The real story started six years ago. Stuart Thomson (bottom right), the owner of a small pet shop in the Shawlands district of Glasgow, decided he could no longer afford to have his carrier bags manufactured in Britain. He switched to a cheaper supplier in Xinjiang, western China. Once he had printed the 120,000 ordered, the new supplier applied for an export grant from the Chinese government. Through a quirk in the system, manufacturers can obtain a subsidy if their products are defective. The manufacturer simply changed the colour of the bags from white to yellow, slapped on the wrong phone number and distributed the bags, in their tens of millions, throughout western China. The bags were an instant hit. Soon they were being shipped across the border to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. All along the Silk Route, where caravans had once brought spices, jade and lacquerware from China, where the great civilisations of East and West had met and exchanged ideas and religions, the plastic bags spread. Bags that in the Pollokshaws Road had been used to take home budgerigar seed and cat litter were now ferrying hoi sin sauce and samovars. The bags are even used by fur-sellers to wrap up their hats, often made from the fur of endangered species. A Pet Shop bag containing a baby snow-leopard cap is a common sight in Kashgar.
The irony is lost on the locals. Most of them can't read the writing on the bags. In this isolated region, even Russian and Mandarin are foreign languages. It doesn't matter a jot to shoppers in Kyrgyzstan that they are advertising a store more than 3,000 miles away, in a city they've never heard of.
To Stuart Thomson, the free publicity is something of a joke. He has had hardened Asia travellers turning up in Pollokshaws Road to pay their respects to his ersatz shrine. A Channel 4 crew filming the famous Kashgar Sunday market rang to complain that his ubiquitous Glaswegian carrier bags were making a mockery of their attempts to evoke an exotic Eastern atmosphere. They should have directed their complaints to the Chinese plastics industry. Across four million miles of Asia, The Pet Shop bags of Pollokshaws Road have become a mass-produced phenomenon, a bizarre by-product of the global village, a curious testimony to subsidised pricingReuse content