One of the things that I really love about some of our Asian neighbours is the abundance and thus easy availability of convenience stores. Funnily, the Japanese have an abbreviated form of this term, and they call them “combini”. The first time I was in Tokyo years ago and heard this term I was wondering what it meant, but after having visited Japan numerous times thereafter and also learning the Japanese language for the past years, I realise that they like to shorten words and sometimes they don’t make perfect sense. Haha.
Anyway, Japan is one of those countries that have just about a convenience store lurking at any street corner, whether it is 7-11, AMPM, Lawson’s, Family Mart, etc. The list can go on because right now I can’t remember all the different brands of convenience stores. Similarly in Seoul (since I haven’t been to other parts of Korea) and also Taipei, these stores are everywhere! I don’t think the situation is replicated in Hong Kong though, and perhaps also not in Singapore, or at least not that I recall, especially since we are impoverished where convenience store variety is concerned. We only have 7-11 and Cheers is that right? But generally, convenience stores are a dime and dozen in Asia, as compared to say, Europe.
So last month I took a one-week business trip to Taipei, and this time I was staying in a different hotel, nearer to the city centre, and I was pretty amazed that in the vicinity of my hotel, there were so many cafes and convenience stores. I absolutely love the convenience of them, because they operate round the clock and they are quite well-stocked. I am not a big fan of eating proper dinners so these places are a haven to me for finding food and drinks that I can bring back to my hotel room to satiate hunger when it arises, or whether to just buy some snacks to pop into my bag for an emergency hunger fix. Even if you need some toiletries that you have forgotten to bring on the trip or need some medication, these stores are the place to go to!
I think it is probably not forbidden to take pictures in the store, but I tried to sneak a photo one afternoon while I was at this 7-11 near the office buying some drinks. Isn’t it just amazing what they have? I always spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the display, mulling over what I should buy, till I think the shop assistants probably start to suspect if I might be trying to steal something.
The kiwi drink I got was surprisingly nice and not so sweet like how we normally expect bottled drinks to be. And needless to say, the chocolate-coated jumbo raisins were spectacular. I love raisins and milk chocolate, so this combination is a winner for me.So I saw this brown rice beverage one evening and bought it, and it was also not the sweet type, but yet still tastes really good. Ok, maybe healthy things don’t necessarily have to taste bland and bad, but one half-litre carton of this would seriously be enough to fill you up for a good long time. I wished they had them in smaller packages though, like perhaps half the size or 200ml boxes, which would then make it easier for me to try more things. Unfortunately, economies of scale probably dictate that such sizes are more popular for the general consumer and not the occasional tourist.
And of course they would have Jagabee. I went nuts over the various flavours of Jagabee when I was in Japan some time back, and ever since then I have always liked snacking on these, even if I am supposed to be on a diet. I can’t resist this potato snack. But maybe balancing it with a bottle of yogurt will make it better (delusional but who cares)? I can’t wait to go to Japan again and check what limited edition/seasonal flavours they have!
The other interesting thing about these convenience stores in Taipei, or sometimes Seoul/Japan is that they sell really cute stuff, or they have some sort of loyalty programs where if you purchase a certain amount you get a sticker (this applies for Taipei and Hong Kong, I can’t remember for the others) and when you have accumulated a certain number of stickers you can exchange them for some free gifts or buy something with an additional top-up in cash. I have seen Doraemon merchandise in Taipei, and in the past Rilakuma stuff in Hong Kong. I know a lot of people probably couldn’t care less about such things, but honestly I think they must have quite some clout in these cities to make the convenience stores use them as a bait for the consumers. In Singapore, we are probably more practical and there are less people into such cutesy stuff, but perhaps not because when we think of the queues for the Hello Kitty toys, I think we do have a market for them. It is probably a business direction undertaken by the franchisees of these stores, but well that is a point they are losing out on.
Somehow, in Singapore, a convenience store is really just a place we pop into when we need to get some snacks, magazines, drinks, etc. in the middle of the night when nothing else is open. Well it is a place we visit out of convenience, hey presto and therefore its name, but really the entire experience of “combinis” here and abroad is really so different. And because Halloween was just round the corner then, they even had M&Ms in special packaging!