Friday, July 26, 2013

By George, that's confusing

Greeting from China. Where it is also very hot.
Last week I was telling you about the "Bad Lands of Java" you can read it here.
I believe it is a jolly time in the UK. What with the royal birth and all. Now I'm guessing half the males born this year will be Georges, and a good proportion of the girls will be Georgette also.
Can you imagine the classroom roll call in a few years time.
I just got back to China having been in Bali (and Java), whilst there discovered something about Bali names I never knew.
I'd noticed that high proportion of the people we work with there are called Wayan. I mentioned to Ringo (our agent there) how popular this name is. "Of course" he said "all first born men and women are called Wayan". After a little more questioning it turn out that most Balinese have one of four names. One name for the first born, another for the second born, another for the third and one for the forth. And, get this, if your the fifth, then you just start again with Wayan.
The name Wayan is derived from “wayahan” which means “the most mature.” The title for the second child, Made or Nengah, is derived from the word “madia” which means “the middle one.” Nyoman, the third child, is taken from the word “uman” which means “remains” or “last.” According to traditional Balinese belief, a family should only have three children. After the third one, parents should be wiser. However, many families have more than three children. As such, the fourth child, Ketut, means “little banana” or “the outer edge of a bunch of bananas.” This child is considered the “bonus” child. More than four children, the name cycle repeats itself.
To make it more complicated there are no sir names.. although modern Bali folk have taken to inventing one, and of course nick names are common. Our agent; Ringo is really called Nengah a second child. This system if I understand correctly is all wrapped up in the Hindu Balinese believe in reincarnation and that people are reborn again in the same families. On the way to the airport we passed a ceremony, lots smartly dressed people in the street having a very good time, laughing and singing. "Ah, said Ringo, looks like someone very important has died, it's a funeral". Turns out Bali funerals are happy occasions, you are only allowed to mourn for a day or two, beyond that they celebrate rebirth.
By George, so confusing.
More startling revelations news next week.
Until then.
Take care..

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bad Lands of Java

Last week I was telling you about the new residents of Yellow Coconut Village in Ubud, Bali. You canread it here.
This week I have been on a road trip to East Java. It happened like this; I have been looking for something to replace the root baskets we have been buying from China. These are made from sustainable fur-tree roots, they are beautiful but fur tree roots if not properly treated and dried can crack. On the last few shipments this has been a growing issue. So I have been tasked with solving this knotty problem :).
In Udud, where I am now, there are lots of traders selling teak root products. As you know teak is very hard, and the oil in it allows a little movement which means cracking is not a big issue. The big problem is whenever I ask about sustainability of the teak supplies, I get blank looks. So Ringo (our Balinese agent) and I started to do some rooting around to find out how the teak-wood business works here. The first thing we learnt is there are no commercial teak forests on Bali, or teak artisans. The teak is trucked in from Java roughly carved but not finished, the artisans stain and varnish the pieces to suit the customers. So it seems the teak trader middlemen don't verify the source of the wood, it's all a cash business.
A lady in one of the wood carving markets gave us the name of a town where she thought the teak came from. A quick bit of googling revealed the place. It didn't seem so far away, just a ferry to East Java and and a hop over the mountains. We decided to branch out and make the trip. All I can say is don't trust google maps estimation of driving time in Indonesia! It was a long way, mostly spent going up and down steep windy hills though thick jungle stuck behind trucks crawling along at snails pace.
The ferry to East Java drops you at the foot of a jungle clad volcano right out of National Geographic, the road after a couple of hours enters the vast teak forest. Now Ringo tells that this road is home to bandits who roll rocks out of the forest at night, when a car or truck hits one in the night they come to "assist" you and take money or goods for their help. These same forest folk probably illegally take teak wood which finds it's way to the dodgy traders. It's known as the bad lands of Java.
In the day time it's better, but we were still stopped three times at unofficial tolls, a "broken" truck blocking the road and dodgy guys with buckets claiming to be collecting for Ramadan.
The good news is that this forest is controlled by the government, and in the last year have made big steps to enforce the control. The road has been upgraded to a good tarmac road, every twenty kilometres or so there is a ranch style police station with round the clock security.
Eventually we made it to a small coastal sugar cane town. The industry was devolved by the Dutch who built cute narrow-gauge railways running through the plantations bringing the sugar cane to the port. Some parts of it still working. There has been a half-hearted attempt to make a tourist industry here. It's certainly beautiful, stunning mountains, mangrove swamps and white sand beaches. But no tourists, Ringo and I hired the two best (teak lined) rooms in a big run down beach road hotel for about £12, there was just one other guest. Ringo said the Muslim call to prayer from the many mosques at four am and lack of alcohol, put many tourists off coming. Sad because the people were lovely and the place stunning.
But there is a thriving handy-craft industry. We found marble carving, shell jewellery, mother of pearl boxes and the like, and teak wood of course. We were taken to workshops practically on the beach where families worked together making lovely stuff. Eventually we found a village with teak wood work-shops, we visited them all.
One guy in a small factory told us he was "just the local chief of police" (pointing to a police station along the road), his wife was the boss, could we come back later.
What we learnt was the the government have cracked down hard on the teak wood trade to ensure the sustainability of supplies. Local artisans can (or should) only buy from the official run logging company, and the police enforce the rules, hence the police presence in the forest.
Teak wood of course is mainly used for furniture and flooring, the roots are a by-product and of less interest to the bad guys because it's more work to dig up. But the most beautiful bowls and plates are made from the random root shapes all slightly different. Yes a little expensive, but will last forever and help support families like this.
The lady on the right is the boss. Her son and his wife are part of the business, and the little guy with long hair in a Man-united shirt is their son who just wanted to be in the picture.
More news next week.
Expect to read more about the Ubud outpost in future reports..
Until then.
Take care..
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Friday, July 12, 2013

Resident of Yellow Coconut Village

Last week I was telling you about my recent visit to Serampore on the banks of the Ganges and it's links with Wimbledon. You can read it here.
Since then I have been back to Delhi, to Bangalore and then flown via Kuala Lumpur to Bali. More precisely Ubud in Bali.
It may cheer you up to know the weather in the UK is much better than Bali. Here it's been raining all week, with electric storms at night :).
Ubud is one of the worlds great giftware hubs. Highly creative people and hugely industrious locals produce artisan giftware that is shipped all over the world. I doubt there is a giftshop (at least one with taste and style) that doesn't stock some Indonesian handicrafts. There are other places (and growing fast) in Indonesia that produce handicrafts but Ubud sits regally up in the mountains, like a mythical giftware kingdom.
So it makes sense to have a warehouse here. Mainly so suppliers orders can be consolidated, and we can ship whenever we have a full container load. Right now we have to try and coordinate suppliers to finish their production at the same time, at the point we want to ship. This means that inevitably, some suppliers are waiting to deliver long after stock is made, and others rushing to complete in order to get stock in the next container. It all ends up a bit of a botch job, and quality control can suffer.
Last time I was here, on my last day. We spotted a part built warehouse, this been Ubud, as picturesque a warehouse as you can imagine, with stone statues outside and it's own roof top temple. Inside enough floor space for two container loads, although two walls were missing and the office at the back had been taken over by the jungle it looked almost perfect. The landlord, a young local architect (a pretty cool guy with a funky handshake), appeared and offered to do the place up to our specifications. He assured us it would be to a high standard. Ringo (our agent) was worried that a 40ft container wouldn't negotiate the narrow lanes to the site. So before we could finalise we had to make sure the access was OK. But subject to that we shook hands on the deal, and as good as his word the warehouse was ready for occupation on time.
I signed the lease this week. The terms of the lease state that we must abide by the rules of the village as set by the village elders. This is the system here, every area, each village has elders who ensure that everything is equatable and peaceful and beautiful. The rules can change, I'm not even sure what the current rules are. It's going to be interesting I think.
Our village is called: "Br. Nyuh Kuning" or the Yellow Coconut Village.. which seems as good a name for the location of an Ancient Wisdom outpost.
Expect to read more about the Ubud outpost in future reports..
Until then.
Take care..
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Friday, July 5, 2013

Andy Murray and Ancient Wisdom

Greetings from Indonesia, where I have just arrived from India.
Since last weeks newsletter from Saharenpur in Northern India (read it here), I have been to Kolkatta.
The big floods, you will have seen on the news, close to Saharenpur are a long way from Kolkatta but the same water flows down in to the Ganges which, by the time it reaches Bengal is a truly mighty majestic river.
Mr Chatterjee picked me up in his new Nano car from my hotel on Sunday morning. We drove out of Kolkatta across the Howrah Bridge (built by the British in 1943 and still possibly the busiest bridge in the world) just one of the 300,000 who cross here every day. Rudyard Kipling said; " This is Imperial. This is worth coming across India to see!"

Actually the water flowing under it was worth seeing, high up the banks, scraping the temples. This normally placid river, dark brown rushing and angry. So much water moving so fast.
We drove, along the river bank through little towns busy and shambolic, catching glimpses of the river between buildings until we reached the town of Serampore. So from Saharenpur in the far north to Serampore in the far east, connected by the water. In the hot wet monsoon, this is real India.
serampore villa
Mr Chatterjee has a small company making gift products from Jute. Seampore was once rich, in the days when the jute industry here supplied the world with jute backing for carpets. There are magnificent wonderfully ornate streets of villas, now magnificent only in their decay. You can imagine a British Raj living in some style here. The British have long left and this town always feels to me like it was frozen in time since then.
Mr Chatterjee's oldest friend was a professional tennis player of some fame, now a tennis coach of renown in Hong Kong where he helps the rich and famous win a few aces.
He also helps his home town, not least investing in Mr Chatterjee's jute business, and he also supports the local tennis club. He was in town for the annual general meeting of the club and invited me to see. In this tumbledown river town of temples, holy cows and creeping vines it seemed incongruous to find such a thing as a tennis club. They told me with some pride that four members of the club were at Wimbledon this year. Alas not playing, all four are umpires. The Bengal Indians are famous for fair minded debating, so I'm not surprised they make world class umpires.
So there you have it, my tenuous link to Andy Murry all the way from banks of the Ganges in India to centre court Wimbledon in two handshakes.
I'm here working on the next batch of jute and cotton related products, one of which is door stops, here are some preproduction ideas. The coming new trend of 2014 (I hope).
Later Mr Chatterjee and his partner showed me the new factory they are building on the outskirts of the town. Four floors with better working conditions and nice views of open countryside.
Some stock just arrived from there you can see below. This is Mr Chatterjee with his staff proudly showing their work.
You can support the town of Serampore, Mr Chatterjee and his team, the new factory, the tennis club and AW by stocking jute products.
Did I mention that Jute is ultra green, JUTE Bags are very eco-friendly.
Jute is 100% bio-degradable.
Jute is a fast growing crop with a much higher carbon dioxide assimilation rate than even rainforest.
Jute production creates much needed jobs in areas that need it.
... actually I probably did. Sorry to go on so.
Anyway until next week.
Further distractions. Howrah BridgeJuteNotPlastic.comSeampore Tennis Club Facebook page - please hit like button.
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