The China I visited 10 years was a nightmare for shoppers. State-run shops were everywhere and there was little of the consumerism found elsewhere in the world. Shop shelves were largely empty and service workers were generally rude. Before this recent visit, I heard that much has changed but hadnít expected what I was to see. After all, this was only an inland provincial city. But I was amazed on the first day, when I reached Chunxi Lu, a shopping street my hosts recommended. Mega shopping malls dominated this wide boulevard, coupled with bright dazzling neon lights. No building seemed more than 5 years old. Is this really Chengdu ? It looked more like Taipei, if not for the numerous bicycles that compete on the streets with cars ( - the latter were rare creatures on my first visit to China). In the past, Chengdu shoppers had to choose between the Peopleís Market and Red Flag Department Store - both state-run. Now, private-run shopping centres abound and I have been told that Chengdu has the highest density of retail outlets in all of China. In addition, the city is divided into many streets or zones each of which specialising in a particular field, and the streets are known as "the number one commercial street" of that industry or good. For example, The Dafa Market is known as the "Number One Commercial Street of Electronics", and Remin Nan Lu has a "Number One Commercial Market of Computers". Foreign retailers are also looking at Chengdu now - Malaysiaís Parkson chain has opened a store in Chengdu - one gigantic building shared with the new Holiday Inn Chengdu.
Many stores sell a mixture of mass consumer products as well as luxurious foreign brands. Shoppers were everywhere but I suspect few buy the expensive foreign-manufactured products. I wonder if the stores make money, given the still low level of income (& hence low purchasing power) of the average Chinese citizen, and the degree of competition. Perhaps, some will be forced to close down. But in any case, the large number of existing shopping complexes do indicate a certain degree of optimism.
People who go on business trips to China are surprised by the degree of hospitality showered on them. Business meals are elaborate affairs - with more than ten dishes, generous flows of liquor, karaokes sessions, etc. Much food is wasted in a country which was half-starving less than 20 years ago ( - food coupons are only abolished in the mid eighties). In Sichuan where people are very proud of their cuisine, a meal may consist of 10 to 15 main dishes and maybe another ten xiaochi, or "small dishes". And for visitors who stay longer, they are brought on extensive sightseeing trips, sometimes with the hostsí family tagging along ( - the latter was experienced by a friend). One explanation for such phenomena is that the hosts enjoy taking the opportunity to feast or travel at the companyís expense. But of course, itís not fair to say that all of them do harbour such motives. After all, the Chinese people are traditionally a warm and hospitable people, and would do all they can to make the guests feel at home. And this explains why my hosts took pains to make our trips comfortable in many other aspects, often incurring much cost and effort, even in situations when they could not expect any personal benefits. It is interesting to see how long this will last. As the concepts of modern management and profit accountability emerge, some say that Chinese companies in the coastal areas no longer indulge guests with as much luxury as before. It is a matter of time before the inland provinces move in this direction as well.