|I neglected to write in my previous entry about my trip to Phillip's (one of my hosts) workplace, a company called Bravura. He is one of the management there, and W and P thought it would be fun for me to see where all those home products originate from. His company supplies a whole bunch of shops in the US and Europe, including Pier 1 Imports, Crate and Barrel, World Market, Zara Home, etc. |
I had never before really imagined what is involved in producing and shipping the products that end up in these stores for a mere 6-10x markup. It turns out that Phillip scouts out who are particularly talented weavers, let's say, in a Javanese village, and then gives that family a contract to make a certain number of items. This of course is driven by a specific coaster order, let's say, from Zara. They specify what they want produced, down to the color, size, and how to tie the fucking satin bow around the little package of 4 coasters. And how to place the price tag and how much it should be. An army of local day workers works hard to finish off the order in time to put it in a shipping container waiting outside and then ship it off from Java to whatever distant ports abroad, so that all the store has to do is place the item on the shelves and sell it for a huge markup.
The people who work on these products are happy to have any work, even if it is unbenefitted day work. From what I was able to tell, their salary ranges somewhere between US $1 and US $3 a day for minimum wage. This is then squeezed further by demands from the contracting company who has placed the order, which can include having to work all night overtime if need be for no more than the usual hourly wage. If they get exposed to some sort of resin or chemical in the finishing process, so be it. There is no such thing as health benefits or workers' comp (as far as I can tell). All this is what contributes to getting those products on the shelves for the price they are marked at, with huge profit being made by Pier 1, to use one example.
After seeing what the work is like, not only did I even think for a bit that perhaps my job is not that bad ... but I also determined never to buy anything full price at those stores ever again. Not that that vow is so different from my usual standard operating policy ;-) But I feel for the army of workers. Apparently none of this stuff really is machine produced. It's all the labor of hard working people. And the standards are so completely different from what we enjoy in the developed world.
Beautiful things though. If it were possible for me to buy single items as opposed to buying by the thousands, I sure would have.
The good news is that Wim says that after I do my stint as a doctor in Kuching, I can come back to Jogja for a month as a cook.
A huge contrast is to be found between this workaday stuff, and the dreaminess of Borobudur, to which the lovely Debi took me. It is a huge Buddhist 9th century temple with many many stupas and an overwhelming sense of mellowness and spirituality. I felt this when I went there for the first time 10 years ago, and so I really wanted to go back. It's about an hour and a half drive from Jogja. I hired an English speaking guide, but his English was a lot less good than Debi's, and at one point he talked about "Japanese visitors" and what I heard was "Japanese fish-eaters!" To me this seemed fairly plausible that he was just sort of speaking slightly derogatorily about those sushi eaters from Japan -- but then it turned out it was just a pronunciation issue and I felt like a big idiot. Sorry, Budi! Budi did have some great ideas about where we could take photos within Borobudur, and was happy to take some for me with my camera, and Debi took a bunch more, resulting in my feeling like I was in some sort of photo shoot with a backdrop of one of the wonders of the world!
I would definitely put Borobudur on my short list of "one of those few places in the world I'd get up way early in the morning to see" but I thank Debi for allowing me not to have to do that. However, I'm sure the photos would be indeed amazing at dawn.
Today was a lazy day for me which involved a nap, even! Gearing up for my flight tonight and my next adventure in Bali. Thanks so much to Debi and to Wim and Phillip for being fantastic hosts!!! :)