Sunday, March 05, 2006

A visit to Zhenya's store

Today, as promised, I went to see Zhenya’s store. I took a marshrutka to another part of the city, walked along the banks of a river, and found it, as she described, along the riverbank.

It’s called Cosmos and used to be a Soviet store. Until Zhenya and her Turkish friend opened store, it stood vacant. Her Turkish partner rents half the store and sells groceries there. In Zhenya’s half, she sells drugstore type goods – socks and nylons, hair dye, shampoo, makeup, Turkish dishes and small gifts.

She’d had her hair done in a new style that would last a week – taking her through the March 8th holiday. Her short, straight bangs lay in a row across her forehead. The rest of her hair rose from her scalp in puffy black curls, as though she was wearing a headband. She wore a maroon and yellow Alokozay Tea smock (donated by the tea company) over her zip-up fleece sweater. She stood in front of a colorful assortment of razors, air fresheners, laundry soap, and bottles of shampoo and lotion she’d wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow for the holiday.

She was very disappointed to find the nylons she’d picked up with me at the market were not good quality. She usually sells them for 40, but had to reduce the price to 25.

“Boy, he really got me,” she said, referring to the Chinese vendor. “I couldn’t believe that they cost only 10.”

“You yourself said that if a price is too cheap, it should be obvious to buyers that it’s Chinese quality,” I said, laughing, and she agreed. It should be obvious to her buyers, but it wasn’t always obvious to her as a buyer.

I saw the hair ties, mascara and nail polish we’d purchased together at the market, integrated into her stock. She showed me small clown figures her son Algubek makes from plaster molds and paints herself. She sells them for 15 som.

She paused near the paper, which she sells by the sheet. “This is really profitable,” she said. “It costs me half a som per piece and I sell it for one som per piece. I make several dollars on the packet of paper. Unlike sugar, where it’s heavy and you have to weight it and can only add a som or two per kilogram. With paper, no one complains about the price and they even thank me.”

She gave me a present for Women’s Day. Inside a box was a cheap, silver-colored ring with a place for a stone. Inside a peel-open can was a live clam. I was supposed to open it, take the clam out of the murky water, pry it open, and find a pearl inside. The color of the pearl would have a certain meaning.

“The Chinese really think of everything, don’t they?” she asked.

“Yes, they sure do,” I replied, as I thanked her, then stuck the live clam in my backpack and wondered how I could get out of tearing it open.

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