Puzzling Packaging

By Vyt Karazija

Buying food in Bali is an adventure. I’m not talking about those imported food and beverage items that are now subject to usurious taxes and duties imposed by the perennially greedy and terminally myopic dunderheads in Jakarta. I can’t afford those now anyway. And even if I could, I would still flatly refuse to buy them, simply to prevent the government from gouging us for every single rupiah they can get their paws on.

No, I’m talking about local supermarket products, the stuff that is produced or packaged locally and doesn’t attract the horrifically business-unfriendly government imposts, and is therefore relatively affordable. The trouble is, the way these things are packaged is quirky at best, often misleading and downright hostile to the consumer at worst.

A high-end deli in Seminyak sells a good-quality ice-cream in fairly small tubs. The size is perfect for those of us who like to fool ourselves that not buying a two-litre container will force us to reduce our portion size, thereby slowing down the process of waist expansion. The strategy works, but not for the reason you might think. It works because you can’t get the lid off. Because of either appallingly bad design or because Weight Watchers have paid the company to do so, the lid has no known method of removal. It can not be twisted off. It can not be pried off. It has no tear-off strips which might free some obscure mechanism to unlock it.

I tried screwdrivers, pliers and chisels to no avail. I tried clamping the lid while exerting maximum torsional force of the body of the thing. I tried running hot water over the lid to free a possible frozen thread, which turned out not to exist anyway. In desperation, I cut the lid off with a Stanley knife, thereby rendering it useless for resealing. I couldn’t even eat the contents, because by the time I had finished opening it, the damned ice-cream had all melted.

And have you noticed that toilet paper rolls have shrunk in overall size in the past year? Not only that, they are now wound on cardboard cores of much larger diameter. The formulation of the glue that sticks the first layer to the roll has changed too. It’s now a watery goop that penetrates twenty layers into the roll, making the first few metres useless. To hell with it – I’m going native. Stay away from my left hand.

Don’t worry about catching any disease from me, though. You can get those for nothing from local eggs, the packaging for which has been obviously designed by someone whose native language isn’t English. Emblazoned on the carton is a marketing slogan, proudly stating, “Free Salmonella!” “Free E.coli!”

At least we don’t have to pay for the bacteria here.

More strife results from local tins of sardines not having a pull tab. Inconvenient, but not really a problem if you have a can opener. You have to understand that locally made can openers have cutting components with the tensile strength of mie goreng; but that’s not the real problem. The cans you want to open often have a top rim which is higher than the depth of the cutter; so it doesn’t reach the lid anyway. I am so sick of chewing cans open that I have given up sardines.

Here’s a pro tip for you. Local packets of frozen bakso balls need care in defrosting if you are in the habit of using a microwave. Nestling among the meatballs – and hidden inside the opaque plastic packaging – are several sealed plastic sachets of sauces. Unfortunately there are also two foil packets of dried spices. Foil isn’t exactly microwave-friendly. Not only do the sauce sachets explode, but the hidden foil packets create a pyrotechnic display inside the oven that would be quite spectacular if it wasn’t so scary, especially at night.

Then there is the packaging of local pies. My inner bogan sometimes requires to be fed a pie. Not those awful designer pies that have replaced the real thing, but a good old-fashioned Four’n’Twenty-style Aussie pie. I don’t care if they aren’t nutritious, or are out of style – I sometimes just want a pie. Recently I discovered that my favourite coffee shop (which has inexplicably renamed itself after a mixture of beer and lemonade) stocks Aussie pies. I was in heaven, particularly when the owner said he was willing to sell me some of his frozen stock.

So here I am, sitting at home on a Saturday night. Mouse in hand, my eyes are glued to the computer screen. Outside in the real world, hordes of socially addicted Bali glitterati swan around the bars, restaurants and clubs while the entourages of the visiting elites speed down temporarily empty streets. The peasants, of course, gridlocked and muttering, are forced to wait out of sight and out of mind. Inside my comfortable villa oasis, which some unkindly refer to as my “rut,” my writing binge has made me feel peckish. Inexorably, I am drawn by the siren song of the pie waiting in my freezer.

It sits in its plastic wrapper, beckoning. The bold legend says “Aussie Meat Pie – Original Taste.” Smaller type betrays its origins as a local product, but no matter. I reverently put it in the microwave, ignoring the warning  that says: “Remove from packaging before heating.” Ha! I’m not stupid. As an experienced pie-warmer, I know that you always leave a pie in its bag for heating. You can’t fool me.

The oven dings, and I reach eagerly for my pie. It is no longer a pie. It turns out that I am stupid. Unlike every other pie in known space, the packaging for a Bali pie is apparently made from shrink-wrap plastic which contracts to a third of its original size, but only along one axis. I am staring at a pulsating sausage, ready to explode and coat me with boiling beef shrapnel. With the studied focus of a bomb-disposal sapper, I extract the deformed thing from the oven and eventually manage to remove it without harm to myself or the banjar.

Then I discover I have no tomato sauce. No tomato sauce! A pie without tomato sauce is like Legian street without traffic, a restaurant meal without a grimy urchin thrusting leather thongs at you, or a line of traffic without a suicidal local attempting to pass everyone on a blind corner. In other words, it’s utterly inconceivable. The chilli sauce I am forced to use is an extremely poor substitute.

But fortunately, because it takes me five minutes of frustration to work out how to get the weirdly designed top off, it makes me completely forget about the shrinking pie bag fiasco.

It doesn’t take much to keep me happy in Bali.

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