The Perils of Consumerism

After my grandfather passed away, my family packed up their belongings and relocated to a new house across town. The idea was not to abandon our old home, a seven story building on a quiet street in a bustling part of town, but to renovate and move back in a year’s time. Most people know though, there’s nothing like a move to make you aware of how much stuff you have. Consumerism is a global epidemic and Americans are no less guilty of it than the Taiwanese, but because space is far more limited than the suburban sprawl of southern California – from the size of apartments to the width of the streets – the “problem,” (isn’t it a problem?) is paradoxically magnified. Pair this with the tendency to walk and take public transport and everyone’s shopping habits, however long the ride, are on display.

What to do, what to do? Nothing, if like what seems like ninety-nine percent of Taiwanese women and young men, you believe that retail therapy is the best therapy – a panacea for ailments such as a stressful job, broken heart, and worst of all, the green-eyed monster. In their small houses one can only hope they are organized or have the good sense to throw out or donate what they no longer need. If not, they might, during an earthquake, become victim to what my grandmother once joked as “the world’s most convenient morgue.”

And now: the Culture.

We start with things close to home: one of many drawers in my cousin’s closet. A penchant for t-shirts of any color. I folded them for her so that more could fit in one drawer and after having done so, said, “You cannot buy anymore t-shirts.”

 The as of yet unorganized storage room in my aunt’s house. When I first arrived, she opened the door to show me and shook her head, defeated, “Most of it is junk,” she admitted.

Somber Chinese paintings still waiting to be hung, some of which, because the new house lacks wall space (new cabinets to accommodate the stuff), will never be hung again.

The culprits. The instigators. The aiders and abetters.

The original Pacific Sogo – a Japanese department store that despite its age, remains one of Taipei’s most popular if not THE most popular shopping destination. I ought to go right ahead and blame the Japanese, since most of the department stores here are of Japanese origin. In addition to Sogo (of which there are four in Taipei alone) there is Takeshimaya, Mitsukoshi, and the latest baby, Hankyu.

Even the ubiquitous 7-Eleven, founded in Dallas Texas, is now owned and operated by a Japanese parent company and stocked with Japanese goods. There is literally one of every corner. Sometimes, these convenient stores are the most dangerous places of all, especially when one is terrible at math and ill-informed about conversion rates. 

Fancy a drink? Good luck deciding.

 The Japanese really do take everything and make it better. I am addicted to the hot pot ones on the right. Addicted.

 FF for French Fries. Amazing.

 I am addicted to these as well. Damn the Japanese. Damn them! No, I take it back. I love these.

One of Taipei’s more popular bookstores (though the mother of all bookstores is Taiwan’s own Eslite Bookstore) is Japanese as well. In Kinokuniya, a woman skims a book she doesn’t need and if she buys it, won’t read (sometime I am often guilty of). 

But it would be wrong to blame the Japanese entirely.

Taiwan itself has its own national retail personality, comprised of a peculiar breed of shop: the tiny but exceedingly satisfying “We Sell Everything” hole-in-the-wall.

Socks, umbrellas, hosiery, and, towards the back, scarves, gloves, hats, bags…

 One of thousands, a random snack shop carrying everything from Japanese goods to cans of abalone, an expensive delicacy.

The victims:

 This man stood proudly next to his car and told anyone who would listen how much it was. I forgot the number, it was so ridiculous.

This morning she thought, “What should I wear today? Oh I know, EVERYTHING!”

Young boys poring over their lottery ticket – big business in Taiwan – hoping to make it big the fast and easy way so that they might be like the man with the red sports car.

Older gentlemen wishing the same thing.

It doesn’t matter. It all ends up in the same place anyway:

One thought on “The Perils of Consumerism

  1. Dear Betty,

    I don't feel this article a fair observation for Taiwanese though…
    My feeling is, we have lots of stuff not because we buy a lot, but because we don't feel comfortable throwing things away.
    — Garbage bags on the street is a rare scene for the Chinese New Year annual cleaning.
    (Well, I am not sure about Karen's closet… That might be an exception. :p)

    Americans, in my opinion, are probably at least 3 orders of magnitude more scary in turns of consumerism. Just take Costco for example. It's super popular both here in california and in Taipei. But do you notice that most of the Taiwanese only buy 1/3 or less cart load of stuff (and we have smaller carts in Taiwan), while Americans can make it almost 1.5 carts every time?

    I lived with a few Americans while in UCLA, and also based on another 3.5 years of observation here in the Bay Area, the way how people consume tissue paper, plastic bags, (also suger & butter… @@”) electricity and gas and so forth, is just scary.

    Anyway, I just really feel that I have to say something about this topic. :p
    No matter it's in Taiwan or here in the US, I just really hope that people can learn to live quality life without wasting resources.


    ps. I like your articles still! Nice writing & nice photos. ^^

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