On a Sunday afternoon in Shanghai, I began a search for dental floss.
It turns out that my roll of floss ran out in a country that doesn’t seem to use it.
My exploration reached a climax at Shanghai's largest pharmacy, or so the sign reported in front of a building of several stories on famed Nanjing Danglu, a shopping street of renoun that leads to the Bund, the city's commercial and financial center.
You can buy and replace almost anything you want on Nanjing Danglu, but not a roll of dental floss.
Inside the bustling pharmacy, full of shoppers and at least one uniformed clerk for each buyer, I located a woman who spoke English. She directed me to an escalator for the second floor, after she wrote a Chinese symbol on a scrap of lined paper, so clerks upstairs would know what I wanted.
Up the escalator, I came to another information booth of clerks who directed me to a display several aisles away. There, I found a single selection of packages of floss picks, which are small individual sticks shaped like a hack saw, with a single string of dental floss where the blade would go.
It wasn't what I wanted (and you really don't want to know why), but it was the only choice in the largest pharmacy in Shanghai.
So, I decided to buy one from among a dozen packages of picks that were hanging from a hook. All were fastened in such a way that none of the packages could be released from the hook.
Once again, I called for help -- and there was plenty of that hanging around.
When a clerk arrived, I gestured toward what I wanted. With her own gestures, the woman clerk indicated that first I would have to pay for it. She wrote symbols on another piece of paper, which I carried to another clerk sitting at a cash register in the corner. I handed her my credit card and signed for 21 Yuan (a little more than $3). When I returned to the aisle that displayed the hook of floss picks, my clerk was standing there, ready with my purchase, which she handed me -- after I gave her a copy of my receipt. Lots of paperwork.
The point of all this is twofold:
1) If you are inclined to floss, you should pack plenty of dental string for your trip to China.
2) Clearly, China has not downsized its work force to counter the most recent world recession.
That's when China seemed half a globe away from America.