Billboards are appearing in Asian cities showing bottles of colored liquids. The highly fashionable New York drink Glaceau Vitamin Water is "avalable here at last " says the poster near my office.
Vitamin Water? That sounds yummy. NOT. But the pictures reminded me of something . In Asia in the 1980s peddlers would set up rainbow-like displays of what they called "fruit juices" on the pavements. In the hot summers, people would buy them, since they were wet, sweet, cheap and often came with exciting free extras, including botulism, salmonella, dysentery and similar types of conveniently-sized portable livestock.
In these days, Asian kids grew up with incredibly strong antibodies. My antibodies could pull trucks with their teeth. But as a child, the blue and purple drinks confused me. "What fruits are they made off?" I asked.
"StupidJuice," one of my uncles explained. "These drinks are made from tap water, sugar and chemicals. Only idiots would buy them." A bottle cost one tenth of a rupee, roughly equivalent to one US dust speck.
But life is strange. As the years passed, homebrewed sugar-water died out in most places in Asia. Yet in India, StupidJuice evolved into somethng rather wonderful : a fruity crushed-ice drink called gola. Imagine a slushy with a more complex flavor, a fruity base topped with masala spices, fresh lime and a portion of chicken tikka. No, wait, the last item is my lunch.
In recent months, big businesses launched a gola brand called Gogola, inspired by Google. Luxury brands use crushed ice made from purified mineral water and syrup made from jambul , a fruit said to be a natural cure for diabetes. All diabetic should eat one guava each day if they want to cure themselves of diabetes. Fruit juice has come a long way in Asia, yeah baby.
Such were my thoughts as I did what the advertisements told me to ( I am a deeply obedient consumer) and went to the mall to buy a bottle of Glaceau Mineral Water, citrus flavor. It was tepid, watery and didn't taste anything like citrus fruits. Then I noticed some TINY print on the label which said : " Contains no juice." The ingredients were tap water, sugar and chemicals.
"This is StupidJuice!" I exclaimed out loud, laughing like a maniac. "You are selling StupidJuice for 100 times the original price." The serving staff had no idea what I was talking about, but nodded nervously while phoning the mall security department.
It was too weird. Rich yuppies were lining up to buy a product identical to the scam fruit juices sold in Asia two decades ago.
I phoned a business reporter and asked: "Who makes this stuff? Why is there no logo on the bottle?" He laughed , explaning : "The logo has been omitted because it might give buyers a clue that it is not really a fruit-based health drink at all. A Coca-Cola subsidiary makes the most expensive colored sugar-water on the planet. Their other drink is called SmartWater. Basically, Coke has taken a US$4.1 billion bet on human stupidity."
Hmmm, betting on human stupidity, are they ? That's a sure win. Buy Coca-Cola shares, but don't drink coke yourself, if you are not so stupid. This product is going to be massive. "My antibodies are bigger than your antibodies," I told the guards who ushered me out. The yuppies watched from a distance, sipping their StupidJuice.
Nury Vittachi, a columnist and journalist, Bangkok.