My Grocery Store

August 27, 2001

Every time I go shopping at my local grocery store, I end having a chuckle or two. After my most recent visit to ‘Big C’, I left determined to write an article declaring my love for this establishment. An alarmingly loud live karaoke performance in front of the checkout counters had left me smitten.

I admit, when I first met Big C, I was less than thrilled. It smelled pretty bad. I recognized only about 35 percent of all items for sale in the store. It lacked in organizational logic and the kinds of food I was used to eating.

I decided that I was not willing to go chasing after special western ingredients, especially in the chaos of Bangkok. Although there are stores that cater specifically to western needs, all are over 35 plus minutes away from my house. Big C is only three. A long time ago I made an oath to make friends with Big C and I am glad I did. Why? Because many wonderfully absurd things happen at this store.

I was around for Big Cs’ anniversary270801k1.jpg celebrations this year. Lucky me. The management not only got its hands on a ‘Happy Birthday’ tape, but also managed to find a copy of ‘The Hokey Pokey.’ They alternated playing these two albums for weeks. As I wheeled my cart around, I had the option to put my left foot in or take my right foot out. All of the cashiers even got to wear funny hats during this festive event.

And then something scary happened. The biggest competitor of all, the almighty ‘Lotus Super Center’, opened its doors just a hop skip and a jump down the street. Everyone flocked to check it out. I found it way too big and on top of that Lotus Super Center gave me the eerie feeling that I had somehow been magically teleported back to America. Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain (sometimes called ‘Oh, What a pain!’ in Bangkok as a joke), and bright blasting neon lights sent me running back to good ole Big C.

Alas, Big C retaliated against Lotus Super Center by completely renovating,270801k2.jpg remodeling and moving all of its aisles. This was not good for me. Not good at all. All of the hours I had spent practicing finding my shopping list went up in smoke. I was miffed. But the store smelled better, for a while at least, and Big C launched a campaign to make shopping more fun.

They gave even more clerks microphones to scream into as they announced the hot sales of the day at their respective counters. They provided more free samples of food and had vendors showcase goods outside of the store. From how to creatively use (and hopefully buy) plastic containers to pick up truck exhibitions to construction companies modeling small dream houses, you can now always catch a sideshow while shopping.

If there is nothing particularly special happening on a given day, you can count on Big C to blast cheerful Laotian smash hits on the store’s stereo. They once played a message in English and Thai, which stated repeatedly, “Please do not leave your children unattended in270801k3.jpg the shopping carts.” This idea was extremely short lived. Although it gave Big C a sophisticated air the first time you heard it while shopping, it somehow failed on the 32nd time around.

I stand out like a sore thumb in Big C. No one can manage to pass me by without taking a peek in my shopping cart. A man once proclaimed, “Hey, you are buying too much beer!” as he walked by. Some small children look at me and just burst into tears. Others scream, “Hello!” or “Farang!” (foreigner). There’s just never a dull moment.

Big C also has little vending stalls outside where one can buy Nike products, plants, cellular phones, CDs, clothing, makeup, donuts, or jewelry. They also have these rather large mechanical dinosaurs and horses that kids can actually drive around on up on the second floor. I have been dying to go for a spin on the purple dinosaur for over two years.

Big C and most other major stores in Thailand do not allow photography inside or around their premises so, unfortunately, there are no candid shots for this issue. Me riding on the dinosaur would have been a great one though.

My favourite Big C event (besides the ‘Hokey Pokey’ phase) was the wine tasting booth they set up. Three bottles sat on a counter with miniscule paper cups next to them. In my very non-expert opinion two of the wines were not good whereas one was a good deal for the price. “Can I please buy two bottles of this one?” I asked, to which the clerk replied, “Oh, these wines are not for sale at this store.”

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