One year after Africa. Ten or so year ago. In a Cocoa Processing Factory in Singapore – The Way of the Farmer
October 6, 2012
The new shift supervisor in the Cocoa processing factory in Boon Lay, Singapore was to all intents and purposes an unassuming man – he was quiet and kept mostly to himself. During his meal breaks, he preferred to munch on home made sandwiches alone on the upper deck of the factory where he would often watch the birds fly in from the North – except for this one oddity in his daily routine. He was just an ordinary Joe amongst a sea of men who turned the wheel of life in Singapore.
There were of course other quirks about the new shift supervisor that not everyone noticed or appreciated – firstly, he had the unconventional habit of switching off his walkie talkie and sleeping on strewn cardboard during the night shift which he did quiet openly without even the slightest tinge of embarrassment. He would often say to his own men, “when things are going smooth, one must learn how to conserve energy.” At other times, he even told his men in the presence of his bosses, “a wise man should never ever work so hard that he gives himself completely to the company and forgets his family, family should come first. As for firms and bosses they come and go.” Another quirk was the man’s rebellious nature whenever he found his bosses unreasonable when they tried to throw their weight around which they often did – the man after all knew a lot about Cocoa processing – so much more than even everyone else that whenever there was any trouble in the factory, it seemed everyone turned to him. He had the perverse habit of never ever volunteering information and the solution really only came when all others had tried and failed. Even then he would remain silent to be the point of bordering on bochapness (ambivalence). Till of course, the factory manager had to finally swallow his pride and ask him - this was the man’s unspoken golden rule to all, it didn’t matter whether it was a lowly mechanic who struggled with a pump or even the factory manager himself who frequently found it impossible to reach the desired production target without the man – as only he knew how to fix the problem from the inside out – this was not wholly unexpected. As the man seemed to know the product so very well – and he was good with machinery – he seldom even needed to look at the inventory to know what the factory was processing that day – all he had to do was sniff the air knowingly. The man knew that Cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast differed from Sumataran – he even knew how each behaved as they coursed through the endless processing lines that snaked through the length and breadth of the factory – and in a factory when a man knows his work like the lines on the palm of his hands better than anyone else and can always be counted to come through during a crunch. It would not be very far off the mark to say that the man was really like a one eyed man in the land of the blind. This was all that really mattered to the crew the man led and his bosses.
As by this period even his bosses found it necessary from time to time to provision the necessary widget room for such an extraordinarily skilled worker who had the inexplicable bad habit of embarrassing them by either walking out of meetings or simply making them all look stupid which they suspected he secretly revelled in – one could always tell, there was always enough glee in the man’s eyes to even suggest that he enjoyed making his superiors look stupid and inept. Others even suspected this was his way of intimidating and neutralizing those who he considered a threat to his way of life.
In this perverse love and hate relationship of how politics was conducted in the factory in Boon Lay. Even the man’s bosses found it necessary from time to time to turn a blind eye to the fact the man had the unfailing bad habit of reporting in sick every alternate Mondays. And frequently slept quite openly during the third shift without even having the decency to hide this from all others. The factory manager would often be heard recounting,
“I know he is not a very sociable person. He doesn’t seem to talk very much either. He is even rude to all of us – but at least he seems to get things done and that is really all I care about. The last thing we need is another NATO. And it is regrettable that we have so many of those sort in this bloody place.”
During the man’s off day’s - he would spend it mostly ridding his mountain bike all alone in the lush greenery of Bukit Timah - the man did not fear the jungle like the others and he revelled that he was closest to his true friends here, the trees and birds - for months the man had ridden the trail early in the morning. He found it impossible to believe that there were no tribesmen living in this jungle – and so for the first few months, he had left marks on the trail that he knew only tribesmen would pick up - stones arranged to form an arrow head shape – sticks which pointed to a creek or river. But despite his best efforts the man could not find the tribesmen who lived in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
Till one day during one of his regular off day foray’s early into Bukit Timah, when he was cycling at break neck speed, he stumbled on a group of peculiar tribesmen - they were all attired in colorful jerseys, helmeted, sitting astride on their bicycles blocking the trail and for a while when the man stopped suddenly and glared at them as they all studied this lone figure who rode in a black skin tight jersey and black Klein - it seemed as if trouble would break out - but just as the tension rose, something primal seemed to lance the moment and though no words passed between this group of tribemen and the man – it was clear for all to see that when the man had decided to ride through them that morning, the others simply made way and took their places like silent birds taking their place as they followed the man’s lead - the man knew words were seldom necessary with tribesmen, this was the way politics had always been conducted in a tribe since the beginning of mankind and time, even in the small and unlikely sliver of greenery known as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
That day the man had discovered his tribesmen who lived in the Bukit Timah jungle and he was happiest as he knew he was finally no longer alone.