walk a-musing

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Garage Sale And Japanese Efficiency

Now that summer is here, there are a number of garage sales and car boot sales in the neighbourhood during weekends. Tables laid out on the front lawn, unwanted flower vases and cycle pumps, candle stands and electric kettles, laid on the table haphazardly, some items lying in an open car boot nearby. A member of the family and perhaps a friend sitting on the chairs behind the tables sipping tea and chatting, an occasional customer stopping by to see if anything would interest him.....this is the usual scene. The sight of these sales brought back to memory another garage sale I happened to visit in Singapore.

There were eight apartments on our floor, the 16th in a building of about 30 floors. One morning as I was going about my work, I heard a buzz outside, of people talking. The sound of voices grew till I could ignore it no longer and had to open the door to see. There were a number of Chinese women standing on the landing, talking seriously in low voices. There were also a few Indonesian maids and a couple of small children. The thought occurred to me that a Chinese neighbour had died. I couldn't ask them of course, so I just closed the door and went in.
After about half an hour I stepped out to go to the gym. The number of people had increased and I found a familiar face.
I said "Hi! What’s going on?"
"Don’t you know? There is a garage sale which starts at 10 o'clock. The Japanese family is moving away"
I had seen a notice downstairs but had paid no attention.
"But people have assembled here since about an hour, and it is still 9.30!"
"Yes I know, the Japanese give away a lot of very good stuff when they move away" said my friend.
I invited her to come in and wait.
"No, this is a queue" she said. "They allow only six people at a time and I dont want to lose my place. The first ones to go in have a good choice"
I had no idea a garage sale was such serious business. But I had seen nothing yet!
When I got back from the gym after about an hour, I met a number of people emerging from the lift, carrying bags full of play things, a child’s chair, a bunch of hangers and a step ladder, and completely satisfied looks on their faces. My friend had moved close to the door but still had not gone in.
Another hour passed and I stepped out again, ready to go out on some errand. The queue had reduced, and I found another friend from a different building waiting to be let in. I stood talking to her for a minute when the door opened to allow the next batch in. I was overcome by curiosity and I walked in with my friend.
The scene that met my eyes really amazed me. Next to the door was a long table behind which two Japanese women stood. Behind them on the wall was a notice board with a number of small stickers in neat columns. One of the women offered the newcomers huge, neatly folded plastic carry bags to collect whatever they wanted to buy. As I watched, a lady walked over to the table, her bag overflowing with assorted objects. The Japanese women took the bag, emptied it, and removed a sticker from each of the objects, and stuck them in one column on the notice board, packed the bag again, counted the numbers written on the stickers, informed the total to the woman, collected the money, and sent her away with a smile.
I knew the lady of the house a little. When she saw me she smiled and welcomed me. She was walking around the house offering help to anyone who requested it. The two women behind the table were her friends. Everywhere around the house all the household objects sat tidily with neat stickers on them. Some had bold "Not for sale" stickers, others had tiny price tags. Books, toys, utensils, a few objects d'art, electronic instruments, cushions....After a survey, my curiosity was satisfied and I said bye to my friend and went my way. When I returned, it was around 2 in the afternoon. The place was quiet. There was a notice on the door which said "Special offer! 1pm to 2pm. All items 50c!"
Does a garage sale always involve such planning and organisation, I wondered. Now I feel it is just another example of Japanese efficiency.



  • At 2:53 PM, Blogger starry nights said…

    I think it is the Japanese efficiency. I have passed by many garage sales and stopped by to see a few, did not find anything really interesting.and nothing this organized.I had a garage sale once, nobody bought anything, so I just bag everything and give it to the goodwill.

  • At 9:02 PM, Blogger Shruthi said…

    Wow! Gives a totally new dimension to the "garage" sale, huh? Haven't seen one, but my impression was that there is a pile of junk and you have to sift through it to find what you want! :D
    This is interesting indeed!

  • At 9:03 PM, Blogger PRIDERA said…

    I never knew garage sales were so organised. I have always wondered if I will like things at the garage sale ... need to visit one to find out

  • At 11:31 PM, Anonymous rajani said…

    Hi! That was one garage sale, sans a garage!! I've been to a few, but yes they were nowhere near so organized...of course they weren't Japanese!!
    Just before we moved out of Singapore, I had a moving out sale and was flabbergasted at how some people haggled over the already dirt-cheap items!!

  • At 2:21 AM, Blogger GuNs said…

    This is really awesome. If I ever had a garage sale, I am sure I would be just as meticulous coz I have a fetish for keeping things proper and in order. But this is really nice and innovative. Maybe you will be trying that yourself someday !


  • At 3:44 AM, Blogger Swathi said…

    i'm wondering if we can organize such a sale here in India -would be hazaar fun i bet!

  • At 11:38 AM, Blogger confused said…

    Trust these Japs to make a factory out of anything. :)

    Come on Anu, the garage sale is for fun, for just looking at goods, breaking a few, stealing one if possible. I would faint if I ever saw the kind of garage sale you described.


  • At 6:41 AM, Blogger Deppe said…

    Yeah. Japs are cute people when they are not killing whales.

  • At 7:59 AM, Blogger Inder said…

    people in netherlands go on a mass garage-sale like thing on queen's day. sort of national-sale.

  • At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Lee said…

    Hey, came here through a comment of yours I'd seen on Chandni's blog.

    I wonder if this kind of efficiency passes on through the ages. No wonder people were standing in a queue since 9:30! And I'd like to get a generous dollop of some!

    Regarding that anonymous blogging bit, I couldn't write much on my blog, since people were reading(again). It's not how many read your page, it's WHO reads it that matters.. we can have a nice talk on this sometime!

  • At 6:58 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Sorry for the delay in replying!

    starry nights, yeah donating is the easy way out I suppose.

    Shruthi, yeah that i the impression i had too.

    pridera, whether you buy anything or not, it is interesting to see what people want to sell!

    Rajani, haha no yeah sans garage! Really? Haggling over the prices? Perhaps they think it is part of the fun? :))

    guns, oh thats nice. Btw, our charity shop participated in a car boot sale recently, held in a school compound. We actually came back with more books than we went with, because everyone who came there and had unsold books donated it to us!

    Swathi, I wonder if it works in India. Should try!

    confused, ohho, I should be careful about letting you in to my garage sale!

    deppe, hehe, yeah they are cute in a lot of ways but I cant reconcile their taste for whales with it!

    Inder, Oh I didnt know! thats interesting! So many ways to celebrate a national day...Who would imagine!

    lee, Hi! you must have wondered who it was linking your blog! I came to yours through Vikky's :)
    hmm.... that 'anonymous' idea did get me thinking

  • At 8:45 AM, Anonymous disha said…

    I like the idea because am usually too shy to actually ask the price, forget haggling!!so i usually drag one of my friend and then silently slink behind them as they do the dirty work!

  • At 11:49 AM, Blogger nevermind said…

    In hospital campuses, people sometimes give away stuff rather than go thru the hassle of a sale. So they advertise this. Needless to say, this can lead to problems, when a little group gathers, eyeing the same fridge. The English , being pathologically polite and understated, then go to great lengths to downplay their interest. Under which circumstances, the pushy Indian or American usually grabs the loot:-)

  • At 4:32 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    disha, hehee, I know what you mean. I cannot haggle either, and specially in a place that is not a regular shop where it is expected that you bargain!

    nevermind, haha thats interesting. I would be with the English there! I am not saying I am polite and understated, heehee, but I would be too embarassed to ask for something to take home without paying!

  • At 11:48 PM, Anonymous Nagraj said…

    When will u come out of hibernation your !!!

  • At 3:56 AM, Blogger Shastri said…

    Interesting read!
    I stayed in Singapore for a while. Such a cultural potpourri the country is. I wrote a light post about it on my blog too here. (In Kannada though).
    I often wondered why Singaporeans are so fond of waiting in queues. I remember some hotel offering free stay to a their first customer on a day and people tried to queue up from last night. Then there are queues whenever there is some sale on orchard street. May be they have to invent newer forms of entertainment to make up for lack of options ;)
    Thanks for your comment on my blog about astrology. Good to see a comment from someone who agrees with me. I have given up on convincing people that astrology does not work. But I thought there should be no two thoughts about it being no science. But for some people who are so blind with faith, logic does not seem to work well.


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