Shopping in K-Du

by Annalise on October 29, 2009

Known to some as retail therapy, shopping for day to day needs is both necessary and can become quite a fun adventure when you’re doing it in a new environment and system.

Perishables for our area are brought from the country side into a major wholesale market south of here. We stumbled upon it while disembarking from a bus trip back from Bahktapur a week or so back and were dumbfounded by the expanse and variety of produce in this street warehouse. Here the hundreds of bicycle-based vendors and street side shops haggle to obtain their produce.

The bicycle vendors push their heavy loads up the narrow streets to sell their goods throughout the residential area and finish on the main streets to sell the remains to pedestrians. They carry their goods in huge, circular, wire baskets, one just ahead of the handle bars and one behind the seat. From here they sell mostly apples, bananas, oranges, onions and it seems, always potatoes. This is advertised by the repetitive singing of “syan-kerah-suntalah-pyajh-alu!” Bicycles are also the venue for selling newspapers, simple pots and pans, brooms and plastic containers, unpasterized milk in small plastic bags, the large blue bottles of drinking water, 6 to a bike in panier-like racks, and a myriad of other wares.

The garbage pickup too is done by bike or actually tricycle for this load. Above the low, rear axle of the bike, a large box with walls of wood extended by irregular sheets of corregated metal and a row of exterior hooks is the trash container. For about 200 nrp (Nepal rupees, about $3.00 Cdn.) they’ll take away what ever you can bring them for a month. If it’s bagged, the handles are tied and hung from the hooks, if bigger than that, it goes into the box. This includes everything – composting scraps, recyclables and pure trash. I’m confident there are further stages to this service to pull out the recyclables because they hold additional value. The final non-salvageable trash can be smelled burning in consistent, otherwise unused street corners around the city almost everyday. It is warm enough and there are sufficient variety of bugs that we don’t want to live with our trash for long; the trash-man’s shrill whistle call is one I listen for every second day.

Most street side shops are very small by our scale and unless narrowly focused on a product type or a manufactured item, they work like compact-convenience shops with some fresh goods. These convenience shops, which number at least 4 or 5 per block along the paved roads, carry their produce in baskets on their small chunk of sidewalk. Inside you find a small selection of paper products, always a full wall of ichiban-type noodle packages, spices and sauces, potato chips, candy and like snacks, soaps and cleaners, juices and softdrinks, sometimes liquor, and if there are chickens out back, eggs. All this in a space of about a walk-in closet. I’ve begun exploring the eclectic array of goods sold at the nearest of these small shops because their prices are good and I was feeling horribly conspicuous bringing large bags of goods back from the larger, western-style department store that was my first haunt. After days of offering only a cheerful ‘Namaste’ as I walked past my neighborhood shops with my bags already full, I went in to see what I could find there. They’ve now become my primary stop, more to deliberately support their efforts than for convenience. The difficulty is that you usually need to stop at all 3 or 4 on the street to pull together everything you had on your shopping list.

There are of course also specialty shops, of equal limited size which we’ve become familiar with. There is the kitchen ware shops, the druggist, doctor’s store fronts, the taylors and ladies dress shops. The latter selling fabrics to be sold as the more formal saris or sewn to order into the other, non-western alternative of pants, long flowing top and matching scarf to be draped across the shoulders, falling gracefully behind. I’ve visited a few of these to take in the vast array of colours and fabrics. In this mix of shops without apparent order or grouping, there are also the beauty salons and barber shops, the cabinet makers, the tinsmith’s shop, the shoe maker’s shop, the CV joint specialist, the all-important bike repair shop, the tea shops, tire shops, the jewelers, the souvenir shops, newspaper stands, the welding shop and the hand made mattress shops. Each time we walk across the bridge to Kathmandu proper, I’m compelled to take in the work of the mattress makers working on the sidewalks of the bridge. Here they beat a huge mound of cotton batting to compact it and finish by hand-stitching the lot into the large sturdy sheets they’ve laid out to become the mattress cover. They appear to produce about 3 of these per day. And finally, on the main thoroughfares, you have shop after shop offering printing, cell-phone charge cards, binding, photocopying, colour printing, internet access and fax services.

So yeah, we’ve got pretty much everything we could need. And then I experienced a flashback. Subha and Suzanna, our landlady and her gracious (and thank goodness, English speaking) daughter, invited me to come shopping with them. We took the 1 hour cab ride to Kathmandu’s version of the Super Store! Really, it was so big and it had everything under one roof! I was in awe. Beyond department store, they even had perishables inside the store – something I’d not seen yet in Nepal. This is the exception and the time to get there will limit these visits to shopping events – an out with the girls.

Back to our usual reality, today, after 6 stops, I collected one huge papaya, 6 beautiful pomegranates, a cluster of bananas, three large mandarins, 1 kg of potatoes, a head of cauliflower, 3 onions and 3 tomatoes, noodles, powder milk, lentils and a t-shirt for Dave all for 1150 nrp; about $16.00. Not bad!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shirley Robertson October 31, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Really intereating observations on every day life. Is it safe to say, Annalise, that for the first time in your life you are a “house wife”, doing the daily shopping and daily chores etc. Must be a very unique experience and especially in a different culture.

I am so looking forward to being there in 6 days!!!!

LeeAnne November 1, 2009 at 11:35 am

I was thinking along the same lines as Shirley. This is a new and wonderous experience for you, Annalise. I love hearing all about it.

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