Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Let's Shopping!

Before I arrived in Kokopo, I really had no idea about what you could, or could not purchase here. Needless to say, I have been absolutely flabbergasted at the incredible array of food products available (couscous, balsamic vinegar, miso paste, sun dried tomatoes) and also very curious about consumption in this part of the world. Who the hell is eating couscous? These kinds of products are not cheap and locals I’ve talked to don’t even know what couscous is. Sure there are quite a few expats around, but still! One look at the use-by date on several products and you are part way to an answer. Fresh juice that expired a month ago? Lovely. Jokes aside, we are very well serviced here in Kokopo :) 

So many products!
It's the little Japanese shelf! Can you believe I can buy wasabi in PNG?
The Tropicana supermarket (across from where we live). Note all the utes and 4WDs. Anyone lucky enough to have access to a car drives something like this.

There are a number of large supermarkets in town, some of which also sell footwear (cheap runners and thongs, sorry jandels to my new found friends), clothes (T-shirts, shorts and meri blouses or muu-muus) and homewear (kettles, crockery, towels, etc). 

An overly excited mannequin at K Central Mart. Extra funny considering how conservatively people dress in PNG :)

Every store without exception sells a large array of bush knives. On more than one occasion Geoff has paused, mid grocery shop to look longingly at the bush knife display until I poop on his party and point out that a) he has no need for a bush knife and b) lacks the skills necessary to brandish one. Around here it seems that whilst Australian kids practice forming even letters with their grey leads in the pursuit of a pen license, kids in PNG start out with butter knives, move on to steak knives, and by the age of about 6, with the right kind of progress, are the proud owners of their very own machete. 

The supermarkets here can be really expensive, depending on how far something has travelled and how hard it has been to get it here in one piece. Icecream can be $30 (Australian) a tub, and a block of cadburys will set you back about $9. This is good for the waistline, but not so good for mental wellbeing. Yep, now I think I know how smokers feel………

The Kokopo market is however cheap and fabulous (although the ups and downs of the pineapple economy continue to confuse me - sometimes they cost 10 kina (about $5) then, just a few days later, only 2 kina??). You can buy all manner of tropical fruit, veges, salted fish, cooked lunches packaged in palm leaves, and buai (betel nut which gives you a high if you chew it). If you would ever like some evidence of how your tax dollars might be spent in a worthwhile fashion in overseas aid, look no further than the local market in Kokopo.  Big, covered, clean, well built, spacious with greenery – the local market is the heart of the town and built with Ausaid money. Tall breezy wooden structures house women and their small children as they sell their garden produce or crafts. The buildings are surrounding by trees and there are lots of fresh water taps and effective, covered drainage channels. When you think that some people have to travel from far away and sleep in the market the night before just to sell their produce, you can imagine how important it is to have a clean place with adequate shelter and water supply. The market also has a big colourful mural around it celebrating Papua New Guinean independence from Australia, with PNG and Aus flags. The market is a source of pride for local people and everyone keeps it clean. It must be one of the few places in town where people don’t chew and spit buai.
Mouli stands (a citrus fruit) in the market
Delicious veges, best eggplants ever. This bunch for less than 50c.

Tomatoes, capsicum, ginger and spring onion.

Lime for sale (to chew with your Betel nut for that island high)

The craft building at the market

The cooked foods stall

The PNG version of bento (called a karamap  in Tok Pisin or Tortorgor in the local tongue). Awesome environmental friendly packaging. Smoked and salted tuna in the background.
Inside the Karamap - cocount creamed greens, banana, fish and a little tomato 

The bus stop in front of the market, the mural in the background celebrates PNG independence.

Australia can’t take all the credit though, while Ausaid built the main buildings, Japanese aid also contributed in a very awesome Japanese way. In the centre of the market is a small, round building with excellent, always working air-con. Yep, it’s the Japanese funded fish room. I like to imagine a very serious JICA bureaucrat surveying the completed market, brow furrowed in a look of deep concern as he realises that no one has any means of keeping their tasty fish fresh. He hastily makes contact with Tokyo who immediately authorise the fish room’s construction. No one should have to live in these conditions! All jokes aside, the JICA program has done (and is doing) great stuff here, and the cool room is tops. (Perhaps the contributions of the various countries who provide aid to PNG is a future blog topic?)

Back to shopping….
Those of you who know Geoff well, know his deep, committed and truly passionate feelings for Savers in Footscray – a second hand clothing store. Luckily for Geoff he can still get his fix of second hand scavenging glory at ‘Labels’ – the Kokopo equivalent. Basically, shipping containers of second hand clothing come from Australia and these clothes are sold very very cheaply here in Kokopo. This means all the clothes are the same brands available in Australia, things like Susans and Target and if you’re lucky, some higher end stuff. One friend bought a Paul Smith shirt for less than a dollar. Who knew in Australia that your old discarded T-shirt might now be happily worn by a kid in rural PNG?

Kokopo also has a few pharmacies which are surprisingly good. They stock a vast array of products which reflect both the vast array of ways in which one’s health can go pear shaped in the tropics and the DIY approach that’s needed in the absence of easily accessible medical help. Serious antibiotics can be bought over the counter and the pharmacies sometimes stock the effective malaria treatments that the hospitals sadly lack.

We also have some stores selling junk food, though I'm sad to say as I type this, that I have forgotten to take a photo of the local KFC - yep, that's 'Kokopo Fried Chicken'. You'll have to take my word for it that the sign is very funny though not being a chicken eater, I can't do a taste comparison with the cuisine produced by the Kernel.  

So what’s missing from this thriving shopping precinct? Well, while there is one book shop (which mainly sells stationary) people in Kokopo lack access to reading materials. There are stores selling pirated DVDs and CDs, but books are in short supply. This is not to say that people don’t read, there are a number of newspapers in circulation and a lot of people seem to read them (usually written in English) however there is virtually nothing in the way of literature and there is no library (Ms Jeffery we need your services!).

Also I should mention, because any discussion of stores in Kokopo would be incomplete without it, that all the stores (to my knowledge) are owned by people of Chinese or Phillipino descent and this, at times, can cause tensions. Some store owners seem to do a lot to benefit the community. Other than obviously providing employment for a lot of people, they also provide scholarships to struggling secondary school students, donate prizes for school awards, etc. From what I can gather, these efforts are appreciated however tensions also exist due to frustrations about the lack of business ownership by PNG nationals, or should I say - given that people of Asian descent have been here in ENB for a very long time - people who are ethnically Papua New Guinean. Naturally, this is not a case of goodies and badies and the issue seems pretty complex. 

The frustrations spill out in various ways. I read an article in the newspaper complaining that poor people come to town from rural areas, buy cheap Chinese made products (the article was also making a point about the stores being Chinese owned), find they don't work and try and return them only to learn that the products have no warranty. Reading the article made me realise a few things. When I see cheap Chinese produced goods I expect them to be of poor quality. Given how cheap the product is for me, I care little if it doesn’t work well or last long and I can always afford to replace it. But, to a local, especially from a rural area, who has no means of acquiring anything other than cheap shonky products, no reason to expect that they wont last the distance and has travelled far to make a purchase, the perspective is naturally different. If you don’t have much cash and you save up for a radio or a kettle and then it breaks soon after and your told there is no warranty or means of getting a replacement– well, that’s just frustrating at best, but more likely insulting.

I’ve also been reading that at the moment, tensions in Bougainville about whether or not to encourage or even allow Chinese investors are high and two Chinese investors died mysteriously on their way to Bougainville (on a boat) a few months ago.

I should also say, that although I’ve only heard comments about the Chinese community, all over PNG many businesses are owned and run by expats – including Australians. I’ll just probably never be privy to comments about Australians and their bossy ways being an Australian myself. There are positives, in that overseas investment is still investment and it brings skills and resources into the country. On the other hand lack of local ownership and having PNG locals always working for foreign bosses is going to create obvious problems.  

Shall I write a nice tidy conclusion?
Here in Kokopo we can buy all kinds of foreign products – but sometimes have to pay through the nose for them. Fresh produce at the market is awesome and cheap. All the clothes come from abroad; many of them are your old clothes if you’re from Aus. The market was built with aid money and the stores in town with non-PNGn money. Doesn’t seem like that kind of scenario is going to change in the near future. Oh, and we need a library (preferably) or at least a decent book shop.

Lastly, when I come home, I’m going to the Vic market – and there I will consume an unadvisable amount of cheese. I will then move on to Lygon street where I will purchase silly amounts of overpriced icecream (which will still be cheaper than here!). Lastly, there will be the drinking of fine wine (actually even average wine will do at this point). Who’s in? 


  1. Oh dear, no books. That must be hard for everyone! It's lovely to hear about the shop owners giving scholarships. I love reading your blog Simone!
    Stephanie xx

  2. i would go mad without books! i know you have some books but man. i can't believe how expensive ice cream and chocolate are! omg i hear you about cheese. i LOVE cheese. now i feel i need to eat all three and mentally send satisfaction your way.

    does geoff get mistaken for a shop owner? do the shop owners try and talk to geoff?

    i am going to send my uncle your blog. he loved my japan one and now i am slack here and don't do one. he would LOVE your blog.

    danielle and liz

  3. ps i'm with geoff, he definitely needs a machete ;) cool!

  4. I am making my way through your blog posts! And loving each one I must say. Your description of the market is so spot on. Brings back memories of markets in all the nooks and crannies of the world...The bit on the t-shirts, reminded me of when I was in Mozambique was amazed at the sheer amount of cast off shirts, I even bought myself an oversized 'Little Miss Sunshine' to wear to bed, and thought it was a great way to get the most out of old clothes. But then, I went to a talk by the founder of War Child Canada, and she made the valid point that it isn't good for the local textile economy to have these cheap cast offs so readily available as it can have a a pretty big negative effect on local businesses...Hmm. Darn! Not sure that applies to PNG as I don't think there's much of a textile business, but it made me think of it nonetheless. Sigh. Just when you think you are doing good, someone points out it's maybe not so good! Damn that Samantha Nutt (War Child lady)! But anyway, loved the shots of the food, looks so yummy and made my mouth water for anything wrapped in a banana leaf...Thanks for the awesome posts and the way they make me ponder :).