I’ve prided myself on a life relatively unconcerned with “things.” When I moved to Japan, I packed a single, solitary suitcase. “Is that all?” everyone wondered. Already in my new pre-Zen, world-wandering, mystic mode, I replied, “What do I need that I cannot easily find.” And it was true, even more than I knew. I was going to Tokyo, and had an inkling that anything I could actually “need” would be at hand in such a massive, international city.
It is a common pastime among expats to talk about the things from back home we missed, the hidden import shops where you could get them, and the friend we had on the military base who could get us that particular brand of potato chip, hard to find magazine or deodorant that actually worked on smelly foreign bodies like ourselves. But all of it was mostly tongue-in-cheek. Everything you could actually need was everywhere and accessible anytime, day or night.
Returning to the States (more precisely, returning to the North Country of NY) it could not be more different. There is a paucity of typical shopping options that visitors from major urban areas cannot comprehend. Instead there are a few decently sized supermarkets, a modest shopping mall, a Walmart a Target and a few random boutiques. You can get the essentials, but what I wanted were the completely inessentials.
This was the first time in my life I was actually not able to get my hot little hands on anything I could possibly want, with relative ease. What’s more, anything I did want would require driving. Ugh! Having lived a 30 second walk from a supermarket in Tokyo, I viewed shopping for food as an extension of my refrigerator. Here such things take planning, lists and parking. No more could I need garlic at 2 a.m. and be purchasing, then peeling it within 2 minutes. Seriously.
But the problem was deeper. I had changed. During my years in Tokyo, my go-to brands and favorite everything had been sneakily replaced by the local options. I now, wandered American supermarket shelves devoid of Calbee consommé flavored chips and Gatsby “Moving Rubber” hair gel.
That’s when it all started.
I don’t remember the first time I shopped on Amazon. It was all a blur that first login. I must have searched a thousand items and filled my virtual shopping cart until its virtual wheels were shaking under the load. They had everything obscure and Asian I could conjure up with search terms. Food, toiletries, clothes, even appliances and furniture I never thought I could find again were there… then magically here. I became a prime member within hours, but still wished there were an even more exclusive service like “Platinum Prime” or “Optimus Prime.”
My guilt kicked in. Every order I made, I knew was driving a tiny dagger into the backs of the small family run businesses in the area. But… but… they have Pocky!
My low point was ordering a 24 pack of toilet paper from my phone, while on the toilet. The cardboard boxes piled up. The UPS man will probably be the godfather of my children.
I now make an effort only to buy things I have no reasonable option of finding otherwise. With a two and a half hour drive to the nearest Asian market, it happens more than I’d like.
I never guessed how much I would crave things I “needed” until after Japan. But the world is so much smaller than it was when I landed in Tokyo. The shadowy “I know a guy on the army base who can get that” has been replaced by “I’ll mail you a link.”
Whether or not I actually “need” consommé flavored potato chips is another matter. But trust me, I do.
I have, however, discovered that my Amazon addiction can actually do some good. Few people seem to know about Amazon Smile. The program is incredibly easy to use and make your online shopping a bit more socially conscious.
By simply visiting http://smile.amazon.com/ and designating "Mountain Lake PBS" as your charity of choice in the search bar, a percentage of all your Amazon shopping will go to support our station. Of course there are many wonderful charities to choose. But, if you are going to be shopping online anyway, why not let MLPBS or another charity benefit? Turn those guilty pleasures into a force for good in your local community. There is no added cost to you, and some of that shopping guilt will be eased!
Are you an Amazon addict? And if so, what’s your hard to find poison?