In America we have a ridiculous amount of giant stores that stock everything you could possibly need. Places like Target or Costco where you can do your grocery shopping for the week (including meat, dairy, bread, fresh fruit and veg as well as canned goods), fill your prescription, get a new outfit, buy a bicycle, get motor oil, and have enlargements made of your favorite vacation photo. You might end up paying a little more if you buy everything in one stop instead of shopping around, but at least you have that option. In Macau there is nothing remotely like that.
I buy my meat at the frozen meat shop, where I can get chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and sausage which is all imported from other parts if the world, frozen raw and waiting for me to thaw and cook it (though admittedly I tend not to cook meat very often). I buy my bread at a bakery, where it comes in loaves of six slices for about $1.25 USD. It is fresh each day, with no preservatives and in this humid environment it grows mold in 48 hours if it isn't consumed. I buy fruit and veg from an outdoor market, where each stall sells a different type of produce. I buy all the canned goods and spices from a grocery store, one of four or five that all stock different items. I get dairy from two of the grocery stores, when it is in stock. When I say that it takes seven hours to get the ingredients for one meal, it's not an exaggeration.
It's the same for non-food products. If I need to buy shoes for the boys, I go to the shoe store. If I need keys made, I go to a tiny stall where a man sits all day doing nothing but making keys. When I needed to replace an obscure lightbulb that had blown out, I went to a narrow shop that sells little else than obscure lightbulbs.
I miss The Home Depot back in the States. A store devoted to anything related to the home, including lightbulbs, key duplicating, paint, plumbing, curtains, plants, and lumber. I especially missed it recently when we had to replace the little screen inside our faucet that aerates the water as it comes out. Ours was so corroded that hardly a trickle came through. We carried the piece around in a baggie, trying to find a place that might stock that kind of thing. We tried at the key stall, the lightbulb shop, a place that sells chains and rubber work boots, all to no avail. Finally we stopped at a place that looked like it could be featured on an episode of Hoarders... Stuffed from floor to ceiling with all manner of tiny fittings and random odds and ends, barely an aisle to admit just one person (in the photo below). A group of men were smoking and chatting at the entrance. We handed our piece to the man who looked most likely to be the shopkeeper, and off he went to the back and up a ladder, opening drawers and sliding things around. He returned with the tiny screen, and charged us about a quarter.
I can't imagine how all of these tiny shops stay in business, especially when it appears people are more interested in stopping in to chat than in plunking down cash for goods. But I guess this is why small towns in the United States complain when the big stores come and try to build. All those little shops become a redundant waste of time.
If I had to pick the biggest change I've seen in myself since moving to Macau last year, it would be the abundant amount of patience I've had to develop. Things take exponentially more time here than they do in always open, guaranteed in stock Los Angeles. And I have all these little shops and stalls to thank for the growth of my patience. But I won't go so far to say this is a better life... I do miss picking up sandals and bread and a good book, all while my kids eat a hot dog as my tires are being rotated. I also hope that if and when the day comes when we get to shop at Costco again, I won't take that for granted!
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