A trip to a country like PNG evokes awe at the incredible distribution network that is the Coca Cola company. Here, as well as the familiar Coke, Sprite and orange Fanta, you can get lime Fanta, pineapple Fanta, and now the new apple Fanta. Remote trade stores don’t have apple flavour–not yet anyway.
The mix of the strange and the familiar got me thinking about “ambient products”, the commercial things we surround ourselves with and which help define our world. In the West, we’re saturated in products, a commercial jungle of niche markets; here in the timber jungles of PNG there is space for a few products to stand out. All vehicles, for example, are made by only five companies: Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu, Mazda, and Daihatsu. And they are all refuelled at either a Mobil or Interoil petrol station, called a ‘caltex’ in Pidgin.
Travelling along the Highlands Highway, from Lae up into the mountains, you see entire buildings painted in Milo green, Maggi yellow, and Klina laudry soap red. In the supermarket, entire rows are taken up by tinned fish, tinned meat, hard wheat crackers, noodles, rice, cheese snacks, and soap. (Not surprisingly, it’s a diet we largely subsisted on during the Kokoda Trek. Some of the trekkers took to calling it dog food, until someone pointed out that their dog wouldn’t eat it. Which perhaps says more about our pampered pooches than the quality of the Spam.)
At the supermarket checkout you can buy green bags and Hubba Bubba bubble gum (original flavour only). When I was a kid, we used to get a piece of gum on the weekend if we were good. I bought a piece in my first week in PNG; it tasted like juicy, sugary childhood.