Saturday, August 05, 2006


Probably one of the funniest sequences from Last Chance To See is Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's fruitless attempt to buy condoms in Shanghai's Friendship Store. It is a standard BBC emergency underwater recording technique to simply cover a regular microphone with a condom (or three). Douglas, Mark and their recording crew needed the "protection" as they wanted to record the cacophony beneath the surface of the river Yangtze and show just what the Baiji Dolphins were experiencing. It was this noise that caused the dolphins to stray blindly into boat propellers.

I recall Michael Palin also described the condom method of protecting a microphone during his "Full Circle" adventure as he rode an inflatable raft down the rapids of a New Zealand river.

So, what about the store today? Here's a page from The Friendship Store website...
The Friendship stores have now evolved into a six-story department store selling foreign and domestic goods that welcomes everyone. The store sells a wide range of traditional Chinese goods and handicrafts including watercolor paintings, cashmere clothing, porcelain, jade, rugs and traditional Chinese medicine. Still today, you can find many things in its extensive selection of goods you don't find elsewhere, from more traditional souvenirs to imported products from all over the world.

Moreover, Friendship store combines traditional Chinese merchandise to the most convenient day-to-day products, to add to the brief list mentioned above, we also put at our customers' disposal fashion clothes and jewelry, top quality tea, shoes, souvenirs, handbags, backpacks, wallets, electric appliances like walkmans, digital cameras and so on.
But what about condoms? Here's how Douglas Adams described their visit to the Shanghai Friendship Store in Last Chance To See...
We tried to explain to her what it was we wanted, but seemed to reach the limit of her vocabulary pretty quickly. I got out my notebook and drew a condom very carefully, including the little extra balloon on the end.

She frowned at it, but still didn't get the idea. She brought us a wooden spoon, a candle, a sort of paper knife, and surprisingly enough, a small porcelain model of the Eiffel Tower and then at last lapsed into a posture of defeat.

Some other girls from the stall gathered round to help, but they were also defeated by our picture. At last I plucked up the bravado to perform a delicate little mime and at last the penny dropped.

'Ah!' the first girl said, suddenly wreathed in smiles. 'Ah yes!'

They all beamed delightedly at us as they got the idea.

'You do understand?' I asked.

'Yes! Yes, I understand.'

'Do you have any?'

'No,' she said, 'Not have.'


'But, but, but...'


'I say you where you go, OK?'

'Thank you very much. Thank you.'

'You go 616 Nanjing Road. OK. Have there. You ask "rubber-over". OK?'
So for all your "rubber-over" needs, head on down to those helpful folks at Shanghai No. 1 Pharmacy Store, 616 Nanjing Road, Shanghai, China - Telephone: 6322 4567 (source).

Anyone dare ring them up and record the conversation...?

1 comment:

Roger B. said...

Excellent stuff. With all the campaigns to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS around the globe, I would hope condoms are a little easier to buy in Shanghai today!