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Taiwanese Free Gifts

My House in Taiwan is filled from the top to bottom with free gifts. I am tripping over them on the floor, cursing them when they fall out of cupboards and stuffing them into cupboards when and where I can find a space. Free Gifts are becoming annoying yet there is not much I can do about it. I cannot refuse or ignore a free gift now can I?

Everybody and his dog own a credit card in Taiwan: Visa or Master Card. Most people in Taiwan have more than one Credit Card and many have hundreds of them. Credit Cards are easier to obtain than a pint of milk and are freely available at every store, garage and shop and in any color or design that you wish for. All one has to do is go along to the shop in question give an ID number, a current address (that could be false), sign a form and wait a few days for the card to arrive.

Once the Card arrives, a high spending limit is freely given and a free gift is thrown at you. Get the idea? Apply for a credit card and you get a free gift. Once you have the Credit Card and the Free Gift both are thrown into a drawer and forgotten about until the Company offers another free gift. The action of freely throwing Credit Cards at people has caused many persons to run into serious debt and to find themselves in big trouble – but that is another story.

This story is about “freebies”. The shops attract customers in a variety of ways. The latest one at the President Department Store was that anybody that spends over 200NT Dollars could buy one handy-sized traveler’s bag for: an additional 290NT Dollars. NB: 100NT Dollars is about 2 UK Pounds or 3 US Dollars, so I must admit that the incentive is there. You could of course only get hold of this Superb Bag if you have the store Visa Card. Three visible queues where formed on this day that the bags where on offer. One for people trying to spend the minimum amount of 200NT Dollars at the Candy store to keep their children happy. The other queue was for those collecting their treasures and the third was for those starting the whole purchase off by obtaining the Credit Card. Too late for the handy sized bag but ready for the next time.

Free gifts are a massive attraction and seem to work very well. I am of the view that anything that is free must be cheap of quality and have something wrong with it. I do though admit that my new handy sized traveler’s bag may come in useful the next time I travel.

Walking around town I am often surprised out of my daydreams by objects being thrust into my hands. It is not normal for me to take note or acknowledge street sellers or hawkers but when “free gifts” are actually freely given I cannot really refuse them. Walking past the three or so Department Stores that vie for the same customers I can end up with a pile of shampoo sachets, little packets of toothpaste with a shortened toothbrush, a packet of cream biscuits and some things that are only for woman. Walk back down the row once again and I am sure that I could do the shopping for a week without having spent a penny (sorry Dollar).

I fitted this little notice board in the apartment so that we could put on it anything of importance. First of all I have found out that the board is far too small, and the second thing is that any sized board would still be far too small. The current pin board is ten sheets deep in “free” gift tokens, coupons for free drinks, reductions on anything from a T-shirt to a large TV Set. Ten dollars off this product, twenty percent off that product and three for the price of one if you present the card on a certain day. Cards that need stamps on them and if you get twenty stamps you can have a member card. Little tokens that need to be used, a token for a free drink from the Seven Eleven, a token for a free doughnut from the local bakery and a little token for a free massage from the parlor down the road.

Sad really that some of these tokens will never be used. The Seven Eleven token will be if I ever remember to take it out when I go there. But the doughnut one is a bit peculiar as the shop that gave the tokens away, never made doughnuts since! And the free massage? Well that one sits hopefully hidden but the wife would never allow it.

The Cheese shop annoys me. They give these cards out and if you can spend, over time, upwards of ten thousand dollars then you get a member card and a subsequent 20% discount on all future purchases. For me that would be great and I have spent well over that amount and probably do so every two months or so. I am a cheese addict and this shop is the only good one for hundreds of miles around. Yet every time I am accidentally at the shop and in desperate need of a cheese pick me up I do not have the card with me. Going back to the house is not practical as it is too far away. Waiting for another day when I do have the card is also not practical: addicts need their injections then and now. Not tomorrow, not later but now and so into that shop I go, buy my cheese and get another stamp on a brand new card.

I ask and continue to ask if they will take all of my cards and add the stamps together, assuming that this would be the case. I also hope that because I am a regular and keep their shop alive that they will make allowances for my forgetfulness. No, that is not to be as either my face is easily forgettable or they have a grudge against me. No way will they accept my twenty or more cards with one stamp each – they want to see one card with twenty stamps on it.

Yes, my little notice board is a confusion of incentives. So many freebies, coupons and stamp cards, that would take me a week to unravel and another year to act upon. Goods that are only reduced on a certain day of the week, points to collect before a blanket can be freely obtained, meals to eat if we have one first and free months worth of pet food if we first buy a pet! Wow, I was considering placing all of these incentives onto a specially made computer program. First thing in the morning I could wake up, switch the machine on and check the list of things that I must do today and take advantage of all that is on offer.

My Computer tells me this: Breakfast at the Coffee Shop first, as I will get a free coffee if I spend over 100NT Dollars. Then I will take my stamp coupons to the Cheese shop and buy some cheese, then go to the Garage for some Petrol and get some free Tissues (the garage that is miles away from anywhere). After returning with my free box of tissues I would then have to collect the correct coupon and go to the Seven Eleven for my Free Green Tea. I would drink that on my way to the Electrical Goods store where handy sized Food Mixers are on a one-day special offer (even though I don’t need one). Then go and pay my Telephone Bill where I have a coupon for a free shopping bag to add to the collection that I have already.

Feeling Hungry I would then consider lunch and look around for the shop that advertises half price lunches or the one that I have a coupon for a free drink from. Back on the road it would be off to the Department Stores to act upon all those incentives that came with my Credit Cards. The first one and I come out with freely given set of Cooking Pots that I do not need but because I have a Visa Card I must not ignore. The next store suggests that I spend over 400NT Dollars in the Store and then they will give to me an Electric Fan. Armed with my fan and set of cooking pots and 400 Dollars worth of food I enter the last Department Store in the area.

Umbrellas here today, a free umbrella because I have a Visa Card? Yep, but how am I going to fit it into the umbrella stand back home as that is filled and squashed full with hundreds of other similar products received previously. Never rains in winter in Southern Taiwan anyway. But it is free!

Overloaded with products and wishing that it would rain I now have to buy some milk. Yes buy, as we actually need some milk back home. Entering the Supermarket I am glad that at last I am doing something worthwhile, that I am not after a free gift or extra stamp and that I am just doing what I would like to do: to buy something. Was I ever so wrong!

I hate shopping for milk. Standing at the Milk Fridge I am bombarded from all sides by various ladies trying to attract me to their milk product. Each one offering tastes and price reductions, waving bottles in my face and cornering me, isolating me from the outside world. Buying milk is not easy, it is an exercise in patience and perseverance, don’t lose control or you will be pulled under. Best to stand far away from the fridge and out of sight, put your eye on the product that you want and then charge towards it, grab it and make a fast getaway. If that is, at all possible?

I left the supermarket with my milk, cartons of blueberry yogurt issued freely with that brand that had been chosen for me and feeling sick on the samples that had been forced down my throat! I also left cursing myself for buying the reduced ‘larger’ sized carton when all I wanted was a little one.

That is Milk buying!

Anyway, time to go back home and drop of all the purchases before buying that much needed drink that had Five Dollars off - if I bring the token along.

Drink in hand my computer program now tells me that it is time to go to the large supermarket to get a free blanket on my visa card! Buy a carton of Orange Juice because they are on promotion – buy one get one free. Then onto the out-of-town department store to get their visa card because today they are offering free teddy bears. Won’t get one today but I will be ready for next time.

Yes, I could go on and on and on. And if you think about it these “freebies” and the quest to get them could control your life. On a certain day you must go to a certain shop, on a certain day you must eat a particular food – simply because they are freebies included or are on special offer.

It is not that bad. I do not have a computer program – only imagining my little notice board becoming one. I think I will keep the notice board as it is and maybe at the New Year just throw everything away and start again.

In reality life is not like the possibilities opened up above. Ninety percent of life is lived normally and whilst ignoring all the free incentives that come your way. Only by accident do we pick up on the freebies and like the cheese they are mostly unplanned. Even if one is to pick up on the gifts it does not seem to be what you require or save you money in the long-term. The pans and plates that we obtained through the Department stores seem to rust very quickly or crack for unknown reasons, the blankets are all nylon and feel itchy and the shopping bags seem to have big holes in the bottoms after one use.

The food situation is often a lie. Take for example the con that we entered into in Kenting, the holiday resort. Kenting is a lovely place and although a bit expensive it is well worth the escape from the Big Smoke of Kaohsiung. Walking along my wife and I saw this large notice that advertised a 199NT Dollar meal complete with Soup, Main Course, Dessert and a drink. At that price it was a bargain and I looked forwards to the Steak and my wife some spicy chicken wings as advertised. Oooh, ah!

Sitting down in the restaurant the attentive staff brought us our free drink of choice. But upon opening the menu all did not seem, as it should. My steak alone cost a minimum of 450NT Dollars! Upon enquiry the waitress informed us that the 199NT Dollar meal was only for lunch and that we should have looked at the small print on the notice outside. Small Print? Need a magnifying glass for that.

Well, we looked at each other, my wife wanting to storm out and go somewhere else and I just wanting to finish my beer and then to wander off. I won and I ordered some Taco Chips with cheese to go with the drinks. Taco Chips with Cheese? Not really very hard to make as far as this restaurant was concerned as all they did was open a packet and pour the contents into a bowl. One packet of crisps cost us 180NT Dollars, the drinks that were not free brought the bill to nearly 500NT dollars and we had not even eaten yet.

So beware of cons, they are always out and about!

The house back home is filled with these free gifts and I am tripping over them everywhere. I cannot sell them as everybody else has the same problem and throwing them out seems to be such a waste. If possible it is best to use them and hope that they fall apart or wear themselves out in time. The only actual items that I have found to be of any use are the tissues, boxes and boxes of them obtained free everywhere I go. I do feel that all the free tissues I have received will allow me to never buy another packet again and they of all things have shown a saving in money. Those and the latest handy-sized traveler’s bag that I got from the Department Store!

Remember: “Nothing is for free” but then again never kick a “Free Gift Horse in the Mouth”.

About the Author

Ieuan Dolby is the Author and Webmaster of Seamania . As a Chief Engineer in the Merchant Navy he has sailed the world for fifteen years. Now living in Taiwan he writes about cultures across the globe and life as he sees it.

Ieuan Dolby