I am sure most of you have experienced the pleasures of shopping in a modern air-conditioned supermarket with everything you could possibly want on the well-stocked shelves. This is not a story about that. This, my dear friends, is about reality in the deep dark Palm oil plantation country of Borneo.
My local supermarket had, I’ve been told, come into existence a mere 20 years ago, but to the uninitiated, it appears to be at least three score years plus ten. ( older than me)
The owners haven’t felt the need to modernise with a coat of paint or a dab of plaster since construction. The interior has the ambiance of a post nuclear apocalypse, cans and packets of food are strewn across the aisles as the highly motivated staff ( cough, cough) unpack to stack the shelves during all of the opening hours. This would normally not be a problem, but the two-and-a-half-foot wide aisles don’t cope well. Large sections of the supermarket are unreachable on any one visit, so this clever marketing ploy, coupled with the unavailability of most of the common produce on a given day ( tomatoes maybe on a Monday or if not Wednesday or if you’re really unlucky the next week. Lettuce to go with your salad, on the other hand, never arrives the same day) makes you return again and again to enhance the shopping experience.
Yes, it’s a total lottery; as a behavioural psychologist would put it – intermittent positive reinforcement. Nothing like it to make you salivate.
Talking about fruit and veg, the produce, all of it is tightly wrapped multiple times in plastic film. You can look but not touch. This gives the appearance of conformity. The only way to recognise a bulk of it is by colour. Impossible to tell if it’s fresh or not – plastic all smells the same. Needless to say, we do have some little surprises when we open up at home.
The plastic thing reminds me of the time I found cheese with mould growing inside an unopened plastic wrapper. Expiry date was ok. That’s real skill you must admit.
May have something to do with the leaking freezers. The tiles or what’s left of them next to the deep freeze bubble and burp with what I think is rising damp. The owners do their very best to ignore it by throwing broken down cardboard boxes over it. They, in turn get saturated and disintegrate. Word of warning here; never wear flip flops or sandals. Body weight will force the brown fluid over your toes. My wife says it smells like rats urine. I told her I didn’t think so. Never seen more than a couple of rats at anyone time, the stench being so strong it would rot your socks off. You would need an army of rats to create that smell, but I must admit it’s hard to identify. What does concrete cancer mixed with effluent smell like?
Buying sliced bread is a bit of an art form. I used to, back home, feel the bread to see if it was soft and springy to the touch. Being warm was a bonus because it meant it was very fresh; doesn’t work here though. It’s always hot because it sits in the window with the tropical sun as company.
You know what I think?
I have a sneaky suspicion the uncooked dough is placed into the plastic bags to bake by solar energy. How’s that for efficiency!
Check out is well… slow to…. well you know. The cash registers are only a few feet from the first row of shelves and you thought traffic in Kuala Lumpur was bad! No useless modern conveniences like scanners here.
The shoppers who don’t like carrying too much tend to drop off their growing list of items onto the cashiers counter. So when you arrive to pay for your own groceries the counter is already full with others. Very messy indeed. Oh well I only need to do this 5 days in 7………