Because of reasons, I decided to buy a new scarf yesterday. So I wandered down the street that our Hutong comes out of looking for scarves.
The first shop I went into was very upmarket looking, so in my western arrogance, I assumed I would be able to get a great deal. Sadly, it was not to be. The scarves (which I hope were cashmere) were about $300.
But I found a much more promising shop. It was a rabbit warren, jam packed full of counters, each tended by a severe looking middle-aged woman and selling a specialized woolley garment of some kind. When I mimed a scarf to several, they shook their heads at me. As I persevered, finally one took pity on my and let me to the scarf lady.
Once I had chosen a scarf, she filled out a form in triplicate, and let me to the cashier, yet another middle aged lady in her own special wooden booth, reminiscent of a confessional, in the middle of the shop.
She took my money, and gave me two of the forms back, one of which I exchanged for my scarf.
It wasn’t very communist, because there were quite a few helpful people. But it was about as close as we’ve come so far in this land of entrepreneurs.