China South of the Clouds

Traveling and Cooking in China's Yunnan Province

The Wondrous World of Walmart

July 11th, 2011

Most of you will be horrified to hear that there is a Walmart in Kunming. You’ll be even more horrified that it has become one our most essential resources here. I, myself, have always taken a yuppified pride in the fact that I’ve never been inside a Walmart in the states. But Walmart in China is, to use one of my former boss James Oseland’s favorite phrases, a revelation. Though I cannot say for certain, I’m fairly sure that no Walmart in the U.S. has milk in flavors like mung bean and red date, a dozen kinds of kimchi, or a huge pile of pickled chicken feet flavored with lime, fresh chili, and strips of carrots and celery. And the things you would expect to see are not presented in the usual way: chickens are sold with head and feet and stacked on a pile of shaved ice, like fish; huge strips of raw beef covered in ground chili and other flavorings hang on a rack in the middle of the floor; and every few feet a salesgirl shouts out daily specials, hawker-style.

Upstairs, the small appliance section boasts a shocking number of juicers (clearly a current fad here), as well as any kind of rice cooker you can imagine, and the bedding section highlights a wide variety of hideously frilly and flower print-covered mosquito nets. But my favorite section of the store is probably the cleaning supplies and toiletries section. The toilet paper brands, in particular, are just too good to be missed. There is Colorful Mood Brand with its slogan, “Elegant Life,” and something called Temptation of Flowers, and there seem to be new brands with new photos of kittens or butterflies on them every week. We’re still using a brand called Face, which has safe black on white packaging, but it’s kind of tempting to try them all.

More photos below:

Mangosteens and durian

Salesgirls in minorities costumes sell sausage at one of four sausage tables

The fresh wonton station

Flavored milks sold by the bag

A toilet paper promotion: buy a pack and get a swath from the huge roll for free

Oreos in flavors you never knew existed. (Unfortunately, they all taste like toothpaste flavors from the dentist’s office.)

Photos: Georgia Freedman (4), Josh Wand (1), Georgia Freedman (2)