How shopping shapes the way I see a place

I enjoy many different parts of travel but the first thing I like to do when arriving in a new place is to check out the shops. It doesn’t have to be any special kind of shop, even the 7-Eleven will do.  Maybe it’s my love of food, or my love of bargain hunting (a useful skill instilled in me by my mother, Thanks Mum) or maybe it’s because shops are an everyday part of the lives of local people and you get to truly see what life is like for them.   Probably it’s a mix of all of three.

Remembering my travels
It seems funny that a lot of my memories of my travels are mixed in with different shops.  A distinct memory I have is when we travelled to Sulawesi in April 2012, I remember arriving in Makkassar and sitting in the back of the taxi with my eyes glued to the window, watching the sun start to set, the sky taking on an orange hue while in the distance dark thunder clouds are rolling in.   Then I notice the different shops we are driving past, motorcycle shops, malls, supermarkets, fruit stalls and much more.   I get this feeling of needing to do something – we arrive and hunt for a place to stay, which isn’t all that enjoyable.  After settling on a place, Nic knowing that I’m tired, hot and hunger suggests we go find a shop selling water and then have dinner.  I seem to instantly perk up – off to explore my first shop in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

A lot of my experiences of new places are like this. During December 2008 we were in Arequipa, Peru and I remember singing along to Feliz Navidad at the supermarket and wondering why they didn’t have a bigger selection of songs or verses. In Indonesia we went to a Bata store where Nic bought new shoes and then every time afterwards I’d see a Bata store and be thinking does Nic need new shoes.

Mostly it’s window shopping
I think it’s fortunate for our bank balance that my love for walking around explore shops doesn’t also lead to spending a lot of money. I actually rarely spend much money when I’m exploring, mainly I buy the essentials – water and maybe a small sweet treat. I’m not sure you’d call it window shopping as such especially at fresh markets where there are no doors let alone windows.

Walking around fresh markets is another of my favourite past times in Thailand and South East Asia. I love seeing all of the fresh fruit and vegetables and experiencing the interesting smells of fresh meat on display. It never bores me seeing so much vivid colour and most of the time it just makes me hungry. Having settled in Thailand I love these markets even more because now I feel like I have an actual purpose to visiting and that I can truly experience the market like the locals do. I regularly make my way down to Prakanong market, first wandering past the fruit section selecting the sweet mangoes, pineapples or rambutan, then to the lady selling eggs, and lastly to the take away curry place for eat at home lunch.

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The mundane becomes fun
Activities that were chores at home like going grocery shopping are fun and an adventure for me when I travel. Not knowing what you’ll find on the shelves, trying to figure out what kind of food it is, either because you’ve never seen it before or because you can’t read the packaging. It’s an exciting and enchanting activity. I get to go to the supermarket every week in Thailand and still it’s one of my favourite activities, at least so far. Supermarkets and convenience stores are a wonderful eye opener to the life of the community around it, whether it be an aisle dedicated to food for expats or an aisle with an interesting array of chip flavours.   We figured out before we even saw many foreigners in our neighbourhood that there must be a few as the Tesco Lotus across the street has a lot of products catering for the expat market.

In Thailand supermarkets sell almost everything you could possibly need – not only food, but clothing, furniture and household necessities.   It meant it was so easy for us to kit out our apartment by just popping over the road the Tesco.   Convenience stores are everywhere whether it be a 7-Eleven, Family Mart or family-run shop (located most often in their home), you are never far from a convenience store – the name really does make sense in Thailand.

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Seeing change through shopping
A lot has changed since we were in Bangkok in 2008 and 2010, the increase in construction is obvious and the extended skytrain is a bonus, but it wasn’t long after our arrival that I noticed that things at the shops had changed as well.  Tesco Lotus no longer sells the small, hard jube lollies I like, 7-Eleven no longer has Coke Zero on tap, and Chesters (Chicken fast-food chain) no longer sells the classic grilled chicken burger.  I was happy to find that Swensen’s (the ice cream sundae chain) is still going strong.  Even though these things are clearly not essential components of a visit to Thailand and maybe nothing to do with Thai culture I was disappointed.  For me this reminds me how we often build up a picture of what a place is like before we get there or we remember it how it use to be the last time we were there, so every time we go back we are surprised that things are not what you expected. This can be disappointing and can cause you to feel a little sad but it’s also an opportunity to see what other new things have taken it’s place and build up a new list of experiences.

What do you like about shopping when you travel?

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2 thoughts on “How shopping shapes the way I see a place

  1. Its a delight to read you Kristal and experience some vicarious Thai living .Ironic that I’m getting to know you better from afar. Really appreciate the regularity of your posts. I imagine you are growing quite a following. All the best, Lyn

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