Friday, October 20, 2006

More of the same

The next day was a repeat of the first, albeit different factories. We once again headed up to the hills of Tampaksiring to visit a handicraft supplier, this time owned by a young guy who spoke perfect English. Turns out he went to school in San Jose, CA and had recently moved back to Bali to start his export business. My agent looked over at me and silently rubbed his two forefingers against his thumb, the old universal sign for "has money", which was probably true. Too few Americans are aware of the astronomical cost of tuition for foreign students. For example, at UC Berkeley a foreign student can expect to spend approximately $26,000 for 1 year's tuition and fees, while a resident Californian can expect to pay about $8,000. Not to mention the expense of applying for an receiving a student visa plus housing, food, etc. In addition most foreign students can not work legally in the U.S., their visa is only good for studying which means the only jobs they can get are on campus, although many work illegally on the side, but certainly not enough to pay for themselves while studying, which means that most foreign students pursuing a full 4-year degree tend to come from wealthy backgrounds.

But I digress. The factory owner was very pleasant and kind and was very enthusiastic in showing us his factory and proud of what he had accomplished. He was getting married soon and was looking forward to a good year of business so he could afford a nice honeymoon.

We soon moved on to the next factory which wasn't really a factory but a trading house run by an American woman. We had actually met briefly when she visited my company in the U.S. and she seemed very nice. She took us out to lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the beach close to my hotel. Turns out she lived in Seminyak, just a stone throw away from the hotel I stayed in. She was very tall and slender with tanned skin and long dark hair, and my Indonesian counterparts where quite taken with her. When she got up to use the restroom my colleague asked me if she had been a model before - how the heck should I know? I knew just barely more about her than they did.

She ran a very small trading company with just a tiny handful of employees working out of a single room office less than 1,000 square feet in size. She traded in fashion accessories and designed the items herself, then farmed out the production to one of many contractors located in Bali and on Java. Her staff checked the completed items for quality and then they were shipped on their way. Like so many others, she had come to Bali and decided to stay there.

After this very pleasant visit we moved on to the largest factory in our list which was owned by a wealthy family who operated several trade shops and crafts production facilities in Bali. This area was close to Tampaksiring but was an actual factory in the western sense of the word. A huge, elaborate 2-story showroom divided a lot full of sculptured trees and Balinese fountains. One side of the lot was the office building, the other the showroom. The factory manager met us and drove us to the factory. I was puzzled, as there was evidence of a large building on the far side of the lot, which from my records was supposed to be the factory. He kindly explained that only weeks before they had experienced a massive fire which had literally gutted the entire interior of the factory building, forcing them to work at a temporary location.

We drove a few minutes down the road to a large building in the middle of nowhere, jungle forest on one side and acres of rice paddies on the other. It was a huge gated facility, but the building inside was literally just a giant roof on multiple pillars, obviously a hastily built construction just to get roofs over everyone's heads so they could continue working. The place was utter chaos, with several hundred workers desperately trying to replenish all the orders lost in the factory fire while keeping up with new orders. It was obvious that it was going to be impossible to do a proper visit with their operations, so we simply held a brief discussion outside the building. One group of workers hurriedly tried to keep up with an ever growing pile of finished merchandise, packing it to be shipped overseas. Another group was busily painting and staining pieces while another was involved with the actual carving and crafting. We eventually left for the office and were assured that things would settle down in the future and then they could confirm the information we were looking for.

We had some time to kill so we were invited to one of their sister companies. a small operation that dealt entirely in hand carved wooden crafts that sold locally and to visiting tourists and businessmen. The showroom was incredible. Beautiful hand carved furniture, tables, statues, and home decor items all in traditional Balinese style. I asked my agent why people didn't buy more of these items. He said these days people wanted modern styles and modern looking homes - no one wanted their homes to look like a 100 year old Balinese home except for old-fashioned Balinese and eccentric tourists. Well then, count me as an eccentric tourist as I would have no problem with my home decorated with the likes of what I saw.

That night my agent took me to Ulawatu, which was a sacred Hindu temple all the way to the very south of the island, high above the southern cliffs. While there we witnessed a traditional Balinese dance which was very interesting.

On the way home our driver asked us if we wanted to try a Sumatran restaurant. We said sure. The restaurant was sort of like a buffet. You sit at a long table and they bring out dozens of small dishes of different kinds of food, mostly curry items. No pork, for this was a Muslim restaurant. As usual, the Indonesians ate with their hands. This time I opted for a fork and spoon as some of the dishes were difficult to handle with just hands. Basically you chose a dish and dumped it on your plate. At the end of the meal the restaurant counted how many dishes you consumed and charged accordingly. You were only charged for the dishes you ate. I had a wonderful curry beef dish and some salted fish along with some fried vegetables.

We made our way back to the hotel were I sat up for a couple of hours in the night listening to the sea and someone playing Balinese music in the background.

To be continued.....

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