Friday, March 27, 2015

Dreams Audit

Greetings from Surenpur on the banks of the Ganges. I'm in jute territory working with our main jute products supplier Mr Chatterjee. This is what I call real India, and probably one of the poorest area's we do business. It is a long way from the nearest five star hotel, so you don't get many NGO's here, or at least I have never seen any. But if ever a place needed help it's here.
The people are gentle and thoughtful, not in any sense pushy. I once was taken to meet the local chief of police, a muscular guy and a keen Manchester united fan, he told me that as areas go there was virtually no crime, and his biggest problem was crashes in the narrow streets. Other than that they often had problems with homeless children. A combination of high mortality amongst the poorer people and domestic fall outs often leave young children on the streets. He told me there were gangster types who tour rural areas offering money to "take care" of homeless children.
These unfortunates can end up in the big cities tapping on your taxi window begging for coin. He told me they take them to Mr and Mrs Kundo who look after about twenty five children in a small shack that had been donated by a local businessman. The police guy told me that the Kundo's were really good hearted people, and as honest and decent as they come. They give the children a sense of family and ensure they attend school.
That afternoon Mr Chatterjee and me went to see.. Mr Kundo was truly a kind hearted guy and the kids seemed clean and cared for. On first glance all seemed good, a nice location on the edge of town overlooking a tranquil lake. But on closer inspection the shack was barely standing, the only running water through the leaky roof, food cooked on an open fire and no toilet facilities. Washing and ablutions performed in the lake. All they asked for was the roof fixed up because in the monsoon, nowhere was dry.
Two years on and we have fixed the place up a bit. A complete new roof, a proper kitchen, shower and toilets. Running water was a challenge they said it couldn't be done, but Mr Chatterjee found a way.
There is lots more to do, next step is to employ an English teacher, the local school don't offer more than very rudimentary English. And spoken English is one of the best routes to a decent job in India..
The kids are always excited and delighted to see me, and now it is mandatory that the first job on arriving in town is to visit the children's home, shake hands, see how they are doing, inspect the latest works and take pictures.
This time I was interested in taking stock of the kids. There is a hardcore of about twenty children and always someone being repatriated with family and new ones, eyes still untrusting, learning to fit in.
I wanted to know just five things, their names, how old they were, how long they had been there, if they had a parent where they were and what they did and finally and most importantly I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. I'll tell you why later.
Great excitement, there is a bit of jostling for position. Mr Kundo finds an exercise book and sitting on a stool by the lake we start taking stock.
If parents existed, they were in far off towns, all were from broken homes, parents jobs were the like of rickshaw puller or street vendors.

Ages from five to fourteen, they have been living in the shack between one week and seven years.
We have ten budding policemen, probably because of the kindly cops who rescued them and brought them here. Six prospective teachers (like Mr and Mrs Kundo), three army types, two engineers, two cricketers, an electrician and one doctor.
Not bad, not one kid wanted to be a rickshaw puller, and some excellent choice of careers. But now we have a stock figure of expectations and dreams. I wanted to know if anyone wanted to be a businessman like Mr Chatterjee, no-one had thought of that.. I'm feeling a bit put out :(
Next year, we will see if we can raise dreams and expectations, because as I always say; "If you don't have a dream how can you have a dream come true?".
If you want to help.. it's easy just stock some Freedom product lines.. see below.
Until next week.
Take care.
Freedom Incense
Freedom Bags
Freedom Incense Holders

Friday, March 20, 2015

Epic Days

Greetings from Ubud, Bali. Last week I was telling you about traveling in East Java through the teak forests to find sustainable teak wood suppliers.
This week I met up with our Indonesian agent (Ringo) in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia we were visiting two trade shows looking for suppliers. You can read it here.
Jakarta is a mega city, and I'm pretty sure there are twice as many skyscrapers than on my last visit about three years ago. But the roads are way behind the developments, it must be the worst traffic in Asia if not the world. You can really walk quicker than taking a taxi.
But the trade shows when we finally got to them were full of creativity, so much beautiful stuff. A lot of the worlds furniture is made in Indonesia, and the designers are world class. Of course the prices they want to charge at these shows are at a premium, especially the stands run by marketing companies. You might not believe this but I found plenty of products that we actually sell cheaper on our UK website, than in the show. However we found new suppliers in Bali I didn't know existed, and discovered the cities that specialise in different products. Also found lots and lots of ideas.
In the UK, you will by the time you read this have experienced an epic Solar Eclipse, and on the first day of Spring. The ancients would have read all sorts of wisdom and mysticism into that double occurrence. Here on the other side of the world it is Happy New Year.. or Isakawarsa - it is Balinese new year today. Ubud is the place to be for this.. but not the best timing for doing business, as pretty much everyone is ensconced in making the epic monsters that will troop round the streets tonight. Yesterday was the beach offering day for Ubud, whole villages piled into the back of trucks, set off in long convoys to the coast to make offerings on the beach, then later back to the village temples, bells clanging to make more offerings.

Tonight will be a riotous party in Ubud. There is massive competition to create the most amazing monsters. The creativity of local artisans is really let loose, and even though this is in essence a hindu religious ceremony, many images are sensual, some ribald and dare I say almost pornagraphic -much to the consternation of the many conservative Indian hindus who visit. There will be mock battles in the streets, later some monsters will be burned, the evil chased away for another year.

This is actually my personal third new year this year :) Once in Spain, of the regular sort, then Chinese New Year in China and now Bali New Year in Ubud.
But tomorrow is different, very different. It's called Nyepi or the Bali day of silence. I have been in Ubud once before for this.
Everything is quiet, peaceful. No cars, strictly no driving. You are encouraged to stay in your hotel. The airport closes, yes really. There are zero flights in and out of Bali. Last time the electric was off, and only cold food available. For some reason, you whisper rather than speak out loud.
So shsss... until next week.
The day after Nyepi I have a flight to Calcutta, India. So next time News from there..
Take care.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Of Drugs & Dragons

Hello and Happy Holi.
I'm in China now right after Chinese New Year, (in Yiwu) but in another part of Asia it is a full blown colourful crazy holiday.. known as Holi.
Last week I was telling you about my Letters from Indonesia.. read them here..
Yes it's India's biggest festival and the most fun. A time when normally conservative Indians go a little bit wild, throwing buckets of colour at each other and painting the town red... and yellow and blue..
It is the festival of colours, the festival of love and heaven knows.. anything goes. I remember the first time I experienced the crazy full blown Holi festival. I was in in Kolkata, staying in the ITC hotel in Salt Lake, it is a peaceful hotel famous for minimalism and peace and calm.
But outside we could hear a tremendous roar of activity, a street market come party come mad-house. We ventured out, against the advice of the door-man and went to see what was happening. Before long Carlos (our man in Spain) and I were swamped by street kids and covered in paint. We were offered, and I remember drinking something from rather grubby looking clay pots from a dreadlocked holy man. Only later realised I had been drinking a cannabis smoothy. It's called Blang.. you can read about it here. About Blang.
Soon I'm off to Java for a short trip then to Kolkata and Bangalore.
So have things Indian on my mind..
Have you seen our new Yin Dragon Incense Gift packs? I think they actually make a nice Mother's Day gift, for any old Hippie Mums.
Someone asked me for the back-story to these and if they were from a reputable source. So I want to introduce you to Mr Holk.
Most incense in India comes from village people who hand roll the incense.. which is OK, working at home. Then it it is fragranced and packed at a furious pace in hell-hole factories - much worse than clothing factory sweatshops, because the dust and fumes. I can tell you I have cancelled orders more than once when when I have seen working conditions..
Mr Holkor who makes our bulk incense and now the Yin dragon.. is good guy. A smallish family business, very humble people, we are his first export customer.
I remember the first time we met, he picked me up from my hotel in my hotel in Delhi. I don't think he'd been inside a big hotel before, because I found him sitting in reception on the edge of a chair looking terrified. I don't think he'd been inside a big hotel before, because I found sitting in reception on the edge of a chair looking terrified at the all the comings and goings of a city hotel. Back then he had a ancient tiny car waiting in line behind the taxis and limos. I was sat in the back with my legs left to right bouncing along banging my head on the roof for what seemed like hours wending our way on little rural roads to the north of Delhi. On the way Mr Holkor explained to me that that they had only worked as a contractor for other bigger incense companies, producing cones and sticks that then got packaged and turned into various brands. He wanted to escape the contract production and export directly, but he frankly told me he had no idea how.
We finally arrived in his village, where his company operated from a series of farm buildings. Inside semi automatic machines stamped out incense cones and on the roofs the fragranced sticks were laid out to dry in the sun. It was a beehive of activity and people seemed surprisingly well dressed and jolly. His office was a bare table in basically a cow shed, mud floor, bench table and plastic chairs. But he'd arranged for a wholesale perfume guy from Delhi to be there, to sample fragrances that might be suitable for the European market. So I thought they are thinking about this... they also seem to understand that certain materials can't be used in exported incense and that quality was a big issue. At the end of the day they were so humble and open, that I agreed to help them get started exporting.
At a later meeting I introduced him to Mr Chatterjee our agent in India, who helped them obtain an export license and talked them through all the (massively) complex bureaucracy that is Indian exporting.
For the next six months, parcels of fragrant samples followed me around asia, waiting for my approval or rejection. Finally we whittled down a range of acceptable fragrances, tested burning times and ended up with a super range of incense that make up the bulk incense sticks and coneswe now stock.
Then last year, Mr Holkor brought me a range of boxed incense, using our fragrances and a bit of nifty packaging. We redesigned the labels and put together a range of gift boxed sets. Mr Chatterjee later told me that during negotiations, Mr Holkor had asked him how much to charge and given him all his product costing, saying I trust you to advise us fairly. See the Yin Dragon Incense here.
Mr Chatterjee has helped them a lot, last month (February 2015) at the grand Delhi trade show, next door but one to Chatterjee and his Jute company stand was Mr Holkor and his incense company stand on his very first trade show outing, proudly displaying his wares to the world. It's great to see people get on, don't you think?
So you know it makes scents... stock up withYin Dragon Incense and Bulk Incense today :)
More news next week.
Take care