The Day of Wal-Mart

My visit to the local Wal-Mart in Suzhou was an adventure, from beginning to end. First: I took a bus to a new part of the city.

Then I had to find the entrance. This is a typical problem with the Apple Maps directions in China, we’ve learned. Often the map leads you to the building but doesn’t actually provide any information on the entrance, specifically the customer entrance as opposed to a truck dock. I’ve seen lots of docks since coming here almost a month ago…

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Wal-Mart in China: find the front of the building and you still won’t be able to get in.

At any rate, I had to find the entrance. I found an entrance, so I went inside. I found a very posh looking mall as well as signs saying that Wal-Mart could be found on B1. The basement. Okay, so how do I get to the basement? An elevator that stops on the 1st floor. Escalators that don’t go down. Sigh. Sam’s Club is easier to get in to than this… and it’s a members only thing. Eventually, after circling the mall, I found an entrance. Not THE entrance, though. I wouldn’t find THE entrance until much later in the day.

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THE entrance.

A Chinese Wal-Mart has many of the same items you would expect to find in U.S. Wal-Mart: food, toiletries, paper products, beverages, clothing, shoes, homewares, and more. I don’t like to shop at Wal-Mart in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, but here where I don’t know which stores carry what products it was a reasonable choice to check a number of items off my list.

And so I began the trek down each aisle to see what products were available. I laughed to myself and even took photos as I went along. I took my time to do translations with my phone to check product names and ingredients.

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Something is on sale. I just don’t know what.

I bought what I could and carried it back with me in—yep, you guessed it—giant blue tarp-like IKEA bags. My total? 543 yuan or about $83. Pretty good, but still not everything we need. This trip took me well over four hours, including the bus ride there and the taxi ride home.

So I went back in the evening. Yikes, it was crazier than in the morning. I persevered and found more items from our list.

When I got to the checkout, though, I didn’t have enough cash for the items I chose. I tried using my American credit card (which is readily accepted at Sam’s Club and IKEA), but they don’t take it at Wal-Mart. (Go figure.)

I was mortified.

I used my basic Chinese and some body language to indicate to the cashier that she should take some items off my order. I was feeling really self-conscious, so I apologized to the people in line behind me. (Very American.) They were an older couple, and the man looked at the total of my order and then peeked in my wallet. I think he wanted to help me make sure I was using and counting the money correctly.

The cashier looked over the receipt to find my most expensive items. Those were the ones she removed (not the ones I thought I could do without and was picking up to hand her). Once we got the total under the amount of cash I had, I paid and bagged my items.

With two fully-loaded giant blue tarp-like IKEA bags, I did not have enough cash to pay for a taxi. So I walked to the bus stop.

I marched to the bus stop. I was a champion. I bought things on my own. In China. With cash. I made the transaction despite having difficulty doing it. My shoulders hurt from the weight of the bags, but the pain felt like victory (at least momentarily).

The bus took forever to come and I had to stand all the way home with both huge, heavy bags of stuff on my shoulders, but I made it. I was pleased with the purchases. Now that we have a decent apartment we can store food and make food and have a comfortable place of our own. It’s definitely still a work in progress, but this Day of Wal-Mart taught me many things, not the least of which was to carry more cash.

 

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