TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - Need divine protection but pressed for time? Don't worry, just drop into one Taiwanese convenience store, make a donation and an offering will be made in your name at one of the island's most famous temples.
Such spiritual services symbolize the innovations available at Taiwan's convenience stores, whose increasing dominance of the local shopping scene reflects a deep social change as better wages and opportunities draw more people to city life.
Food shops, cafes, banks, travel agents, offices and even recyclers rolled into one, convenience stores are always open and on almost every street corner, catering to an ever-faster pace of life in the island's cities.
"As people's life patterns change because of urbanization, they are willing to pay a tad more money to buy convenience and time," said Chang Chia-ming, a sociology professor at Soochow University in Taipei.
"The 'convenience store-isation' of society is most intense in Japan, and then Taiwan. Now it is making its way to some cities in China too."
Most apartments in Taiwan's urban areas are only at most 500 meters from a 7-11 or FamilyMart, the dominant chains in Taiwan.
The island has one store for every 2,489 people, the highest density in the world, and figures from Nielsen show each Taiwanese shops in one on average 17 times a month.
"The higher the density and competition, the more convenience they have to provide," Chang said.
The dense interweaving of convenience stores and local culture may have begun in Japan, where the stores are ubiquitous and affectionately known as "konbini," but Taiwan's stores take services offered to new heights.
While sipping a freshly brewed coffee or eating a hot bowl of noodles, for example, you can pay your utility or credit card bill, insurance premium, tax or school tuition fees, or even order a replacement driving license. FamilyMart expects over 100 million bills to be paid at its stores this year.
Don't forget to bring used batteries and compact discs to exchange for a discount, or get $5 for a broken notebook PC or 50 cents for a mobile phone. One chain even trialed garbage disposal for a sort time.
For some, the stores almost seem to be life itself.
"It doesn't matter where I live, I will survive as long as there is a convenience store," said Ophelia Chen, a 30-year-old record store manager.
(Editing by Jonathan Standing and Elaine Lies)