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.

How everything should function: Learning from Tesco’s Parking Lot

You see this photo here?

2014-04-30 11.32.09

This is outside the Tesco Superstore here in Penang. You’ll notice on the sign that it says “motorcycle parking” but underneath it is a picture of a car.

Well, Penang drivers are a force of nature and eventually Tesco wisely relented.

Here’s what happened.

When Tesco opened a couple of years back, a ramp entrance into the store leads directly to the parking spots you see in the photo. Cars could pull up the ramp and park immediately in front of the building.

About thirty meters down on the right side Tesco put in some motorbike parking, but the motorbike parking was about 25 meters too long of a walk to the main door, so motorcyclists started parking directly opposite the door, right beside the car spots in the photo. The problem was that the bike parking kind of clogged up the ramp entrance.

Eventually, Tesco chained that area off so motorbikes could not park there. They had to go down 30 meters and park in the legitimate motorbike parking space. However, remember the distance to the front door? Motorcyclists apparently do not like walking. That’s why they are on two wheels.

Undaunted, the cheeky motorcyclists started parking in a new spot – directly in front of the front door. Yes, directly in front, as in you would have to walk through a sea of motorbikes to walk into the door. Tesco tried to combat that with “No Parking” signs, but apparently Penang motorcyclists don’t like to walk and don’t know how to read. The signs did nothing to prevent them from parking there.

So Tesco had to make a choice: should they double-down on their enforcement and start locking the wheels of the motorcyclists and make them pay a find, or do they give in and admit defeat?

Luckily, they admitted defeat. They kicked out all of those cars which were legally parking in the spots from the photo above. They repainted the lines and gave the motorcyclists the choice spots directly in front of the building.

This is proper governance in action. Instead of just enforcing a policy for the sake of enforcing a policy, the policy, which wasn’t working, was changed to meet the needs of an important constituency. Do you have any idea how many motorcyclists live in Penang?

It wasn’t a matter of public safety. It wasn’t a matter of great importance. It was a simple matter which was made better by listening to the people.

Now I am the beneficiary of a new motorbike parking spot. I must publicly thank all of the law-breakers which brought about this wonderful new scenario.