Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Thai Super Store Experience

After a day of moving Kat's belongings and the pets courtesy of a colleague and her husband, I felt able to explore a bit and get my bearings. I have now been in Bangkok five days and am beginning to feel comfortable in the "moobahn." I was taken to the school where I completed more paperwork for the Thai Ministry of Education and received my reimbursement for the flight and relocation allowance. A finance officer helped me to open a bank account and apply for a debit card. What a relief: In just a few days I will be back to worrying about overdrafts, but in another country.

Later (on Day 3) I struck out to buy household goods and headed to "Carre Four," a French version of K Mart. There are also versions of Wal-Mart (Tesco Lotus) and Target (Big C), but Carre Four was closest to home. Although I had been to Carre Four many times in previous years, I had forgotten just how unique it is. I don't think one can be adequately prepared for the experience. You just have to go and have a shopping adventure.

Nearly all of the shopping area is on the second floor, accessed by long slowly moving ramps. Immediately upon reaching the second floor, the customer is confronted by a cacophony of noises and an array of unexpected sights. Along one wall are batteries of ATMs, a UPS store and several travel agents, as well as kiosks of cell phones and gold jewelry. Entering the main sale floor, I was surprised to see several shiny new cars for sale, lined up not far from the checkout counters. I couldn't help but wonder how they got them up to the second floor, let alone how one might drive them away. (Does a clerk scan the auto's code strip with a wand as one drives through?) Electronics was the noisiest of the sections: For some reason Thais consider advertising to be best when it is loud and mind-numbingly repetitive. Placing three or four grating commercial messages next to one another further enhances the moment. It is one of the most annoying affronts to the senses I have ever experienced.

I had no time schedule, as I knew that I would be wandering the aisles for some time to find all that I had on my list. Indeed, I found myself criss-crossing the store in search of mops, brooms, trash cans, drying racks (no dryers in Thailand, of course: It would take longer than hanging clothes in the sun), batteries, soaps, shampoos, shoe racks, extension cords, plug adapters, food storage containers, laundry detergent, toilet paper, all the essentials. I would have taken longer, but I didn't need groceries, patio furniture, beds, appliances, TVs, or monk gifts--there is an entire section devoted to gift boxes, candles, rice bowls and incense one can give to a favorite Buddhist monk. I did buy Campbell's tomato juice, however, and noted on the label that I can get a 5-cent deposit for it in Maine and Hawaii. I found it next to the Jiffy Pop in the organic and western food section. I by-passed the bulk food aisles where relatively small people were easily hefting huge boxes of rice, canned food and bottled water, to name a few. The 12 pack of Thai beer I handed to the checkout clerk was promptly confiscated by a manager ("Sorry Sir, no alcohol sold before five o'clock."). I had a W.C. Fields flash: "We had to survive on water."

As I carefully guided my overloaded cart toward the exit, its wheels locked upon hitting the corrugated steel ramp way. Apparently, the wheels have magnets built in to prevent runaway carts from careening out of control down the long moving ramps, their owners in horrified pursuit. I successfully fought the urge to buy an ice cream cone on the way out, then packed a taxi with my purchases for the ten minute ride to the house. While it is an interesting experience, it is also exhausting. I suspect that visiting a super store once a month will be more than enough for me.

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