Communiqué # 6: There’s a distinct aroma at the entrance of the subterranean Wal-Mart store in downtown Wuhan, a sprawling city of 11 million on the Yangtze River in far-off central China.
A quick glance at the fish tanks near the meat department explains why.
Live frogs and turtles share a tank, marked at 16 yuan ($3.20) and 41 yuan ($8.20) a pound respectively.
Wal-Mart provides hand-held nets for their customers, who dip into the tanks and present their live catch at a counter.
Just like any Wal-Mart in America, the store crawls with boisterous children accompanying their parents shopping for their daily necessities.
The Chinese have little reason to resent the story behind the everyday low prices. They are the story. The $12 jeans and $25 slacks have Chinese tags that indicated the province, not the nation, of origin.
It’s clear that China, the world’s most populous nation, isn’t just an export platform for Wal-Mart. It’s a significantly growing market as well.
Minnesota retailers like Best Buy seem to understand this, which is why they’re showing no signs of retreating from China, even as the nation’s growth rate slows and its government stimulus program gradually phases out.
Surprisingly to some American visitors, the prices on the electronic merchandise seem on a par with Minneapolis or Chicago, the Midwestern commercial and transportation hubs to which Wuhan aspires. The city also sees itself as an inland river port, consciously inviting comparisons between the Yangtze and Mississippi Rivers.
A DVD player goes for about $220 at the Wal-Mart in bustling downtown Wuhan, which also has KFC and Pizza Hut. A 32-inch flat screen TV sells for $460. American prices for up-and-coming middle-class Chinese consumers – who can also pick up a 450-gram packet of nummy jellyfish for 11 yuan ($2).
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