LIVING IN THE PLASTIC STATE © Duncan Graham 2005
Here’s a simple message to critics of Indonesian manufactured goods: Shut up!
OK, we all know of polycarbonate chairs that crumple after a season in the sun, electric kettles which short circuit on the third boil and greenstick furniture which warps.
But there’s one local product which has achieved international standards for toughness to become a fine advertisement for home-grown industrial skills. Please stand and applaud: We’re celebrating, of course, Plastic Seals.
Impenetrable as the mind of a Javanese bureaucrat, more rugged than the life of a becak driver, Indonesian plastic seals are the Mercedes Benz of global consumer packaging.
Pity those outsiders who never come to grips with this product’s splendid durability and awesome resistance to assault. Only stout lionhearts who have clawed down the dotted line on the cap of a water bottle before succumbing to thirst can testify to this great truth.
Forget having to pass a language examination; opening aqua is the foremost test of cultural adaptability. As bule have been genetically programmed against exhibiting patience and come from soft, welfare-dependent societies, most foreigners fail.
It’s a sad fate. Having flunked the plastic-peel challenge they remain doomed to be outcasts forever, unable to realise the abiding mysteries of Indonesian life.
It’s true that some labels advise rejection of the product if the seal is broken. That’s an unnecessary warning; the seal can’t be broken even by the buyer without sacrificing a fingernail. Right down to the quick. If there’s blood on the bottle maybe they’ve been successful.
It’s the same with sachets. It doesn’t matter whether they contain coffee, candies or condoms. The contents may perish, but never the wrapper.
Malicious manufacturers add to consumer’s grief by printing tiny arrows on the packet indicating the best place to tear. This is their little joke. Don’t succumb to the temptation; like the military’s chain of command the weak point is always elsewhere.
Pull-tags on cartons of milk and orange juice and on tubs of margarine are also attempts at factory humor. When these are yanked off they reveal another far more durable skin beneath – and no pull-tag. Funny, ya?
Force is foolish. So is seduction. Many men (usually in mixed company) slap and tickle the membrane on water cups as though a little foreplay will lower the defences. But like good Sundanese spinsters Indonesian containers keep their virtue intact.
If you use your teeth to sever power cables you may be able to bite open sachets. The reward is usually a mouthful of the contents. Hair shampoo isn’t a recommended lunch snack while washing powder can get you frothy-mouthed. Literally. We won’t talk about the discomfort of gulping contraceptives.
To slash seals the wise housekeeper includes in her or his kitchen a samurai sword or pair of industrial-strength shears (the type used for slicing roofing iron are best). But travellers find such tools difficult to transport. Particularly on aircraft.
Appeals to carry a kris so you can assault the airline’s complementary plastic cup of mineral water will not be treated sympathetically though security guards understand the problem.
They don’t remove all sharp objects from passengers’ baggage to keep weapons off aircraft. (As an intelligent reader of this quality newspaper you surely weren’t misled by that public relations reasoning?)
The confiscation policy is to ensure security staff meal rooms are properly equipped with enough tools to open their refreshments. After a hard day at the luggage ramp watching moving X-ray pictures of ladies’ underwear you don’t want to spend lunch hours fighting plastic lids.
Some design wag has developed a plastic straw with an allegedly sharp point to stab through the tops of water cups. Foolish fellow! (A woman wouldn’t be so stupid.) The lids can deflect shrapnel. They’re made of the same material as flak jackets.
This article has not been written to mock. The author recognises plastic’s major contribution to the economy particularly in bookshops. Unemployment is down because extra staff are hired to wrap the products. This is to prevent potential buyers testing the publishers’ florid back-cover blurbs against the turgid text within.
This practice should be exported. Discerning readers, who never judge a book by its cover, buy with confidence on the quality of the wrapper. If the seal is absolutely tight and peep-proof you’re getting a real virgin.
It’s time for thirst-crazed, nail-torn consumers to fight back, to demand the same quality in packaged foods as other goods. If furniture can be given a veneer of varnish which strips just as the table is set for a wedding party, why can’t plastic seals have the same short-term life?
The Deity designed easy-to-remove hygienic seals. Shells on eggs, husks on coconut milk, skins on bananas – all triumphs of a benign Creation. These were copyrighted long before Noah built his impervious ark. So why can’t modern human technology compete?
(First published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday 21 August 2005)