Or none of the above? That was the situation that greeted me recently whilst scanning the aisles of a supermarket in Bali. I didn’t become flustered, though, as both Sensodyne and Pepsodent were available. Phew! Something as mundane as brands of toothpastes is an everyday thought for me whilst I’m out and about on data collection trips and pricing the right sort of brands is essential. Expatriate shopping habits can be very different to those of the locals and so choosing the brands is important. There are many brands which readers will be familiar with on their weekly supermarket shops but often when thousands of miles away your ‘usual’ choices are nowhere to be seen. There are, however, some brands which truly are global and are good barometers for comparing costs in different countries. You’ve no doubt all seen the likes Heineken beer, Nivea moisturiser, Heinz ketchup, Nescafe coffee, Pampers nappies, Kellogg’s cornflakes, Dove soap, Barilla pasta, Marlboro cigarettes and Colgate toothpaste in your local supermarket and these are some of the few brands which really have penetrated the global market and rarely not available in any country. There are of course exceptions, as my toothpaste dilemma highlighted in Bali – although Colgate is readily available in other shops on the island!
Bali was my fourth destination in Indonesia and is quite different to the rest of the country. Hinduism is the dominant religion on the island rather than elsewhere in Indonesia where Islam is the most practised. Perhaps for this reason the island is sold as a tourist destination for Westerners to come and party, surf, drink and relax on the beaches. I stayed in an area called Kuta in the south of Bali where, being a white foreigner, I was in the majority – every other soul seemed to be an Aussie. The tourism market took a nosedive back in 2002 when a huge bomb exploded at a nightclub (a short walk from my hotel) in the Kuta area killing over 200 people, and was dented again by a lethal explosion in 2005. The tourism industry has now recovered fully and accounts for over three quarters of Bali’s economy. Because of the sheer number of foreigners, availability of day to day goods is plentiful, especially at the gourmet Bali Deli supermarket in the suburb of Seminyak – definitely worth checking out if you happen to be on a grocery run in southern Bali.
Moving on from the soulless Starbucks and McDonalds heavy environs of Kuta I arrived in my penultimate destination of this mammoth trip, back on the Indonesian island of Batam for the second time in a year. Forty years ago the island had no roads and only 7000 people but today over 700 global companies have operations on the island, chiefly in the manufacturing and logistics sectors. Only ten miles over the water from Singapore the city is still light years behind its neighbour. Even the recent opening of a new mall has not really helped improve the shopping environment. It’s a fairly dour place, to be honest, and I’m sure expats living in the city take advantage of Batam’s proximity to Singapore (only 50 minutes by boat) to indulge every once in a while.
I’m now in Medan, Indonesia’s fourth largest city, and largest on the island of Sumatra. I have to say, from what I’ve seen so far, it’s not the most fascinating of places, more functional than exciting. Or maybe it’s just my ‘Indonesia fatigue’ after six weeks on the road and six Indonesian cities in just over two weeks! Either way, I’m looking forward to recharging my batteries back in London before heading out on another long trip through the Caribbean and Central and South America. Right, I’m off to Carrefour now to see how much Colgate Total Pro-Gum Health costs!
And my poser for this post – What are the only two double-landlocked countries in the world, i.e. themselves surrounded by landlocked countries? Answers on a postcard please – failing that the comments box below will do!