We have two vending machines in our institute, one dispenses cold drinks, and the other dispenses snacks such as potato chips and cup noodles.
Every Wednesday they get replenished. By Tuesday, they are nearly empty, especially the snacks machine. It is especially hard to get your hands on a cup noodle since they are immediately snapped up once they have been refilled.
As a related observation, the Biopolis complex has a number of pricey restaurants which are nearly empty every day, while the cafeteria is packed with people, sometimes with lines that are more than ten people long per stall.
Many others rather eat at the food centre at Holland Drive. In fact I know that one of our deputy directors likes to eat Yong Tau Hoo (Stewed Tofu) from the Holland market.
People, regardless of nationalities, prefer not to eat at the fancy eateries here. Of course it's no surprise that cheap food is more popular. But the expensive restaurants are really deserted. I often wonder how long they will survive. Some eateries have already closed not long after opening.
I also wonder who decided to put those expensive restaurants here? There must have been some misunderstanding going on. Of the approximately 2000 staff in Biopolis, only a handful of people are rich enough to eat at such places regularly.
Most people are "salarymen" getting by on a few thousand a month. Students are even poorer. The market size for expensive restaurants is already tiny.
To make things worse, scientists are not in the habit of spending frivolously. I know a senior scientist who wears a black plastic Casio watch to work every day.
Years of living on very little have taught them to be cautious with money. Especially foreign scientists whose home countries were not that generous with science budgets.
So, unlike business people or administrators or lawyers who drive big cars and live large, even top scientists watch their expenditure closely.
And the biggest problem about putting fancy restaurants in a science complex?
Scientists don't have it.
One of our group leaders doesn't even eat lunch until recently. He once said that time should be spent doing experiments rather than having lunch.
I know he is exaggerating, but it is true that most people would rather quickly grab a sandwich or a packet of rice and head back to the lab. It's hard to imagine anyone having the time to leisurely chit-chat for hours in a fancy restaurant while your experiments are brewing in the lab.
Which is why vending machines, for all the cardboard nutrafood that they provide, are still so popular.
Somebody must really be disconnected with reality.
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