Tag Archives: Industry

The Sliced Bread Time Machine

Time is relative, so they say. Bandung, the capital of West Java, Indonesia, seems to exist in two dimensions of time, parallel universes. The modern, polluted, busy, overcrowded industrial city with a sprawling urban population of over eight million inhabitants – Here, the main attractions for plane loads of local and international tourists are the numerous clothing factory outlets. If you own any clothing “Made in Indonesia”, that most likely means, “Made in Bandung”. There are more than three hundred textile industries here. Bandung is also home to hundreds of pharmaceutical factories, as well as a high-tech aircraft industry, and numerous universities. Then there is the other Bandung, the place that time has forgotten. A place of nostalgia, a living museum. Braga Street, the heart of this time capsule, is the place which historically gave Bandung the pseudonym “Paris van Java”, “The Paris of the East”. During the Dutch colonial era, this was the meeting point of the colonial plantation owners and workers. Barga Street was lined with high society shops, theatres, cafes and nightclubs. Even Charlie Chaplin performed here.

©SallyArnold
New street signage being installed, Braga Street, Bandung. West Java.

On my recent visit, the city was busily sprucing itself up for the upcoming Asia Africa Conference. The original conference took place in 1955, a time to discuss the cold war and the ending of colonialism across developing nations. This upcoming conference in April 2015, will see many world leaders congregate here once more.

Navigating my way around the broken footpaths and piles of ready to be laid pavers, I entered Sumber Hidangan, a local Dutch style bakery that first opened its doors in 1929, and hasn’t changed since. This easy time travel seemed to have no physical effects, I didn’t go through any gravitational vortexes or worm holes as in a science fiction film, all I had to do was cross the threshold. But time travel it was. This was the antithesis of mass market production. Light filtered through into the dimly lit space. The dusty wooden floorboards creaked as I entered the high ceilinged store. Peeling paintwork barely clung to the walls. Custom built glass cabinets, also with a layer of dust, displayed trays of fluffy white bread. Glass jars stacked artfully with traditional Dutch biscuits. Signage advertising the wares were in both Dutch and English. The ‘antique’ scales; a cash register and oven that have not been replaced since its opening. Even the staff were ancient.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sumber Hidangan, old Dutch style bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
©SallyArnold
Fresh hand sliced bread, ready for sale.
©SallyArnold
Traditional Dutch style biscuits in glass display jars, Sumber Hidangan, Bandung.

The smell of freshly baked bread teased me, and the glass jars filled neatly with treats caused my eyes to widen. But I was here to show my group my favourite thing about this store – the bread slicer. I approached the counter. To my dismay, the group of ladies in their starched pink aprons informed me that she had gone home for the day. Yes, the bread slicer is a person, no modern technology here. I had been here before when they were quite busy, with several bread slicers skilfully dividing the fluffy fresh loaves into precise slices. My disappointment must have been visible – the friendly ladies proposed if I buy a loaf, they could slice it for me. As I was keen to show my group, I agreed. They only had one variety of bread left this late in the afternoon, the Continental Milk Bread – made with eggs and full cream milk, the sign read. A loaf was selected, and one of the uniformed ladies began to masterly and evenly slice away. Perfect, with just a fraction of a millimetre left intact to hold the loaf together. She then suggested that I didn’t really need to buy it, that they could place it on the shelf with the others on display. They had gone to the trouble of slicing it for me, and it looked fresh and velvety. The ingredients printed on the sign suggested it had few preservatives, unlike the local commercial breads. I would like to try. She then briskly wrapped the loaf in brown paper while another woman neatly hand-wrote out my receipt for 10,500 Rupiah (approximately 80 US cents). This was in turn handed to the cashier seated behind a metal security cage. After our transaction, my group bought a few of the pastries, then we returned through the wormhole to the bustling modern street outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The bread slicer, Sumber Hidangan Bakery. Bandung, Indonesia.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Fresh sliced bread!

Sumber Hidangan is located at 20-22 Jalan Braga, Bandung. West Java. Indonesia.

The Kitchenware Specialists of East Java

All over the world, most pots and pans are machine made;  yet in Indonesia, many small home industries exist that produce aluminium cookware entirely by hand. Near Banguwangi in East Java a row of these small factories stand side by side flanking both sides of the highway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Making rice and bakso steamers by hand. Banguwangi, Indonesia
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Hand beating pots into shape. Banguwangi, Indonesia.

Banging and hammering noises rhythmically reverberate from behind the street-front shops displaying all manner of utensils and containers. All are the same, every shop. They compete selling identical products.

A walk behind the scenes, and we enter a dimly lit world. Large rolls of Aluminium sheeting wait to be turned into rice steamers or woks. Groups of men bang and bend the metal, all sitting barefoot on dirt floors. Razor-edged curls of offcuts and sharp pieces of wire litter the ground. They are surrounded by half drunk glasses of coffee, overflowing astrays and mobile phones. Facebook statuses need to be updated regularly. One man had three phones, I joked that he must have three girlfriends. He smiled wryly. In the corner of most workshops a wooden fire burns, and a blacked pot sits steaming the rice for the next meal, or heating the water for the next coffee. The sheltered dark rooms are cool, but the lighting is poor. There are light fittings, but all are turned off. Electricity is expensive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sheet aluminium to be made into cookware.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Garuda cake tin, a perfect souvenir.

Back on the street, the shops are the women’s domain. Once you show an interest and ask a price, the bargaining begins. If they don’t have the item you’re after, they’ll get it form a nearby store – for a commission. Cake tins, biscuit containers, kettles, steamers, ovens, rice moulds, you name it they have it, or can make it for you. This visit we bargained for Garuda shaped cake tins, the eagle emblem coat-of-arms of Indonesia and the perfect souvenir for the cooks in our group. Several were to be purchased, so we had the bargaining power of a group sale. The first stall owner had none, but asked us to wait while she quickly ran next door to get one. Her price was too high, so we moved to the neighbouring shop, where the tin had originally come from, and settled on a price. My group and the seller were happy. Being the experienced businesswoman that she was, the owner was convinced that we would also like a  butterfly cake tin, or perhaps a rabbit?

"Just one more?" Banguwangi, Indonesia
“Just one more?” Banguwangi, Indonesia

The Condom Factory

Growing up in Australia in the early 70’s, it was a common Saturday afternoon treat to go to the cinema (we called it ‘the pictures’). There was the main feature, of course, sometimes a double feature, and usually preceding this, a short film followed by intermission – a chance for the candy bar to increase profits. The short was often a documentary produced by the Canadian Film Board. It was often about the rubber industry. Often. Odd. We saw how the trees were tapped, and the latex collected in small coconut cups. The collectors were always wearing pointed hats from some generic South East Asian country. The formal voice over in a plummy, trying to be British, but with a Canadian twanged accent, explained the process. I knew all about rubber. Well that was my memory of it anyway.

Glenmore7
Collecting latex. Glenmore, East Java.

Having spent several years now in South East Asia, escorting tour groups – I too have been explained this process again by our local guides, as they have shown my groups around rubber plantations in the various countries I have visited. I have seen the sticky latex collected, poked my finger into the gooey liquid, and let it dry, then peeled it off. I’ve wondered if it hurt the trees as they bleed. I’ve even slept in dark and smokey longhouses in the jungles of Borneo surrounded by stacks of the stinky semi processed rubber matts. It was not until recently that I have learnt more about this process and seen the next steps in the production, as one of our trips take us to Glenmore plantation in East Java, Indonesia.

Glenmore, an incongruous name for an Indonesian village, was began (so one story goes) by Scottish mercenaries who had been in the service of the Dutch some time in the mid 18th Century. As they had been fighting the British crown, they were no longer welcome in their homeland, and exiled to make a new life in the Dutch colonies. Today the plantation here is still the largest employer in the village, and the rubber processing factory continues to operate much in its original condition.

I love stepping into the ‘living museum’ of an office here to pay for our tour. The time machine takes me into a room where the fan whirls slowly as a uniformed lady always types out my receipt. Yes, types clickity clack with an actual typewriter. With ribbon. And carbon paper. Often a group of uniformed men sit around smoking and drinking coffee. Yes, smoking cigarettes in the office – this is Indonesia where the anti-smoking laws have yet to take effect in many areas.

Glenmore10
Watch Out! – “There’s a barrier”

Our tour of the factory begins in a large airy white room. The cement floor is wet and the whir of the rollers occasionally override the constant hum of the machinery in the adjoining room. Workers, both men and women, are dressed in faded flowery sarongs and stained T-shirts. Some of the woman have headscarfs. All are wearing flip flops. Large water filled vats line one wall, and a watery conveyor belt ends with a series of rollers. A few ancient looking safety posters adorn the wall warning workers not to trip on the belts and machinery.

Our guide jokes that we are in the “condom factory”. He lifts one of the frames from the vat of water and revels a large spongy white sheet about 3cm thick. He explains that at this stage, acid has been added to the latex, and after several hours, it coagulates into this form. The sheets are then transferred to the belt, and are fed through the series of rollers. A worker aiding its journey by guiding it with his bare hands pushing the sheet into each roller, no safety guards to stop if his fingers accidentally follow the path of the sheet.The rollers wring out the excess liquid, and leave a criss cross ribbed patten, branding the mat with the Glenmore logo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Rubber sheets drying. Glenmore, East Java.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A woman sorts and grades rubber sheets. Glenmore, East Java.

These thinner, firmer matts are now carried to the adjoining building, the door is opened and a blast of acrid heat whooshes out. This is the smoke-room. Underneath we can see the wood fuelled furnaces burning, heating the room to 50° C. The matts already hung drying for up to a week, have changed from opaque white, to a translucent golden brown, like flayed skin hanging over the bamboo poles. It looks like a serial killer’s storeroom. The smell and the heat are overwhelming, and our guide quickly shuts the door. The building opposite, also a similar drying room houses the poor quality rubber, the froth that’s skimmed from the tops of the vats. It’s black and bubbly, more like a filthy kitchen sponge. This will be used for the local market to make flip flops and foam mattresses.

Glenmore5
“Clean is Healthy”
Glenmore4
Baling machine. Glenmore, East Java.

Our tour continues to the sorting and packing room. A hand painted sign in beautiful calligraphy announces ‘Bersih itu Sehat’ Clean is Healthy. We must remove our shoes before entering. The now dried and smoked rubber ‘hides’ are inspected on the surrounding light-boxes. Small deformities are discarded using a blade cutter. The sheets are then graded, and sorted. There are two baling machines in the opposite corner where stacks of the rubber sheeting are compressed into large cubes. The huge vice is turned by a shirtless muscled man, the sweat beading across his shoulders. This is hard manual labour. Everything is manual here.

The whitewashed bales are causally placed on the slightly raised whitewashed wooden platform, like cubed chess pieces in a contemporary art installation, ready for export. Each one is worth several months wages for the workers.

Glenmore2

Glenmore
Rubber bales waiting for export. Glenmore, East Java.

The heat of the day becomes too much for the group, so we exit and walk towards the shady forest of rubber tress. They are planted in even rows, and all bend slightly in the same windswept position, as though they are made of… rubber. Our guide expertly scrapes a slither of bark with his pocketknife, and the tree begins to bleed. I am back in the cool cinema of my childhood, all that is missing is the Canadian voice over.