Supermarkets as my friend Katia has already pointed out on her blog, Scribbly Katia at http://katianovetsaintlot.blogspot.com/, are emotional minefields for the unwary expatriate. A friend once suggested that the title of my autobiography could be The Woman Who Cried in Supermarkets, and she had a very good point. When I first moved to Bangkok, the sight of Oreos reminded me of packing lunch boxes for my sons and I would mist over. When I returned to the states, the same thing happened when I saw Thai orchids at a checkout stand. I learned to carry sunglasses along with my shopping lists to hide any surprise attacks of tears.
Yesterday I went to a supermarket near my new neighborhood to find coffee--if not beans that could be ground on the spot (since I have yet to buy my own coffee grinder), at least instant coffee that had no sugar or powdered creamer in the mix and that wasn't made by Nestle. This seemed achievable because I had drunk many cups of what Georgetown calls "local coffee", a powdered coffee that comes black and strong in the cup, with flavor and a real caffeine kick.
No beans, no grinder, but bags upon bags heaped in middle of the aisle displays--finally I found one that said "No sugar." I hurled it into my cart and then felt suspicious for some unknown reason. I looked at the list of ingredients, which were mercifully in English. "Coffee," it announced, "sugar, margarine..." and there was something else that followed but at that point my brain froze. Butter tea I had heard of, and it did indeed make me queasy at the thought, but margarine in my coffee?
I gulped hard. My defenses fell. Suddenly I remembered the coffee bean corners at Tops and Villa supermarkets in Bangkok and I was prey to mist and a weird sort of longing for that particular aspect of the city I couldn't wait to leave.
I carried on. I found the aisle where there was powdered coffee in jars and some of it was coffee unaccompanied by any sweetener or milk impersonator. I chose a jar that said Indochine and prayed hard that it would be drinkable. Then I carefully avoided any aisle that might carry memory, finished my shopping, and faced the challenge of finding my way back to the escalators, always a test in a new shopping mall.
Georgetown is proud of its White Coffee--a mixture like 3-in-1 but more caffeinated. It's a city with coffee stalls and shops on every square inch of space and it is to its credit that Starbucks is only in a few places that cater to the expat community and upscale travelers. Far be it from me to denigrate local specialties but when I go back out today in search of coffee I can drink with pleasure, I hope I can accomplish this without tears.