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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Empty Shelves

The flooding has continued and it seems the worst may be coming to an end, but the aftermath will be more long term I suspect. The media report conflicts between the Prime Minister and the Governor of Bangkok on the projections of how soon waters will recede and the clean-up begins. Today they report that the costs appears to be around 300 Billion Baht. But as with all things of this nature, I am sure exact figures will have to wait. The cost impacts are more than the costs of clean-up in the long run.

In Phuket it is reported that an international sporting event has seen 15 teams withdraw, and they attribute it directly to the flooding reports internationally, and the fact that some people are unaware of Thailand geography, assuming that Phuket was flooding. There was an influx this past weekend of Bangkok residents headed here for the proclaimed 5 day holiday to assist in reducing the number of people in Bangkok. The tourists continue to arrive, despite travel advisories from their home governments, only I fear they are in for a bit of a shock.

While there were announcements last week about how everything was fine here regarding stock and food in the grocery stores, it seems now that the reports may have been a little less than candid. The availability of many basic items is drying up. the bare shelves at the major retailers has dwindled to non-existence or rationing in cases where there is some stock arriving. Instant noodles and rice are in very short supply, and in some cases the prices for what are available has risen.  Each trip I make to the grocery store sees me come home with less and less of what I went out to buy. The big concern for me is feeding the dogs and cat, and we have had to make trips to different places to get that. Going out for an item may involve stopping at a number of stores. One of the strangest items to not find are garbage bags. Rice is pretty much hit and miss, if at all. Milk and dairy products are whatever is in the store, so there is no preference for non-fat milk. If all they have is orange flavoured whole milk, then that is what you get. The yogurt assortment of various fruits, was reduced to only the yogurt with beans and corn, and at that only 6 packages. Coffee stock is dwindling, and the deli counter in one store is completely empty of meats and cheeses. Beer has virtually disappeared, and alcohol is, again, whatever is there.  Coke seems to have been vanishing, but there has been Pepsi. This is primarily in the major chain grocery stores. Apparently the distribution centers are under water in the north. No 7-11 is the same, what one has the other does not. The side of the road supply stalls, may have stock, and in some cases, I have seen some with lots of stock, but the prices are significantly higher, than to buy in the retailers.

My friends in the hotel, bar and restaurant businesses are all sharing the same problems, of getting supplies for their businesses, and sending out staff to all areas on the island to secure things. And what they are getting of course costs more. The only option is to pass along the costs, even though they are trying to not do so. But with no firm date in place to make sure they have supplies, many are bartering between businesses to swap what they may have lots of for what they are out of.

I am fortunate to have long since used the local markets, where the availability of vegetables and meat has remained constant, in both stock and price. It seemed this week as I went that others are beginning to see the benefit of these markets as the crowds are larger.

It's a challenge, but one that is sort of inspiring. When I do find a product that has arrived, and there are some deliveries still coming in, it is a bonus. I know of others who stock up as soon as they find a product, but I tend to get what I think will last me a week. If I can't find it again next week, then I will deal with it then. Having tea instead of coffee is not a hardship after-all. We will not starve, and it is no different in some ways to the time I spent in Kosovo or Africa when I did work with the UN. I few Baht more for an item is not a pressing issue for me, but for some, those extra baht add up. And I always worry that price increases never tend to go reverse when something like this is over. I have my home and my family and in the end what else do I really need that I can't live without?

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