By Tuesday of this week the evidence on downtown Regent Street pointed to the non-arrival, up until now of what we in Guyana describe as the Christmas spirit.’ Part of it is usually manifested in the jousting for space on the pavement between shoppers and vendors, each group animated in their separate preoccupations – .with shopping and vending, respectfully. By Tuesday, too, the carols were not yet blaring from the music sets inside the stores and the impossible sea of humans that comprise the crush that becomes a haven for pickpockets had not yet built up its full head of steam.
There was, however, unmistakable evidence of things to come, manifested in what we in Guyana call ‘window shopping,’ a system comprising a mix of checking out the stores and pricing the desired item in anticipation of another excursion into the city, perhaps next week to pursue the Christmas shopping in earnest.
The Chinese merchants, viewed not too many years ago as unwelcome interlopers who simply came along to cash in on the most lucrative time of the year for the traders, are now well and truly entrenched. They have cultivated a sufficiently adequate understanding of the Guyanese Christmas culture to replace most if not all of the traditional seasonal paraphernalia made in various parts of Europe with Chinese-made Christmas bric-a-brac. They import in volumes, offer their goods at competitive prices and, these days, provide steady jobs mostly for young, urban girls.
The Chinese have established a mutually beneficial relationship with the pavement traders. Particularly at Christmas, no one challenges the legitimacy of their operations any longer.
Amidst the flood of Chinese stores which, these days, have made their presence felt across Guyana, the remaining handful of traditional Guyanese, mostly East Indian traders persist. On Tuesday, their employees were energetic, mindful of the saying about the ‘early bird’ catching the worm. Once the Chinese kick into ‘top gear’ with their bewildering array of seasonal goods the game will be up.
It’s difficult to tell which are the best seasonal sellers these days. Everything, ranging these days from inexpensive plastic flowers to living room suites are out on offer. It is as if at Christmas people feel the need for a comprehensive ‘makeover’ so that everything, from bathroom mats to living room suites are on the market.
Every conceivable trading space on King Street, between Regent and Robb streets is crammed with goods whilst the roadside is encumbered with a host of household items ranging from tea towels to gas cookers. Here, the store owners have unilaterally extended the boundaries of their stores onto the edge of the roadway so that motor vehicles, passing pedestrians and shoppers compete with some measure of discomfort for the same space.
It’s an arduous task to count the Chinese stores on Regent Street. To do so you will have to traverse much of the street west of Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, counting carefully as you go. Some of them are small and horribly cramped. Others, cavernous and bursting with stock extend themselves into deep spaces allowing more room for stock and for trading. Our reasonably informed opinion is that as many as 60% of the Regent Street stores are run by Chinese.
There is a case for suggesting that the Cuban shoppers are seized with the spirit of Christmas. The volumes that they purchase win them the attention that the Guyanese Christmas shopper can never have. They move easily with their crammed, oversized plastic bags, holding their own in the ‘bump and grind’ of the throngs trying to coexist in the same space……..on the Regent Street pavement. The available evidence suggests that the vendors are catching on. Every accommodation is made for the Cubans in the high street stores. The major shopping bilaterals usually take place between the Cubans and the Chinese, The Cubans’ oversized bags tell their own story.
Close to the western extreme of Water Street on the pavement outside China Trading, a man is selling apples and grapes. There are not too many takers. Time was when apples and grapes were seasonal fruit, imported from Europe to add colour to Christmas. Both have outlived their once lofty reputations.
Part two of Christmas Notes will be published next week