Community Shopping Carts

A scene, perhaps, unique to Asia.

I was heading off on my powerful Honda 100cc scooter, approaching the large Tesco Supercenter complex not too far from my house.

About a quarter of a mile before getting to Tesco is a small enclave of houses. The houses are small too. It is a mainly Malay village – modest homes – sweet people – fried bananas boiled in oil on the side of the road – a sidewalk shop that literally takes over more of the sidewalk each year without the authorities enforcing anything – an open air market with plenty of food stalls hidden underneath coconut trees. You get the picture.

As I’m sitting at the stop light with Tesco in full view just up the way, I notice a man with a fluorescent vest pushing about 8 shopping carts. He looks back and waves at someone else, a young man wearing a blue vest also pushing about the same number of shopping carts. He darts across the street in front of traffic, defying the stop light, and lines up behind the fluorescent vest man. Both of them continue their trek towards the shopping haven in the distance.

As I finally go through the light, it becomes easy to see that the young man’s blue vest reads “Tesco” on the back of it. The other man had a Tesco security fluorescent vest on.

It made me chuckle. Tesco had finally commanded their workers to go into the community, find their shopping carts, and bring them back.

They obviously weren’t hard to find them. It can easily be assumed that well-intentioned folks has “borrowed” the carts to transport their gallons of oil for their stall, or to transport the large bags of chillies and chilled fish.

Might this be thievery? Are these carts stolen merchandise? Are the police going to punish the souls who saved their arms some work?

Certainly not. All in good fun, they are community shopping carts.

Is it irritating to Tesco? Most likely yes!

But in laid-back Asian societies which value community over individualism and favor turning a blind eye to confronting a problem, the AWOL shopping carts is nothing to get riled up about.

I can just hear the explanations now: “Sir, I did not steal that cart. I’m bringing it back on my next trip. You should thank me for supporting your store. And the cart says ‘Tesco’. We are helping you advertise.”

“Sir, my mother is sick and can’t carry the wares anymore. Our food stall is our only source of income. This cart saved her a lot of work. You are providing a great service for our community.”

I love living in Asia.

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