Farewell, my dear brother, Philip Kai Morre
Equality must be real & practised with respect

The saga of The Missing Cups of Indomie


Nara     Image 2  Indomie Cup of Noodles
PORT MORESBY - We probably all know those cups of Indomie noodles. They cost three kina or less in most local trade stores.

Many working class people would agree with me, silently or otherwise, that these cup noodles are, at the very least, er, familiar.

They often looked like chicken, especially on those sad weeks when the ship of coin or currency refuses to come ashore.

These pre-cooked cup noodles are said to specially prepared with carefully selected ingredients, only the best quality flour and fresh spices from the aromatic pabrik mie of Indonesia.

Even the strong odour they emit upon burning is able to tingle even the laziest ducts of your salivary glands.

Here at Murray Barracks in Port Moresby, where I work, the empty cups of Indomie noodles are an accustomed sight at our main rubbish dump.

The ground staff, including me, who frequent this site to search for fire when all gas lighters have gone for holidays, use those empty cups to keep the flames alive.

These empty cups disposed of almost every afternoon are deposited among other important products that travel by truck to the rubbish site.

I cannot tell you where each cup comes from, or specifically where the original contents ended up, but I must admit the highest of respect for these cup noodles. The highest.

Indomie has come a long way to flavour and savour the world since its humble beginnings.

It was the first born of Indofood, the world’s largest producer of noodles with 16 pabrik mie factories.

Although a thoroughly Indonesian culinary product, it was first introduced in 1958 and marketed only in Japan.

Its unique flavour won hearts, not only of the people of Japan but many of those who travelled there in those early years.

Indomie returned home to Indonesia in 1969 and found grace in the eyes of the world, leading to its official launch as a brand name in 1972. 

But back to our rubbish site, where the empty cups can always keep the flames alive.

Until, just few months ago, catastrophe. The empty cups completely stopped arriving at our dump. Complete catastrophe.

Even the Indomie cups’ cousins, those small white coffee cuplets, were nowhere to be seen.

For the first few days, I sneaked to the dump to silently watch the rubbish, hopefully peering to catch a glimpse of an Indomie cup, but no, no cup had ever arrived.

Over my 10 years with my country’s defence organisation, I thought this disappearance was impossible for many if not all, uniformed or not, had grown to expect their presence at the rubbish site. Their absence was troubling. Very troubling.

The days passed more slowly after that, although I kept the site under surveillance, watching every arrival only to be being disappointed that no empty cup ever appeared.

So I headed to the barracks’ canteen to check in case Indonesia had stopped selling Indomie noodles – a 65 year tradition vanished in an instant.

But on the canteen shelving, the many different Indomie noodle flavours stood tall and proud, their labels colourful and held high.

Curry chicken, stir fry, hot and spicy, vegetable flavour, jumbo size and all the others graced a sagging shelf.

I stared at them and, with puzzled face, thought of the missing empty cups at the rubbish site.

These cups, even the white coffee cuplets, are made from paper cleverly coated with wax to prevent liquid from leaking, even if hot.

They originated a fair while ago around second century when paper was invented in Imperial China. Early textual evidence reveals it found in the possession of the Yu family in the city of Hangzhou.

These paper cups were not to be messed with. They had travelled through time and across mighty oceans, seen civilisations rise and fall, and lived on to make their own history.

Days ground with dreadful sluggishness into weeks and months and still I observed and occasionally examined the cup-free rubbish site.

I was fascinated, worried and not a little annoyed at this unusual turn of events.

These empty cups had never before been absent from the rubbish site. They had helped me and others burn the midnight oil. We had been good friends for a long time.

I began lurking around surrounding the base offices to check that people had stopped eating Indomie noodles in special waxed cups. But in all places its aroma hung in the air.

I wanted to ask where the empty cups went to, but thought it would sound weird. I’m well known around the base, but not for being weird. I have a reputation to maintain.

Maybe there were new ground rules of which I had not been notified. Perhaps the empty noodle cup depository had been reassigned.

The trash cans were empty and people were beginning to stare at me strangely.

It had not seen an empty Indomie cup in months when I decided I should sit at my desk to put the story on record.

I remembered being told, when I was quite young, about two separate lanes of life that run parallel to each other – a manifestation seen by few and understood by none.

Humans walked along one lane but the other is unseen, colourless and odourless, an interstellar highway upon which celestial, galactic and otherworldly beings roam.

Elders used to say, if you went looking in the dark for something nearby, and the distance in which you were heading seemed extraordinarily long.

Time to turn back, said the elders, or you might inadvertently cross over to that other lane.

The thought irritating me was that Indomie had won worldwide several awards including the Indonesia Best Packaging Award, the Indonesia Best Brand Award, the Lausanne Index Prize, the Most Effective Ad Award and the Indonesia Consumer Satisfaction Award but nobody had ever told me about the two separate lanes of life that run parallel to each other.

Records show that around 15 billion cups and packets of noodles are produced annually and supplied to more than 90 countries including Papua New Guinea and our barracks’ canteen.

Perhaps, I reflected, while on their way to the rubbish site the ancient cups had recklessly crossed to that other lane.

I’ll quickly let you on to some other information.

It was a dark wet night.

The digital clock at the bottom right hand corner of my desktop screen was heading towards 2300 and the cigarette lighter, my best friend for quite a while, had given up the ghost.

This untimely passing left behind a grieving family of cigarettes.

The only place I could find comfort for them at such a late hour was at the rubbish site.

There would be many empty cups of Indomie because there were always empty cups at the dump.

Though my cigarette lighter had defected to the underworld, I had faith that it may be able to produce one last spark.

And an empty Indomie cup needed but a single spark and there would be flame.

Armed with the dead cigarette lighter and the grieving family of cigarettes, I stepped out of the office and negotiated my way carefully down wet concrete steps.

The light drizzle had thankfully gone leaving behind a heavy downpour earlier that evening.

The moisture hung in the air like a thousand wet towels and there was a soft wind that whispered through the palm and rain trees.

Most of the corridor lights in the barracks and offices glowed and a spotlight attached to the top of a building spread its glow across the empty headquarters car park.

A night bird, perhaps fooled by the light or demented, was singing happily somewhere.

I reached the bottom of the stairs and headed for the footpath and the rubbish site.

A faint streak of yellowish light shone on the path, quickly vanishing into the surrounding shadows.

The drizzle threatened to return but for now it was just dancing in the air.

I stepped off the concrete path and took to the grassy track that led to the site.

The usual rotting stench from the week’s arrivals sniffed its way into my nostrils, as if wanting to clear my mind.

The rubbish site is secluded amidst short brick walls, the whole area an eyesore but it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind for anything behind the old generator shed.

Although you would not miss it if you came down for a visit.

I felt my Kerema fingers, which sometimes operate on their own, slick their way into my jeans’ pocket to check on the dead cigarette lighter and grieving family of cigarettes.

The brick walls seemed higher at night and a strong, strange odour of charcoal, wet ash and half burnt rubbish hovered.

Those Kerema fingers had disovered the grieving family of cigarettes and the dead lighter.

I stepped gingerly through leftover food, empty cans, papers, more papers, still more papers, containers filled with betel nut spittle, melting tissues, clumps of floor dust and many other artefacts of mass ecological destruction.

A friend once told that this is our era – the Era of Garbage. We are all gold medallists in pollution.

But on this night there was no debate as I searched earnestly with my nose to all compass points and from high heaps to rock bottoms. My poor Kerema fingers cried.

Not one tiny ember, nor a single cup…. I lost my capacity for words and my hearing was gone except for the painful mourning of grieving cigarettes.

My lungs – solidly trained nicotine detectors – continued to investigate the Missing Cups of Indomie.

No luck, however, perhaps the Missing Cups of Indomie had crossed, advertently or not, over to that other lane.

If that, then I must immediately inform the house of elders.

Maybe a chicken need to be killed and its blood a lure to the other side to return our cups.

But you would understand that elders who perform such rituals are not easily found in an army base. They are also probably colourless, and may even have slipped over to that other lane.

The next morning, I decided to share my detective work with my friend Ben Evara, our ground staffer who tenders the flowers and plants around PNG Defence Force headquarters.

I spotted him behind one of our reserve water tanks. I wondered if he might disclose that we needed to burn incense with traditional leaves, lime and ginger while uttering sacred whispers to the winds.

Nara     Image 5 Ben watering the flowers at PNGDF headquarters
Ben tending the flowers at PNGDF headquarters

Ben is a big man blessed with a typical Koriki frame usually only seen around the Baimuru area of Gulf Province.

Ben saw me approaching, smiled and, as he stood up to greet me, I saw that same night bird fly out from behind him.

His smile seemed weird as I stared past him towards where the bird had come from.

Beneath shades beside the tank, partly hidden by tall grass, the missing empty cups of noodles paraded neatly, their labels held high, just as they used to do.

Inside each, beautiful flowers bloomed. From within their used and sometimes broken form, nature gave birth to life.

Standing there, staring at them all, I heard that night bird singing happily again.

Her song, a veritable stream of sweet air, hydrated my parched soul.

From somewhere I heard a lighter sigh and my cigarettes softly grieving.

Nara     Image 3 Lead Image The Missing cups of noodles



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)