A Walmart Bust
How can the Walmart possibly be a bust?
In Guangxi’s provincial capital city, Nanning, the Walmart for foreigners is the motherload.
Although a majority of the products and food items sold there are the usual Chinese fanfare, there are a few specialty products which just can’t be found anywhere else in the province. Cheese, Western butter, muesli, ground coffee, hygiene necessities (dental floss, deodorant, shaving cream), and certain appliances (such as coffee makers) are always in abundance at Wally World.
Lately, the larger Chinese chain groceries have started to carry such things but not in great abundance or on a regular basis. So most of the overseas’ community living in Guangxi depend on Nanning’s Walmart for their blow-out shopping sprees.
For myself, the capital city’s Chinese grocery, Ren Ren Le (Everybody’s Happy), holds all my needs. It’s directly beside the hotel and pool complex where I stay whenever I visit Nanning. Fighting the Chinese crowds at the Walmart is not my biggest joy so I usually stay far away from it. I’d much rather make my way through my Everybody’s Happy store and be just that: happy, not hassled by bumping elbows with enthusiastic Chinese Walmart patrons.
However, it’s this time of year when the Nanning Walmart demands a necessary visit.
It’s holiday shopping time, when Land-o-Lakes butter for cookie-baking and new Christmas decorations are on the list. Where else to go but the Walmart, where the aisles are fully stocked with such things?
Or so I thought.
On my most recent visit to Nanning, the Walmart proved to be a bust.
After picking my way around the Chinese crowds, I excitedly wheeled my cart to the section I wanted only to find . . . vacant spaces.
The entire refrigerated margarine and butter section was empty! Not only was America’s Land-o-Lakes missing, but New Zealand’s Anchor and Japan’s Suki butter brands as well.
“How can an entire store be out of butter and margerine?” I muttered to myself.
I mean, really!
Obviously, there are more foreigners in the city than I thought. Since Chinese don’t use margarine or butter, who else would be loading up for their holiday baking other than overseas’ people like me.
Determined to make my trip worthwhile, my hopes soared during the second floor visit to the Christmas decorations. Surely the foreigners couldn’t completely buy out an entire Christmas section at the Walmart.
True enough, the Christmas aisle was still intact but what a pitiful offering. Limited tinsel roping, tacky Disney holiday door hangings, over-priced table-top fake trees, cheap plastic ornaments . . . What was all this?
With my purse full of cash to buy out the store, I ended up leaving with a mere 50-cent Santa candle votive.
And for that tiny purchase, I had to stand in line for 20 minutes at check-out.
With my shopping bag practically empty, I left Nanning’s business district to return to my small, neighborhood hotel area.
Since Walmart was such a disappointment, I decided an Everybody Happy store visit was in line.
I didn’t expect much as far as Christmas was concerned at this Chinese supermart. After all, Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year, not Christmas since very few are Christians. But in recent years, Christmas decorations and the festive spirit of Christmas have invaded the Chinese mindset. People here enjoy the commercialized Christmas, even if they have not a clue about the religious meaning or why this holiday is celebrated.
Grade schools and universities have Christmas-style parties.
Stores play traditional Christmas carols over their loudspeakers.
Cashiers dress in Santa hats and wear “Merry Christmas!” lapel pins.
Live Santas parade about to entice shoppers to their store entrances.
Every year, Christmas in China becomes a bit bigger than the year before. It wasn’t unlikely that China’s chain store, Everybody Happy, would have something of use for my Christmas celebrations but I just wasn’t sure what it would be.
Entering the store, I began wheeling my cart around the aisles. Through the electronics section, the household appliances, the clothes, the toys. . . Where would the Christmas section be? Then my eyes caught something flashing near the cosmetics.
Sure enough, there were the sparkling trees of all sizes with the store staff busy unpacking box after box of holiday items. Tinsel roping, jolly Santa posters, glittering tree ornaments, bows, window decals, satiny Santa hats, stuffed St. Nicholas toys and holiday bears, lights . . . .
Where our American Walmart had failed, the Chinese Everybody Happy had excelled.
While the store staff tossed their newly-acquired goods onto table tops, dangled from display hangers and stacked into jumbled piles, I started digging.
It wasn’t long before my cart began to fill, thanks to the help of the Chinese store attendants and even strolling customers passing by.
“How about this?” a store worker would ask me, holding up a huge bow. “It’s lovely!”
“Not good quality,” a woman nearby would frown, inspecting it carefully. “Don’t get that one,” she’d advise. “Try this one.”
By the time I left the Christmas center, I must have picked up about two of everything.
I certainly had a stunning mound of glittery red, gold and green ornamentations on my way out. The Chinese gazed in awe. They had no idea to think of me!
A Lesson Learned
On the last stretch before the check-out counters, I had the sudden urge to stop by the refrigerated section. I had little hopes of finding my sought-after Western item for baking. Why would a Chinese grocery carry butter? It was just unheard of.
Yet there it was, numerous stacked 1-pound boxes of creamy butter, courtesy of the Guang Ming dairy farms of Jiangsu Province. What’s more, it was $1.00 cheaper than Land-o-Lakes, which sold for $5.00 at our American store.
Lesson learned for the day?
Here in China, Walmart ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Here’s wishing you Ping An (peace) for your day! Hope you are enjoying your holiday season. I certainly am!