Despite being in central Shanghai – one of the most cosmopolitan and forward focussed metropolises in the world, finding basic toiletries such as deodorant was somewhat of a challenge.
Antiperspirant, it seems, is not a common item in Shanghai, even in the most Western of stores. Having searched every supermarket, Seven Eleven and Family Mart in a three subway stop radius I found an old skool glass bottle of Nivea extra perfumed, whitening roll-on in Carrefour (highly unsuitable for a backpack that gets thrown from the top bunk of a train on a regular basis). And, despite my lack of deodorant, I refused to pay 50 Yuan (5 quid), as I’d already been fleeced for a tenner the previous week buying a razor.
So, I finally plucked up the courage to go into the pharmacy and ask! How hard can it be? Armed with my Mandarin- English dictionary, I approached one of the maroon smock wearing ladies for help. Actually, she got to me first and spent the next two minutes following me round in an uncomfortably close manner, trying to assess whether I was about to rob the place or perhaps hoping I’d buy everything that my roaming eyes stumbled upon.
After a couple of minutes of unsuccessfully reading the Chinese labels that lined the aisles and not being able to spot anything obvious, I put my new shadow out of her misery and got out the dictionary to show “deodorant”. To my horror the word was not there, but by then it was too late, I was in the hands of not one but six mature, maroon-clad and well-meaning pharmacy assistants wanting to assist.
Did I mention that no-one spoke English and I cannot speak Mandarin? So, in trying to explain my requirements I ended up acting out applying deodorant and miming “no smelly armpits”, to which they all squawked in agreement about what I needed, handed me a white, blue and yellow box and ushered me to the payment desk.
The experience alone had been enough to bring me out in a sweat. So, if you’re travelling for a while in China, take your own toiletries!