Friday 29 January 2010

The Asian Rattan Adventure - part three

Our visit to the rattan processing factories!

The first thing you notice when you walk into the large barn where the fresh rattan is stored is the smell, a sweet "fresh air" smell a bit like newly mown grass. The recently delivered long lengths of Indonesian rattan are stacked high awaiting grading and sorting. It is surprising just how soft and pliable the fresh, unprocessed rattan is, it has an almost velvety texture and it feels moist, it bends so easily. First stage, the vines have to be measured by diameter.

The sorters sit on a bench with a series of thickness gauges attached in front of them. As they pass the rattan through the gauges, they are constantly manipulating the vine to make it straight ready for the next process, it is fascinating to watch. Their hands are so sensitive to a change in diameter that they hardly seem to need the gauges, every so often they will cut a length and throw it into one sizing section, then the next length of the vine may be only 1mm thinner or thicker, but that too will be measured and thrown into the next sizing section along. As they do this there is a constant clicking sound as the rattan taps together like drumsticks beating.

Next the rattan goes for cutting. One operator feeds the rattan into the rear of the machine, whilst a second sits in front catching the split rattan as it flies out. It takes a great deal of coordination between the two workers. The machines may be cutting the cane to different widths so are separated by boards to prevent the cut canes from each area becoming mixed up. Once cut, the cane is hung out to dry either outside or in one of the barn like storage areas. Then it is bundled together and taken to the weighing and packing area.

Here assorted lengths of cane are hung on hooks over a deep pit, bundles of the different lengths are then  selected, equally combined, weighed and tied together ready to be hanked or wound into rounds.

Finally the rounds or hanks are packed ready for boxing and weighed again, ready to be sent all over the world. All of the photos above have been captured from video footage that we took during the visit. I am hoping to edit it soon and eventually make a short film available online, the trouble is, (as always) time is money and I have so much work that I need to catch up on I can't really spare the time to do the editing!!

Part four will unravel the mystery of how pre-woven cane panelling is made.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

The Asian Rattan Adventure - part two

Before moving on to the rattan processing, a little more about Hong Kong - because it is such an interesting place!

Having visited Vancouver more than three decades ago and enjoyed the friendly multi cultural society and wonderful harbourside scenery there, I felt very much at home in Hong Kong. The large open spaces and urban concrete commercial sprawl works so well. The parks are terrific, an oasis in an otherwise noisy environment, sanctuary in fact.

It is noticeable that change is on the way for this place. Every available bit of land is being developed to its full capacity, it is an area of optimism - a breath of fresh air in an otherwise pessimistic World. It is possible to leave goods on the side of the street for collection later, no-one is likely to steal or damage them. We saw bamboo scaffolding being dismantled and left at the roadside, the poles were still there when we left a week later, office supplies, fish and vegetables were commonly left outside closed premises for hours on end until opening time - no-one helped themselves to these "abandoned goods". In most other countries of the world if something is left on the street it is likely to be considered "ownerless", it seems in Hong Kong people see such things as "awaiting collection by their owners", a whole different viewpoint.

Baskets are used for everything, from collecting rubbish, to moving rubble and storing food. Most that we saw were made from split bamboo, very few rattan, although the woven rattan baskets we did see were exquisite.

We are finally beginning to recover from our travels, having managed to get a few jobs done, this week, yet more danish cord work chair seats and I've started a cane medallion back. I think it's good to be home...?

Monday 25 January 2010

The Asian Rattan Adventure - part one

We arrived back home at 10.30pm last night completely exhausted and at bit jet lagged after the 12 hour flight. I think it will take us at least two or three days to fully recover.

What an adventure we've had, what a wonderful part of the World  south east Asia is and how beautiful the people are - their gentleness, grace and good manners, all presented with a smile - it is so easy to love them all. We started off in Hong Kong "delivering" my aunt into the safe custody of my cousin! Hong Kong is now officially part of China following the end of the UK's 100 year "land lease" in 1997. It is now described as an SAR or Special Administrative Region of China and is home to some 6,000,000 people - it is easy to believe that every single one of them is on the city streets all of the time, it is such an incredibly busy and vibrant place but with hardly any crime. It was warm, up to 26 C and humid "T" shirt weather, very comfortable compared to the UK of late. The harbour is just breathtakingly beautiful with dozens of islands shimmering in the sea mist and the skyscraper buildings defining the boundaries of the coasts edge. Every night at 8pm, these skyscrapers are artistically illuminated in time to music - the show last about 20 minutes, it is a sight to behold...

The streets are full of bright colours and would probably be thought of as garish when compared to the European/Western equivalent, full of neon signs and adverts. My cousin summed it up perfectly - it is always daylight in the city, it never goes dark and it never sleeps, we even saw a MacDonalds that was open 24 hours per day. But equally there are peaceful parks right in the centre where in the morning many practice Tai Chi in glorious natural surroundings.

From here we ventured further inland to witness first hand how the rattan vine is turned into the materials used for chair seat weaving and basketry. Loads more details to come soon as I can get over the aches and pains from walking so many miles and the interminable jet lag!!

Tuesday 5 January 2010

South East Asia, here we come!

Next Thursday the 14th we shall be on a plane to Hong Kong - the first stop on our visit to see the land of the rattan! I have a cousin who has lived in Kowloon since 1991, so we are flying out with my aunt, (his mum) to see him for the first time in decades. From there we will be able to visit the rattan processing factories and some of the offices of our suppliers - can't wait.

While we are away, our sons are going to do the best they can to man the phones. Please bear with us, they won't be able to take orders, but they will take all contact details so that we can get back to you as soon as we return. We will still be able to answer e-mails whilst we are away, but if there is something that you know you will need before the 25th, then please get in touch with us before next Wednesday, we will do our very best to make sure it is despatched before we leave.

Friday 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

A new year and a new decade has dawned with bright sunshine here in Dorset, we wish you all a peaceful, fullfilling and happy 2010.

Our new year will begin as we ended the last, with a visit to the Cotwolds. The medical people were right, Mother in law is no longer able to look after herself. They are sure that her memory has been deteriorating for a very long time but she has been cleverly disguising it - not wanting anyone to know. There are moments of complete mental clarity, followed by total confusion and frustration, it is so difficult to watch. When I asked how her arthritic knees were she replied, "they're absolutely fine, it's my head that doesn't work!" And that is her frustration, she knows that things are not working properly but can do nothing to change it. However, in one moment of clarity, she did almost persuade the visiting Vicar that she too was a visitor and almost hitched a lift home from him - extraordinary!

Now we need to attend to all of the legal red tape involved in making sure that she can be looked after properly by fully trained staff in a comfortable and inspiring environment, a process that will take  weeks or months no doubt. Meanwhile she will wait in a hospital bed not really understanding where she is or why and worrying about her dogs. We have written a long list of answers to her worries - "your dogs are with your sister in Wales", "I have your red coat, it is being cleaned" etc., to ease her fretting. Before we left she had read the notes a dozen times or more, it is so painful to witness a previously proud and capable woman having to try so hard to make herself remember.

So tomorrow we return to the Cotswolds to take extra clothing for her, she originally only took enough  to the hospital for a short stay. This is how we shall begin the new decade that started last night with such fantastic promise, a partial eclipse of an amazing full moon, a sight that apparently will not happen again for another 18 years.