Special order

For much of my life, I’ve wanted things I couldn’t have. Or at least, things that haven’t been available without quite a bit of time and effort. And I haven’t yet figured out exactly why this is.

It probably started in early childhood, with my fussy eating habits (which still persist to this day). For example, I cannot have onions on anything. And anything I order needs to have salads removed.

As I grew up, the pattern became apparent.

One of the earliest instances was when I finally got a Gameboy – which was my prized possession through much of my childhood. We had access to gaming magazines, and I’d see all the wonderful titles available for the platform.

The problem was, I live in South Africa – where things are not as easy to find as elsewhere. So, getting the games I wanted would largely depend on family and friends taking foreign holidays and getting them for me.

Another example would be shoes. I was probably about 9 years old when I got my first significant brand name shoes – a pair of Reeboks, brought in by my father’s work colleague from a trip to the Far East.

I’m generally not a brand name person, but I’ve loved Reebok shoes since then. Not that I have to have them, or look down on others…but it’s just my particular favourite make.

As I grew up, I would rarely be satisfied with the options available in our local shops – both Reeboks and other brands. So, when the wonders of the Internet arrived in our household during my teenage years, I was able to see the plethora of other styles available in the US and UK.

I specifically remember after high school, just before I went to university, there was one particular pair I wanted. It was, of course, not available locally, but my wonderful parents – using their overseas contacts – managed to get it for me. And so I started my university life in those shoes. Shoes which, in reality, turned out to be rather comical: they looked way too big (despite being my size), and some of the pieces on them were so delicate that they fell of very easily. I still wonder if people secretly laughed at me for wearing those clown shoes…

In my late high school years and beyond, music was the battleground of rarity. Most of the time, what I wanted was not available. If the shops had to order it, it would take 4 to 6 weeks. And I’d wait, because what other choice did I have? Online shopping was fairly inaccessible back then – both in terms of payment, and of course international shipping prices.

One particular shop, though, was like a candy store for me, because it seemed to specialise in exactly what I wanted – the rare stuff that no one else had. I once spent a whole Friday afternoon hanging around town waiting for two albums to come in, as was promised by the owner. They didn’t, and I went home empty-handed – taking busses by myself from the city centre to home. All this at the age of 16 or 17, which may not sound unique for those of you with good public transport systems, but for me, it was a first – because we avoided our public transport at the time. Besides that, though, it was slightly daunting given that crime was a serious issue back then. It was still safe enough for my parents to allow me to be alone, though. But the situation has exploded exponentially since then. I’d never dream of leaving my kids alone in town at that age, given the proliferation of abductions and kidnaps for ransom which are sadly becoming more common.

With books, it was the same story. It still is, very often – though e-books have largely solved that problem. Still, though, a screen will never be an adequate substitute for the beauty of these printed objects.

Movies, too, fell into the category of hard to find. Though we had abundant titles available locally, I’d often want items which we didn’t get here (again, except through special import).

The rarity of these items – both music and movies – contributed greatly to my spending hours on end in HMV and the Virgin Megastore when we’d visit London. (Both of those chains seem to have since died out, for the most part.)

Tech has become more prominent in my life over the last decade, so – of course – the next arena was mobile phones and tablets.

I took a particular liking to the dimensions of the 8-inch tablet. The size just worked perfectly for me: not as narrow and compressed as 7 inches, but more manageable than the standard 10 inches and beyond. And while I was able to get my first tab with relative ease, when it came time to replace it, tabs were on the way out, and 8-inch models were nowhere to be found locally.

So, of course, I got a special import (which was affordable enough, even though the local retailer didn’t even carry that model).

More recently, mobile phones became the issue. My favourite phone thus far was a compact Sony. But by the time it was on its last legs, Sony Mobile had left the country and the market was almost completely dominated by Samsung (which I disliked), Apple (above my pay grade), and Huawei (not a fan).

Along with that, phone sizes just kept growing – a disappointing trend still at work today. It irks me that no major manufacturer – other than Apple – makes a high quality truly compact phone these days. We have to settle for awkward, unwieldy giant devices with too many cameras and a lot of features that aren’t absolutely critical.

My current phone – though I love it – is just a tad bit too big. I’ve gotten used to the size, of course, but sadly, its successors have just gotten bigger and bigger. By the time it’s due for replacing, I shudder to think of the giant replacement I would be forced to accept. (And again, it would be an import, because I still don’t like the choices we’re limited to here – still crowded out by those brands who must be paying some serious money for such market domination, at the expense of other, better brands.)

In everyday life, the issue persists in common areas – such as toothbrushes. I need soft bristle brushes, but 95% of the brushes in our shops are medium strength. The soft ones are now overpriced brand names – which I refuse to pay for unless absolutely forced. There used to be a fairly reliable supply of soft bristle brands at affordable prices, but these are fast disappearing.

So, the question I must ask is: why does this pattern keep repeating itself?

  1. Is it that I simply live in a country where things are not as freely available as the first world? Undoubtedly, that is true, because if I were in the US or UK, or even somewhere in Europe, the stuff would be easier to get.


  2. Is it that my penchant for being different to the masses – being unique – inevitably leads me to a taste for that which is rare?

Of course, my stubbornness doesn’t help; the fact that I’m very reluctant to compromise and will usually hold out for exactly what I want rather than just settling on what I can get.

Whatever the case is, I just know that mine seems to be a life of special orders.

And while I recognise that this dilemma sounds incredibly privileged (First World problems, in a Third World country), it’s still a mystery that haunts me.

How about you? Do you find it difficult to get what you want? Or do you happily just settle on whatever options are available?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

2 thoughts on “Special order

  1. Being from the USA, it’s easy to get whatever you want within a 10k radius of most places, but certainly not all. It’s a big country with lots of empty spaces, and certain people who live in the wilds of Alaska, or in the deserts, or in some of the sparsely populated mountain and prairie regions, have to travel a long way to get to full-service malls with lots of shops. I almost always lived in or near major metro areas, so finding a wide variety (too many choices, really) was never a problem.

    You raise an interesting question, though. I have always been particular about the condition of books I buy (no torn pages, fuzzy corners, wrinkled covers). I also like a particular look and fit for clothes, and if I don’t find the look or the fit, I tend not to buy. I only shop for clothes sporadically, and want to make sure it’s just right. I am not nearly as particular about technology, which is weird, considering how much it costs.

  2. I think your locality actually makes you appreciate more the things that you have in your life. Waiting for things and not comprising leads to a curated and appreciated life. It’s okay to be discerning. In fact it is probably the best way to live.

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