shop

Monday, 25 February 2008

Shopping is a relative concept.

To one person, a good shop can mean getting in and out of Xin Yuan Li wet market in less than 5 minutes with three crates of mangoes and a barrel of almonds for less than US$10. For others, it cannot involve anything less than the short but satisfying slip of a credit card through the cash register at Prada in Shin Kong Place.

For me, as I’m sure for many expats, it’s no more and nothing less than finding what I cannot buy in Beijing. This includes (among many more) – aerosol deodorant, Cadbury Caramelo Koalas (although they have made a miraculous appearance in the PCP basement supermarket – joy!) and more-exotic-than-cornflakes breakfast cereal that doesn’t cost the price of a small car.

So, it was with careful and strategic planning that I made surreptitious “room” in our suitcases on the way to California for our holiday (see blog “Backpack Schmackpack”) under the guise of trying to “travel light”. Hey – I’m the first to admit my foibles. And anyway, it was just in case I came across a deodorant emporium in San Diego or a Caramelo Koala factory in LA.

Of course, I swore there would be no room (nor cash) for shopping. This trip was all about the kids and the thickly-booked catalogue of theme parks down the West Coast, already sucking dry any spare cash in the coffers. It’s just that… well – like Beijing where you spot stuff you could never live without nor have the opportunity to buy for such a good price anywhere else, the US laid it on thick. Product after product paraded itself in front of me, flaunting its assets shamelessly.

So, yes. We shopped.

It wasn’t as if the things we bought were frivolous. I mean, how can you say no to a set of big, green, five-year-old eyes, agog in the Disney Gift shop? It’s not as if we’ll be able to shop there every day... And what about the fluorescent orange earplugs capable of sealing out every firecracker pop upon our return to Beijing? Far too essential to forgo. And the taffy at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco – how could we zip up the suitcase without a stash of toffee nut, caffe latte and a swirl of other tastebud-enrapturing flavours crammed inside?

Then there was the visit to Target for some toiletry supplies. How was I to know there would be five – count them – five aisles of Valentine’s Day paraphernalia alone? You name it, it had my candy-pink name on it, and with Ella doing a series of never-ending pirouettes of glee in each aisle – I sort of got caught up in the excitement.

It was also not my fault that our last day was a washout. It rained so hard, we found ourselves staggering into Borders bookstore for a five-hour debaucherous binge of reading, magazine-flicking, book-drooling, colouring-in, coffeeing, nibbling, playing and staking claim to 30kg worth of books and magazines.

As you do.

Oh what a financial hangover we had the next day. The online bank statement was blinding. Thank goodness I had the foresight (or weakness – whatever your self-discipline level) to take those scantly-packed suitcases with cavernous gaps to fill. Backpack? Bah humbug! We would have been in REAL trouble if we’d succumbed to that idea.

Right, I’m off to make some non-existent space on the bookshelf…

First published on the beijingkids website.

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