The convenient stores in Taiwan are magic.
A ceaseless support system for the city as a whole. A pea-tree dish where one day another universe will likely be born.
Those wonderful bastards.
The Clerks who captain the ship day in and out are akin to the barkeeps of days long passed. They know everyone and everything happening in their small but overwhelmingly complicated corner of the city.
He’s your priest. Your confidante. Your comrade. He casts no judgement and is the supplier of vices when only your latest addiction will do.
Nobody dares to get on the bad side of a Clerk.
The clerk knows that Bob down the street is cheating on his wife every Monday and Thursday when Bob comes peppily strutting into the store for his weekly supply cache of condoms and wine, dressed in a suit his wife hasn’t seen since their honeymoon, spending money that should be sitting in an emergency fund for when Bob’s legs can no longer bare to support his fat ass.
He knows Bobs wife also, he sees her buying milk for their three children. She always talks about how good of a man Bob is.
But the clerk knows the truth, that Bob is fuckin asshole.
Bob’s mistress is no mystery to the clerk either, in fact, everybody knows her. She’s getting in and out of cars all day long, making frequent calls on the payphone next to the cash register.
Try as he might, the clerk cannot keep himself from hearing the vile conversations she has with her customers as she tries to negotiate a fair price for whatever vile act the patron on the other line is trying to explain.
The clerk also knows your kids.
Remember when little Ralph went to that sleepover last Friday night, and came home with a fever the following day?
The clerk knows better.
He knows that little Ralph is up all night smoking and drinking with his fellow knuckle dragging winning team, and that they come into the store looking only to cause a disturbance late at night.
Isn’t it strange how your little Ralph never makes eye contact with the clerk?
A fight broke out
Between two clearly homeless ladies right in front of a family store not long ago. I saw it with my own eyes.
It should be mentioned, however, that an outward expression of anger or aggression is extremely uncommon in this Country.
As entertaining as it should have been, it was hard to endure the sight of limp-wristed slaps exchanging little more than the bacteria crawling between two people suffering a clear neglect for personal hygiene.
Our stoic clerks’ biggest reaction to the whole ordeal was to pause momentarily from wiping the counter, to re-fold his wash rag, and to shake his head in disappointment that his beautiful city must be periodically stained by the likes of this avoidable and embarrassing act of anger taking place out front of his store.
He’s careful not to get involved, unless it becomes completely necessary.
If the fight were to spill into his store, risking the products or putting his loyal customers in harms way, we might learn more about our noble clerk than we care to. Seeing the unruly awakening of a sleeping giant.
They are the true
Ambassadors of the city
politely answering the stupid questions we all ask when we first land in Taiwan, like ‘where is the Taipei 101?’ or ‘do you sell water?’ and my personal favourite ‘where can I get something to eat?'
They respectfully and dutifully help the city of walking sheep people when they occasionally and witlessly stroll into his store. Guiding them to the right address or helping them find their coffee when they can hardly see through the swollen slits in their eyes from a blinding hangover.
They keep a calm and understanding demeanour when a loud greasy American comes in and thinks that English + Volume = understanding.
“DO. YOU. SELL. COKA. COLA. YOU KNOW? SOODDDAAAA?” the American would yell, talking as if they are the smartest person in the room. As if they didn’t just vote for Donald Trump back home and then bail to a different country when they realized their major fuck up when Canada wouldn’t accept them.
The clerk points to the refrigerator that he knows that the human version of an McDonalds billboard is looking and says “it’ll be 30 NT dollars” in perfect english.
“THANK….YOU” the American yells back. Having learned nothing at all…
I once locked myself out of my apartment
by accident. This happened within the first week of moving into the damn place.
I’ve always lived in houses. I’ve always been able to break into my own house if necessary also, its a special skill that I picked up over time.
There’s always a way in. No keys? no problem.
But to my surprise and dismay the apartment we moved into is an impenetrable fortress. No forces of earth or evil can crack into that door once it clicks behind you.
Let me rewind a little.
We (my girl friend Erin and I) were hosting some friends for an evening of BBQ at a nearby restaurant (which has become my oasis in recent months).
We took our friends to our apartment to show them around, since it was new and we were proud.
After drinking entirely too many beers for that particular day of the week, I graciously walked with them to the street side to point them in the right direction, and to seal the night with a final smoke.
The door behind me closed.
I took the phone out of my pocket and went to send Erin an S.O.S. and before I saw the message deliver, the phone died.
Thinking nothing of it, and expecting her to come looking after not-too-long I just hung out, and continued to smoke.
Panic set in after a half hour. Our friends were long gone, the night was quiet.
There was no activity in or around our apartment and all hopes of contacting Erin fell to the ground.
She had fallen asleep, I knew it, and as a part of her routine her phone was on silent.
I walked down to the nearby 7/11, and saw the lights still on and lively (they always are. They’re always open).
It was a beacon of hope.
Telling the clerk what had happened in a panicked version of slurred, hardly comprehendible english, he pointed me to the phone chargers.
‘No money’ I pathetically turned my pockets inside out.
He opened the package anyway, brought me to a usb charging station and plugged in my phone.
every time the clock on the wall ticked out another second, it seemed like an hour of sheer agony had passed. I knew the window between now and when Erin falls into REM sleep was quickly closing and I had to call her 3 times before any and all hope was lost.
Ok, good enough.
I fired up my phone and dialed her number…no answer.
Three more times I tried before the phone gave up on me.
Another 30 minutes of this passed before I accepted the fact that all hope was lost and that this clerk and I were going to become room mates for the next 8-ish hours.
This was my new home for the night.
Buzzing fluorescent lights.
My guts grumbling from hunger as a roiling hell broth of stomach acid looked for a nearby organ to dissolve.
My mouth like the inside of a forgotten cheap leather wallet devoid of all moisture could hardly purge the request for water.
The clerk kept me safe, kept me from having to sleep outside, and kept quiet while performing his nightly duties around the shop.
6am saw the sunrise and with it a new hope that there would be traffic around my apartment, so I went back.
To my much anticipated, and long awaited happiness I could see the elevator numbers moving from outside the window.
It started at the 7th floor and slowly counted down over an eternity of agony.
The cleaning lady was just waking up to start her day. Puffy in the face, and all too unwilling to deal with anything out of the ordinary just yet.
‘Don’t knock to hard’ I thought to myself. ‘You don’t want to look too aggressive or desperate, she’ll never let you in then.’ I was trying to manage my excitement. I had to play my cards right. I had t knock firmly enough that I looked like I belong in the building.
She opened the door a crack.
All my internal pep talks and coaching and trying to manage my outward behaviour dissolved into the atmosphere and my excitement was in full, unadorned swing.
I was stuttering and gasping and flailing my arms like an idiot explaining how I left my keys in the apartment “and…and..my girlfriend…she fell asleep because….see we went out with our friends…and the alarm…she always…silent…my phone…dead…no money!!!”
Something about my frantic and desperate plea in a language she didn’t understand made her open the door and I was instantly bathed in relief.
“UMMMM….Did you notice anything missing?!” I said, slamming the apartment door behind me.
It wasn’t worth it. I was too tired. I went to bed.
Seven Eleven kept me safe.
By the way, all that food you see cooking all day in 7-11…it does in fact get turned over and thrown out at the end of the day and new fresh ones are put out.
I always eat it now.
The things you can do at a convenient store
in Taiwan are astonishing. Everything from paying your phone and utility bills, to sending and receiving packages, to light grocery shopping and booking train tickets.
There is food for every meal including late night snack - which is meal by the way.
There are even tables to sit down and eat them.