Will­ing the sea­son to come

Stabroek News - - STABROEK BUSINESS -

the mu­sic sets in­side the stores and the im­pos­si­ble sea of hu­mans that com­prise the crush that be­comes a haven for pick­pock­ets had not yet built up its full head of steam.

There was, how­ever, un­mis­tak­able ev­i­dence of things to come, man­i­fested in what we in Guyana call ‘win­dow shop­ping,’ a sys­tem com­pris­ing a mix of check­ing out the stores and pric­ing the de­sired item in an­tic­i­pa­tion of an­other ex­cur­sion into the city, per­haps next week to pur­sue the Christ­mas shop­ping in earnest.

The Chi­nese mer­chants, viewed not too many years ago as un­wel­come in­ter­lop­ers who sim­ply came along to cash in on the most lu­cra­tive time of the year for the traders, are now well and truly en­trenched. They have cul­ti­vated a suf­fi­ciently ad­e­quate un­der­stand­ing of the Guyanese Christ­mas cul­ture to re­place most if not all of the tra­di­tional sea­sonal para­pher­na­lia made in var­i­ous parts of Europe with Chi­nese-made Christ­mas bric-a-brac. They im­port in vol­umes, of­fer their goods at com­pet­i­tive prices and, these days, pro­vide steady jobs mostly for young, ur­ban girls.

The Chi­nese have es­tab­lished a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship with the pave­ment traders. Par­tic­u­larly at Christ­mas, no one chal­lenges the le­git­i­macy of their op­er­a­tions any longer.

Amidst the flood of Chi­nese stores which, these days, have made their pres­ence felt across Guyana, the re­main­ing hand­ful of tra­di­tional Guyanese, mostly East In­dian traders per­sist. On Tues­day, their em­ploy­ees were en­er­getic, mind­ful of the say­ing about the ‘early bird’ catch­ing the worm. Once the Chi­nese kick into ‘top gear’ with their be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of sea­sonal goods the game will be up.

It’s dif­fi­cult to tell which are the best sea­sonal sellers these days. Ev­ery­thing, rang­ing these days from in­ex­pen­sive plas­tic flow­ers to liv­ing room suites are out on of­fer. It is as if at Christ­mas peo­ple feel the need for a com­pre­hen­sive ‘makeover’ so that ev­ery­thing, from bath­room mats to liv­ing room suites are on the mar­ket.

Ev­ery con­ceiv­able trad­ing space on King Street, be­tween Re­gent and Robb streets is crammed with goods whilst the road­side is en­cum­bered with a host of house­hold items rang­ing from tea tow­els to gas cook­ers. Here, the store own­ers have uni­lat­er­ally ex­tended the bound­aries of their stores onto the edge of the road­way so that mo­tor ve­hi­cles, pass­ing pedes­tri­ans and shop­pers com­pete with some mea­sure of dis­com­fort for the same space.

It’s an ar­du­ous task to count the Chi­nese stores on Re­gent Street. To do so you will have to tra­verse much of the street west of Shiv Chan­der­paul Drive, count­ing care­fully as you go. Some of them are small and hor­ri­bly cramped. Oth­ers, cav­ernous and burst­ing with stock ex­tend them­selves into deep spa­ces al­low­ing more room for stock and for trad­ing. Our rea­son­ably in­formed opin­ion is that as many as 60% of the Re­gent Street stores are run by Chi­nese.

There is a case for sug­gest­ing that the Cuban shop­pers are seized with the spirit of Christ­mas. The vol­umes that they pur­chase win them the at­ten­tion that the Guyanese Christ­mas shop­per can never have. They move eas­ily with their crammed, over­sized plas­tic bags, hold­ing their own in the ‘bump and grind’ of the throngs try­ing to co­ex­ist in the same space ........ on the Re­gent Street pave­ment. The avail­able ev­i­dence sug­gests that the ven­dors are catch­ing on. Ev­ery ac­com­mo­da­tion is made for the Cubans in the high street stores. The ma­jor shop­ping bi­lat­er­als usu­ally take place be­tween the Cubans and the Chi­nese, The Cubans’ over­sized bags tell their own story.

Close to the western ex­treme of Wa­ter Street on the pave­ment out­side China Trad­ing, a man is sell­ing ap­ples and grapes. There are not too many tak­ers. Time was when ap­ples and grapes were sea­sonal fruit, im­ported from Europe to add colour to Christ­mas. Both have out­lived their once lofty rep­u­ta­tions.

Part two of Christ­mas Notes will be pub­lished next week

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