It felt like just another afternoon at Costco, only I wasn't at the one I went to as a kid in Fresno, California, but one of the three in Taiwan's capital city, Taipei. I had tagged along with my friend and his sister to see how the Taiwanese version of the wholesale powerhouse compared to my childhood memories.
"Does it smell like the one you go to?" Jessica asked me as we walk through the immaculate parking garage into the store.
It hadn't even occurred to me to smell the place, but as soon as we walked into the massive labyrinth of bulk goods, it did smell like the one in America. The Taipei Costco had the same cinderblock walls, red and white logos—I felt right at home.
Our first stop was to the food court. We ordered things you could get in the States like a hot dog, a Caesar salad, a chicken sandwich, and a Pepsi. We also ordered something you can't get: shaved ice with mango and ice cream. The crunchy ice granules were a blessing after spending the day in the city's tropical heat.
I dressed the very long all-pork hot dog with sauerkraut, relish, onions, mustard, and ketchup, realizing that I had no idea how to dress a hot dog properly until it was too late.
After downing the American and Taiwanese fare, watching the young families nosh on slices of seafood pizza and cups of chowder, we got to shopping.
This Costco was a lot newer and nicer than the one I grew up on. It was filled with the same dad stuff like tents and coolers and Kirkland-brand booze. Western brands like Quaker and Glad® ClingWrap sat on shelves next to Korean ginseng chicken soup. In the super-chilled produce room where you can see your breath, they sold California avocados and local leafy greens.
Sampling worked differently. There were set times when a sample station was ready to dole out tiny bites of food like kimchi or even just slices of plum. Customers lined up patiently to wait for their morsel, then ambled to the next booth to repeat the assembly line process.
My heart sang when we made it to the bakery. No snack brought me more joy in all of my school years than the Costco muffin. The glorious treats brought me comfort beyond reason, and here they were, nearly 7,000 miles from home.
It seemed like there wasn't much missing from this Costco away from home. You could get your muffins, and your black sea cucumbers, too. I left full of hot dog and nostalgia.