A COUPLE of weeks ago, I was in Sentul to meet a friend. Since he was held up by the traffic, he suggested that I wait for him at a shoplot-operated “food court”. The moment I sat down, a Myanmar waiter asked me what I wanted to drink. I told him to bring me a glass of iced Chinese tea. Since I had already eaten, I said I won’t be ordering any food.

When my drink came, my friend turned up. He ordered a glass of iced water from the same waiter. When the waiter returned with my friend’s ais kosong, he asked for RM1.60 for the drinks we ordered. Thinking that I could have heard wrong, I asked him for a breakdown of the prices for the drinks.

“Ninety sen for iced Chinese tea and 70 sen for iced water,” he added as he pointed to the menu card on the table.

When my friend saw the surprise on my face, he reassured me that it was the regular practice of that outlet. He suspected that the operators were trying to discourage freeloaders who occupied seats for a good part of the day just by ordering iced water or Chinese tea, as he had seen in some high traffic outlets.

“Drinks like coffee, tea or Nescafe are reasonably priced,” my friend reassured me, “and they are more or less of the same prices at other outlets.”

I told my friend if I had not taken a sip of my iced Chinese tea, I would have walked out the premises because clearly I had been robbed. I told him it was my last visit to the outlet and that I would tell my friends of my experience in case they were going to dine in the area.

Reading about the Selangor Domestic Trade, Cooperative and Consumerism Ministry’s crackdown on two restaurants in Shah Alam which sold iced Milo at exorbitant prices of RM5.90 and RM6.70, I hope the ministry would raid eateries in the capital. A surprise raid would help to check unscrupulous trading practices rampant during these times.

Do you remember when oil prices went up some years back, the food traders were among the first to hike their prices? They cited the oil price hike to justify their actions. Now that the price of oil has dropped so much, how come food prices still remain sky high? Traders now blame the Goods and Services Tax and lower currency exchange for the high prices.

Small discrepancies in prices of common beverages are acceptable. One could not expect premises that pay high rental and offer various facilities to charge the same price as a street side stall. A restaurant or a beverage outlet in the hotel cannot be expected to charge the same price as the neighbourhood kedai makan for the same glass of plain water. But surely the street corner food trader or a shoplot restaurant operator cannot expect his customers to pay hotel prices for the same glass of water.

But when demand exceeds supply, greedy food traders turn profiteers. In areas where eateries are few or the choices limited, the captive market is often held at ransom. However, as consumers, if you are caught in such a situation, you can consider other alternatives, like packing food for lunch or bring home-cooked meals to the office. Better still if you can boycott the unscrupulous trader and urge your colleagues and acquaintances to do the same. And with social media at a swipe away, it is really not very difficult to expose greedy traders or curb unhealthy practices

Many years ago, I knew a chap by the name of Patrick, a small-sized fella who made up for his short stature with his ingenuity. Every morning, I would find my Patrick at the tea stalls near to our offices. Patrick loved iced Milo. But whenever we shared the same table for a drink, I noticed that he always ordered a glass of hot Milo.

When the drink was served, he would touch the side of the glass, make a grimace, and request for a piece of ice from the waiters. Most of the time, the waiters would oblige and instead of giving him just a piece of ice as requested, they would bring him a few pieces on a plate. Patrick would then drop all the ice cubes into his drink.

At first, I thought it was just one of those peculiar habits some people had formed in their growing up years, until I began to see what it was all about. A glass of Milo cost RM1.10 those days, and the iced version cost 30 sen extra. Patrick was having his iced Milo without paying a sen more!

So, if your favourite Milo Ais is making you hot under the collar these days with ridiculous prices, perhaps you can consider doing a “Patrick”. You can order ice water and bring your own Milo 3-in-1, or just avoid that shop altogether.

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