Signs of the Times: Stressed out, cheap eats
(Reuters) - The global recession manifests itself in big and small ways, most gloomy, some quirky and often reflecting the inventive human spirit. Here is a look at some signs of the times.
* The mood was exuberant, even giddy, in Washington's Lafayette Square, across from the White House, a few hours after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. But a lone figure holding up a yellow placard struck a jarring note. "WE BUY HOUSES," read the placard, a reminder of the economic crisis that confronts the country after eight years of laissez-faire Republican policies. "Cash in 24 Hours," said the sign, which offered a toll-free telephone number. What was the placard bearer paid for hoisting the sign? "Minimum wage, man. I think," said the man, who gave his name only as Diego.
* More Indonesians have been seeking alternative treatments as the financial crisis raises stress levels, says Maya Safira Muchtar, owner of a Jakarta holistic care center that uses Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine that includes herbs, nutrition, meditation and massage to treat ailments like stomach ulcers. "We have been quite busy lately because people have high stress levels. They try to find something that can calm them down or help them cope with their daily stress," Muchtar said.
* A Japanese fast-food chain's sales have been rising since October as customers flock to its cheap beef-on-rice dishes. "The impact of the current economic situation has yet to come down to our price range," said Haruhiko Kizu, a spokesman for the Yoshinoya restaurant chain. A typical Yoshinoya dish costs 380 yen ($4.20), offering a cheap meal option in urban Japan, where lunch often costs around 1,000 yen ($11).
* Australians are turning to camping holidays as the financial crisis bites. Caravan and holiday parks are reporting high occupancy rates for first time campers, says the Caravan and Camping Industry Association of New South Wales. Occupancy has increased up to 10 percent for many coastal holiday parks.
* The economic crisis may dim the lights on Brazil's Carnival. O Globo newspaper reported that many Rio de Janeiro Samba schools are struggling to raise funds before the end-of-February celebrations and are running late in their float preparations. "We decided to do something smaller, but which will have the same brilliance. We still haven't decided what we will take to the street," said Jorge Castanheira, president of the Independent League of Samba Schools.
* Australian car sales may be sluggish, but bicycle sales are holding up much better as more commuters pedal to work. The Cycling Promotion Fund said bike sales outstripped car sales by 38 percent in 2008, the biggest margin in at least eight years. "The economic downturn and the affordability of cycling is one of the key reasons for the continued surge in bicycle sales," said the fund's Elliot Fishman.
* Beauty salons are big business in Indonesia and Roger's Salon in Jakarta, is helping customers save as much as half the price of a hair coloring if they bring in their own dye. The treatment usually costs between 400,000 and 1,000,000 rupiah ($35-$88). "If customers come to the salon, they have a special budget for services, because it is a basic need," said Ami, one of the salon's hairdressers.
* Some Australian employers have come up with a novel way to cut staff costs without losing their brightest young talents: paying graduate recruits to take a "gap year" and come back in 2010. The Australian Financial Review said at least two law firms had offered A$10,000 ($6,676) in cash to graduates to defer their start dates and some had been offered airline tickets.
(Compiled by Eric Beech and David Storey; Reporting by Todd Eastham in Washington; Jennifer Henderson and Julie Shingleton in Jakarta, Taiga Uranaka in Tokyo; Stuart Grudgings in Rio de Janeiro; Michael Perry and Mark Bendeich in Sydney; Editing by Chris Wilson)
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