The Mongering Philanthropist Part 10
(I feel obliged to remind the gentle reader, particularly if he has just stumbled upon this series, that it is all a work of total fiction.)
In the last episode our hero was in the UK keeping his saucers spinning. He is now on his way back to the Issan to check on progress with a series of deadlines to meet.
Part 10. Putting My Ducks In A Row
It was mid August before I returned to Thailand and took a comfortable first class flight on Thai Airways. I dispensed with the usual sojourn in Bangkok and went straight to Udon Thani. I took a taxi from the airport to Kul and Kwan’s hamlet. I was eager to see the changes to their property but first went to see Mike at his bar. Mikes wife Pong gave me a hug and shouted to her husband. Mike emerged and greeted me warmly with a huge beam on his face. “It is good to see you, I can hardly wait to show you the work we have done over the road” he said “I am like an excited school kid” He asked his wife to watch the shop and we walked over to the restaurant together.
As we approached the new entrance I immediately saw the sign above the door “Chez K” and was pleased. We entered to see the new reception area which was tastefully decorated and created an excellent first impression. It opened up into a communal lounge area which gave a great sense of space. At that moment Kwan stuck her head through the door from the kitchen, she screamed to Kul to come and ran to me giving me a huge hug. Kul came through and as she planted a big kiss on my cheek and said “long time not see…. but happy to see you” she grabbed my hand “Bpa ….come “she said “much to see.”
The girls took me through a new doorway into the central stairs up to the next floor and the outside staircase. Kul opened the nearest door to reveal a light and airy well appointed hotel bedroom. As I entered I saw a double bed with a very attractive duvet, a wardrobe and dressing table. To my right was a door that led to the en- suite bathroom which was all cream tiles and marble effect, the whole effect was clean functional and most impressive. Kwan said “We think you should sleep here tonight to try out new room”. I smiled” but I don’t like to sleep alone, maybe you will join me?” both girls laughed and Kul coyly replied “Maybe.”
We walked down stairs back to the reception area and I congratulated Mike on a job well done. Kul remarked “We have another surprise for you” and to my delight Ploy walked through the door with her daughter in her arms. She looked wonderful compared to the last time I saw her. Her daughter was without doubt the cutest child you could imagine and certainly looked healthier than when I last saw her. Ploy passed her child to Kwan and gave me a big hug that I thought would take my breath away. “I thank you to save me and my baby I am so happy to be here”. She told me how she was working for Kul and Kwan sharing duties with Nong and everyone helping to look after her baby. She was clearly very happy.
That evening I eat a splendid dinner in the restaurant with both Nong and Ploy dancing attendance on me. They are both so breathtakingly beautiful I know if they lived in the west they would both be models. I know I must find some way of utilising their unique loveliness into my business ventures in some way although at that moment I had no idea how.
After dinner I make my way up the stairs to the bedroom the girls have suggested I stay in. The room was bright and cheerful and the air con very efficient. I was just brushing my teeth when I hear a knock at the door. I answer it to find Kul and Kwan both dressed in baby doll night dresses obviously intended for my pleasure. I let them in and succumb to their charms. I am always comfortable with their tender attentions but I do worry with our new business arrangements there may be a change in our relationship and it is the end of an era. Or maybe khun kidt maak ….farang think too much.
The next morning Alec was waiting to have breakfast with me. I am happy to see him and congratulate him on the work he hade done at Chez K. He offers to give me a lift to Phai’s village and on the way he briefed me on the progress they had made. Our first port of call was Chan’s site. I was pleasantly surprised to see the new building was up and clad. There were some minor finishing tasks to do but I was impressed they had got so far as they had, having the rainy season to contend with. Alec explained when the weather was too bad they worked indoors on the hotel project instead so a degree of momentum had been maintained.
I could see Pravat and Nok in the building entrance and they gave me an excited wave. After warm handshakes and enthusiastic greetings Pravat showed me around the new construction. He had already built a new pit furnace and had transferred all the facilities for lost wax casting into the new building. He could not get the Greensand going in earnest yet but had marked out the area in readiness. He had the pile of moulding sand retained in a compound made from old railway sleepers and had 40 sets of moulding flasks neatly piled adjacent to it. The second hand jolt squeeze moulding machine had been delivered and the foundations prepared but was waiting installation.
Alec told me he intended to strip down the machine and refurbish it this week now I was here to help him. I had procured it from a Japanese owned foundry in Ayutthaya which was surplus to their requirements. I explained again the principle of its operation. I would have preferred to have two machines, one making the drag (bottom mould) and the other making the copes (top mould). But until we procured a second machine we would make a line of about 20 drags then change the pattern on the machine to make the copes to top them. We would then cast them on the floor let them cool and knock out the moulds. After retrieving the castings we would re mill and make additions to the sand then restart the cycle. I planned to eventually install lengths of roller tracking to move the moulds in this operation.
Alec was itching to strip the machine down. He had almost completed installing the ring main for the compressed air supply and had a 500 cubic feet /min compressor due to be delivered that week. I inspected the charcoal pit furnaces and was pleased we could get two 200 lb crucibles in them. I felt at some point we would need to replace them with a modern electric induction furnace but that was for the future when we could get a decent power supply.
My next priority was a sand Muller to mill the sand consistently. Pravat was pleased to tell me my Rayong contact had phoned. He had finally found a.500 kg capacity unit and would ship it to us this week. Pravat told me they had found two good lads to work with Nok in the greensand foundry. The existing two experienced workers Phanon and Prem would continue to work with Pravat on the lost wax casting side. This seemed a sensible idea; I could help Nok train the new lads without disrupting the existing business.
In Chan’s workshop all the foundry equipment had been moved out and replaced with several artist benches and the paraphernalia needed to shape and carve sculptures. The walls had been cleaned and it would not take much to create a demonstration studio and visitor centre. Chan greeted me warmly with a huge beam on his face. “All this change is fantastic” he said “I can now let Pravat do all the hard work, I am excited to be an artist again and looking forward to becoming an Arjan teaching sculpture and casting.”
Happy with the progress being made I begged a lift from Alec to Phai’s home. I received an affectionate welcome from Phai. It did not matter how long it had been since I saw her she would greet me like she had seen me only yesterday. We would slip into domestic intimacy as if we had been married for 40 years. I found this rather endearing. She was the most attentive and affectionate woman I had ever known but was not overpowering and she never showed a hint of jealousy. I imagined she suspected my indiscretions but was happy to ignore them. She seemed happy with our relationship.
Phai’s youngest daughter Ratana had returned home with her English degree from Khon Kaen University. She was initially a little shy around me but over time I had noticed she was becoming increasingly comfortable in my company. One evening whilst Phai was preparing dinner I was sat on the settee reading the latest novel from the Spanking Pulp press, Ratana came and curled up on the settee beside me. She was silent for a moment then said “I need advice …..I do not know what to do with my life”. I was surprised and extremely flattered she should seek my counsel. She continued “I have my degree now but I am a little scared to go out into the world” I explained this was perfectly normal to feel hesitant but she was a bright girl and had an exciting future.
I was quiet for a moment as I thought how I should articulate my answer “Why don’t you work for me as my assistant, at least until you make up your mind about what you want to do,” I continued “there will be plenty to do when the summer school starts….in fact it would please me if you would be the manager of that part of the business collecting and driving our guests, taking care and helping Chan with the workshops” She sat up and I could see I had her interest so I added “in the meantime you can be my Personal Assistant to look after my interests and I will pay you a good salary” Ratana gave a shriek of delight. She got to her feet gave me a kiss and began running to the door “I must phone my sister and tell her all thing” At the door she stopped and asked “How much salary?” It was my turn to laugh “we can talk about that another time but you know I will not be keneow with my daughter” She gave me a big smile and scurried out to phone her sister. Phai had clearly been listening to the conversation, she came out of the kitchen thanked me and planted a big kiss on my cheek.
After dinner that evening Phai took me to the lively bar on Ratnak lake in Udon Thani. I paid 200 baht to the band to let me get up and sing. I gave a rendition of a few old numbers from the 60s and 70’s that the band knew. I loved the attention and was as happy as a sand boy. When I returned to her Phai laughed “You are same little boy sometimes….. This is probably why I love you”
The next day over breakfast I told Ratana now she was on the payroll her first task was to organise some promotional photos for a website. I explained we needed to get everyone involved to be on the photos to give the impression we were a larger operation than we actually were. We also needed a corporate image and some sort of simple uniform for all concerned. She knew a photographer and phoned him to arrange a session later in the week. After breakfast she borrowed her mother’s car and drove into Udon Thani.
She returned that afternoon with a huge cardboard box, clearly excited she took it straight into her bedroom. A couple of minutes later she came out wearing a sky blue polo shirt and a pair of dark blue cargo shorts. Ratana is an attractive girl and her petite and slender frame and elfin features give her a rather delicate and fragile beauty. She looked cute in her proposed uniform and although I had hopes of our corporate shirt would be in blue and white stripes I recognised her choice of sky blue would look good on everyone.
I told her I liked her choice but hoped she had bought a variety of sizes. She laughed and said “Do not worry I have bought an XXXXL size for you. I feigned annoyance and went to chase her. She gave a little shriek and ran back into her room. She immediately returned laughing and threw a shirt at me. It had no label but I tried it on, I am no slim Jim but this garment totally buried me. She laughed quite riotously at the spectacle before her. “You buy this for Chang (Elephant)?” I ask. She was still giggling when she replied “No I buy for your friend Mike the Australia man”. I reflect this ability of Thai people to laugh at the simplest of things is so endearing and one of the reasons I love the place so much.
She took a breath and explained “I make list of everyone who is involve in project, I phone Alec and he tell me about all at Chez K. I guess size and buy two shirt and shorts for each.” I was quite impressed with her resourcefulness and told her so. She gave a coy smile and continued “I get good price and they promise to exchange if I get size wrong”.
I remarked “When we have the session with your photographer friend you will have the job of distributing shirts and shorts to everyone” I continued “Then we will see if you guess correct …..I think it will be good fun”. I gave her a kiss on her forehead and said “You have done a good job my daughter…..oops I mean Khun Ratana my trusted assistant” She gave me a playful slap on the arm and returned the kiss on my cheek before excitedly returning to examine the box of garments.
For the next two days Alec and I stripped the moulding machine down and replaced all the bearings seals and fittings that looked suspect. We worked the next day reassembling it. The following day we suspended work when Ben, Ratana’s photographer friend arrived at the foundry in a van laden with equipment. He was a good looking young Thai man I estimated to be in his late 20’s. Ben told Ratana he had also bought a video camera with him and would try to take some recordings where he thought appropriate such as processes and things being made.
Phai and Pan had taken the day off school and even Ratana’s sister Mali joined us for the day. We were all waiting in Chan’s studio for the photographer’s arrival with great excitement. Ratana took immediate charge and was distributing the blue shirts and shorts to everyone. There was the usual chaos inherent with any activity involving a group of Thai people.
All Ratana’s careful preparation was ignored as everyone began scrabbling in the box containing the garments, much to her obvious frustration. I am sure if she had a gun she would have fired it in the air as the sheriff in cowboy movies invariably does to get attention. Instead she banged a bronze elephant on the bench until she got everyone’s interest. With a firm authoritative voice that belied her petite frame she informed everyone that she had written their names on each plastic bag which would contain a polo shirt and pair of shorts for each of them. She then continued distributing them in a slightly more orderly fashion.
Everyone was so excited that modesty was forgotten as clothes were divested and the new garments tried on to great laughter and enjoyment. I probably saw more of Pan than her husband Chan had seen for years and probably more of her husband than I would ever want to. Once everyone was suitably costumed and the excitement moderated Ratana took charge again and informed everyone of the schedule for the days shooting. We would take a few shots in and around the new foundry building with Pravat and Nok, who beamed proudly that they would be the first to be photographed. Ratana explained the next session would be in Chan’s newly tidied studio with Chan and the rest of the staff working on a sculpture at various stages. Then they would photograph Pan Phai and Mali with all the examples of the sculptures and artwork we could muster. Finally we would take some shots of everyone in a series of team photos. It sounded a good plan.
Everything went pretty much as planned. Ratana’s photographer was extremely professional and Ratana adeptly organised her cast with great efficiency. At times it was like herding cats but Ratana handled it with great patience and it was clear everyone was having great fun. I had kept out of most of the shots but eagerly joined in with the team photos.
It was almost lunch time by the time Ben had taken what he considered was enough photos and videos. As with any activity involving Thais we had ensured that food was supplied but some of our team had gone over an hour without eating and were becoming faint and frantic. Ratana thanked everyone and informed them we were finished for the day. Everyone made their way to take lunch which had been set up on benches in the new foundry building.
Once refuelled Ratana and I jumped into Ben’s van and made our way to Chez K for the afternoon’s session. Everyone was waiting for us in the new reception area. Ratana once again took command and distributed the shirts and shorts as before. As before modesty was suspended in the excitement and I was particularly observant as Ploy casually stripped off her summer dress and Nong struggled to remove her tight jeans.
Ratana was particularly keen to give Mike his oversized shirt which actually fit him very well although the shorts she had got him would not touch him, much to the amusement of his wife Pong. Whilst everyone was sorting their uniforms Kul took Ratana and Ben upstairs to show them the layout of the rooms. As they did Alec turned up with his wife Jenerai and brother in law Somchai. It was extremely unusual for Alec to be late; his military background would not permit it. On seeing me he apologised profusely “It was that daft brother in law of mine he insisted on bringing his keyboard to entertain everyone I am sorry my friend”. I told him not to worry I was just glad he and Jenerai were here. I had asked Alec and Jenerai and Mike and Pong to help with the photo shoot and they were happy to be involved.
Somchai was a little slow witted but was a sweet natured harmless lad who had a real musical talent. I went to Somchai and thanked him for his thoughtful gesture and told him to set his keyboard up in the restaurant. His sister translated my words and he beamed a huge smile before rushing away to set up his equipment.
Ratana and Ben came back downstairs and Ratana immediately took charge. She began explaining the afternoon’s schedule. Firstly we would photograph all the bedrooms and needed Pong and Jenerai to be photographed acting as housekeepers, making beds and cleaning etc. Then we will take shots of Ploy and Nong working in the restaurant maybe serving Alec and Jenerai (dressed in their own clothes of course). I piped up “I want lots of photos of Nong and Ploy”. I received a slight scowl from Ratana and she then bobbed her tongue at me before continuing “We will then do shots of Kul and Kwan in the kitchen”.
Ratana was checking everyone’s apparel when Kwan walked in with Ploys daughter Lawan in her arms. A communal”Ah” went up from everyone on seeing her. Kwan put her down and she began tottering towards her mother who immediately picked her up. Ratana gave a smile and pulled a tiny sky blue shirt out of her box and said “I did not want to leave baby Lawan out of the fun so I got this for her.” Ploy put the shirt on the youngster and I could not recall ever seeing a more cute sight. I could see Ben agreed and started shooting photos of her immediately.
The next set was in the reception area and involved lots of shots of Nong and Ploy who looked delicious in their pale blue shirts and shorts. Ben even roped Alec in to pose as a customer checking in with Nong as receptionist.
Ben then said he would do the restaurant shots but suggested it would have been better if we had some more farang customers but understood it was too late now .At this Mike walked across to his bar. There were four of his usual suspects sitting drinking “Come on you mongrels we need you for a photo shoot”. With the minimum of argument they followed him to the restaurant. Ratana had the scene set up but was now taking care of Lawan as every one else was engaged. Nong and Ploy had changed into short cocktail dresses I had bought specially for them. Mikes customers were sat on various tables whilst Pong and Jenerai (also now back in civvies) were distributed amongst them to look like their partners. The whole scene looked a trifle posed to me but Ben worked his magic.
The shots of Kul and Kwan appeared authentic as they were actually cooking and insisted they supplement the uniforms with their chef’s hats. The shoot was concluded with a number of team pictures of everyone in uniform outside in the street. With the signal from Ben that he had enough photos everyone made their way back into the restaurant to eat the food Kul and Kwan had prepared. Somchai took his cue to begin playing some Issan favourites on his keyboard. Mike fetched a crate of beers from his bar and the party commenced.
It was well after midnight when Ben dropped Ratana and me back home. On the way home I told Ratana (several times) what a great job she had done and how proud I was of her. I was more than slightly inebriated and expected a bit of a tongue lashing from Phai. However Phai and Mali were sitting on the settee and informed me their own party had not long finished. They had clearly had more than a few themselves and seemed very happy. After a short incoherent conversation I made my way to bed leaving Phai sleeping on the settee snoring like a buzz saw.
The next morning we were all a little delicate with the exception of Ratana who had the good sense to drink with moderation and restraint. I suspected everyone enjoyed the day and would still be talking about it for some time to come.
A couple of days later Ben came to the house with a computer disk. Ratana immediately set my lap top on the dining room table and loaded the disc. She located the file which seemed to contain a thousand photos and bought them up to the screen. Phai came out of the kitchen and joined us at the table. The quality of the images Ben had taken was excellent and as Ratana worked through them Phai squealed with delight at every image.
It took almost an hour to go through them, the formal shots were outstanding and would look wonderful on the website but there were many informal snaps which were quite delightful. Phai was particularly pleased with a series of casual photos with me Phai and her two daughters together. I was a little surprised Phai made no comment about the ladies in the shots at Chez K and had not even mentioned the delightful Nong and Ploy.
Ben also showed me four short videos he had taken on the day. One had Chan making a latex mould from one of his clay statuettes, another had Nok and Pravat assembling a ceramic mould of a statue and the third had the three of them casting a mould with molten metal. These would be a very valuable addition to the website. The fourth video was of Ratana holding Ploys daughter with Nong and Ploy looking quite delicious in their short black dresses. The result was extremely charming and I was certain it would be a big hit on the website. I was exceedingly pleased with the results and thanked Ben profusely for his efforts. Ratana gave him one of the polo shirts and told him he was now part of our team.
Phai was so excited she wanted to make prints off every photo and throw a party for everyone to see them. The thought of printing a few hundred photos horrified me so I suggested an alternative. I had ordered a projector in readiness for the sculpture workshops. We needed to set it up in Chan’s studio and when we did she could have her party there and display the photos on a big screen. This idea thrilled Phai and she immediately phoned her friend Pan to make arrangements.
The next morning I sat down with Ratana at the lap top and we catalogued every photo adding a narrative for each to help Gerald and Beverley back in the UK to interpret the images. It was quite a fun task and we did not notice the time until Phai came home from school. It was almost 9 pm before we finished and sent the images and videos to Gerald and Beverley via the internet. I was becoming very impressed with my little assistant despite her delicate and petite appearance she displayed a strength of purpose and a real passion for the work.
A few days later I took a trip to Chonburi to visit the pattern shop we had placed the order for the bench end tooling with. The owner was an experienced German named Andreas, the shop was well equipped and he had a group of competent well trained Thai patternmakers. I had already sent him the CAD drawing of the castings and he was well on with making the models. We discussed the running and feeding system over the images on the screen of the computer which would convert it to cutter paths for his CNC machines; this would speed up the manufacture of our pattern tooling.
I had specified aluminium patterns mounted on cast iron plates for the moulding machine. We discussed the internal chamber on the upper casting which would require a sand core. Andreas recommended making a small resin core box as he knew a foundry in Rayong who could blow 2000 cores in an Amine cold box process quite quickly. He could send us a batch when he delivered the patterns in three or four week’s time.
Confident of the ability of Andreas and his team I took my leave and a taxi down to Pattaya. I made my way to the Secrets bar and booked a room for the evening. I then went into the bar to see my old friend Mo waiting for me. I had promised to take her for dinner at her favourite fish restaurant for her help in finding Ploy and her baby I had also promised to buy her a new pair of shoes. She was pleased to see me and after one drink we took a gentle stroll to Walking Street to the restaurant.
Over a large seafood platter I told about how my friends had saved Ploy and her baby describing Kul and her revolver to dramatic effect. I told her all about Lawan and how cute she was becoming and how Ploy seemed to be thriving. I also described my new venture with the foundry and the hotel. Mo has always seemed comfortable in my company and remarked “I think you did good thing to save Ploy and her child, maybe life in your hotel is a little bit boring for her but better than life in bar and better for her daughter.”
We walked back to her bar bought a few drinks for her friends then retired to the room. I have always been fascinated with Mo’s unusually long legs and as usual she patiently let me adore them for my customary half hour. Our lovemaking was relaxed and unhurried and as old friends we talked about our dreams and aspirations into the morning.
The next morning we took a relaxed breakfast and said our goodbyes. She wished me well with my new ventures, asked to be remembered to Ploy and requested I keep in touch and not forget her or overlook I still had not bought her the promised new shoes. The manager of the hotel arranged a lift to the airport in their limousine so I had a comfortable journey which gave me chance to catch up on my sleep.
I got back to Phai’s house late afternoon; I had hardly settled when I receive a phone call from Gerald. Although it was still early morning in the UK I was used to Gerald phoning me as soon as he got into work but I had not heard from him for a week. He told me he was delighted with all the photos I had sent and they had now integrated them onto the website. He was quite excited about the voiceovers they had just completed and informed me the website was now launched and available. He felt I would be pleased with the results and the videos made all the difference especially the one with the delicate girl holding a child and the two beautiful waitresses. He told me they were already creating an interest and the site had only been up a few hours.
He asked “Where did you find those two stunners, I bet it cost a fortune getting them from a modelling agency” I gave a chuckle “They are not models they actually work for us as waitresses and receptionists.” I heard him catch his breath “Jeez, selling the artist workshops just got a lot easier, I might sign up myself.” I updated him on a few things and asked how Beverley was doing with her other projects. He told me Beverley was making progress and had commented on what she called “your harem” but I think she was very impressed with your set up.
When Phai returned from work she told me she had organised her party at the studio for that evening so we must get ready now. We take a shower together to save time and end up taking more time as we got distracted, but by 6.30 we are making our way to Chan’s studio. When we arrive I reckon half of the village had turned up. Jow the travel agent and his delectable wife Acheron were there. I recognised Phai’s headmaster and his ravenous wife and a few other local dignitaries. Ratana is there already and her sister Mali had come over to help her mother and Pan with the food. She is also a computer whizz and had got the projector and an internet link set up. I had a quiet word with Mali about the new website but asked she keep quiet until after the slide show when we could reveal it. She was clearly excited about this but promised to keep the secret. I also quickly informed Ratana about the website.
Scores of seats had appeared from nowhere and there must have been about sixty people sat watching the blank screen. Pravat and Nok had organised the beer which they were distributing around the audience with great enthusiasm. I could not fail to notice Pravat could not keep his eyes off Mali but she seemed oblivious to his attentions. I must ask Ratana about that sometime. With Ratana working the projector Pan had taken the role of master of ceremonies and stood at the side of the screen. I took a seat next to my friend Chan that he had kept for me.
Pan welcomed everyone and Ratana began the proceedings with the first image of Chan standing underneath the “Changerong Art castings” sign on the new foundry building. Someone shouted “Wow handsome man” much to everyone’s delight. The next slide showed Pravat and Nok inside the new foundry and this time the “Wow more handsome men” came from a few female voices. As the images advanced Pan continued her narrative switching effortlessly between English and Thai. As people recognised themselves there would be whoops of delight from the crowd. Pan was a clearly a natural performer and she entertained the audience with some very witty observations and a well timed delivery.
The audience were not quite so interested in the images from Chez K hotel until we got to the shots of Lawan which were received with communal “Ah and Ooh” from the assembly. They were only matched by the gasps from all the red blooded males at the images of Nong and Ploy and the sound of them being elbowed in the ribs by their wives. When we arrived at the last slide which was a group photo I was surprised to see over an hour had passed. Pan was just about to declare the buffet open when Mali got to her feet and asked everyone to return to their seats after they had collected their food as she had one more surprise to show.
I saw Ratana give her sister a quizzical look but as everyone rushed towards the food Mali went to explain. After about 20 minutes everyone had returned to their seats, Pravat and Nok distributed more beer as the screen was once again illuminated. This time Ratana stood at the side of the screen. Mali sat at the lap top poised to navigate the site whilst her sister narrated. An image flashed on the screen it was an animated abstract Dragon in pastel colours. Four boxes appeared in the corners of the screen. The Dragon traversed the screen until it fell on the box “Changerong Art Castings.” The dragon’s tongue pressed the box and a photo appeared of Chan under the sign on the foundry. Various Images of the activities of the studio and workshop appeared and faded into the next image. The photos were replaced by the video of Pravat and the team working on the mould making and casting processes. A deep voiced Shakespearian actor intoned a description of lost wax casting and the producing of sculptures. As the video faded, images of various statuettes and sculptures appeared on the screen until they faded to a still that gave a list of contact details.
The Dragon reappeared and pressed its tongue on the box titled “Artist retreat and workshop”. A series of generic images of Thailand showing beaches and Bangkok moved to Chan in the studio carving a statue in clay then the video of Chan making a latex mould. The sonorous thespian described how there was now a unique opportunity to study the timeless skill of bronze statue making in the beautiful kingdom of Thailand. A few more images of statues and the workshop fade again into a list of contact details but this time superimposed over a photo of Nong and Ploy smiling and looking delicious in the sky blue shirts and shorts. Whether this was a subliminal message I could only guess but it worked for me.
The Dragon reappeared and activated the “Chez K” box various images of the hotel frontage appeared. The voice over explained guests at the workshop would stay in the comfort of a family hotel with a friendly personal service. The video of Ratana holding Ploy’s baby and Nong and Ploy dancing around to entertain the child appeared and faded into images of the bedrooms and the restaurant. The last image gave contact numbers as before. Most of the images we had already seen in the earlier presentation but seeing them in the new context gave them a fresh interest.
The Dragon finally clicked on the box for the “Anglo Siam Co”. A photo of the delicious Danielle in the reception back in the UK flashed up. This was followed by a photo of Gerald sitting behind a desk with Beverley sat on same desk showing an inordinate amount of leg. The voice over extolled the fusion of English management expertise and Thai skills and hospitality. The image of two team pictures outside the foundry and the one at Chez K gave the perception that we were a large operation. The last image was of Chan and me surrounded by our families, I did not recall that being taken but it was a lovely picture and received a round of applause from the assembly. Ratana closed the meeting but invited everyone to stay and finish the food. Mali turned the lap top to U tube and with the image of Tai Orathai and her morlam music projected on the big screen, the party began.
Phai told me she was very pleased with the way the presentation went and everyone was happy. By this I assumed her and Pan had made great “face” in the community that evening. She also thought the website was very good but was surprised how many people seemed to work for us ….and many ladies she laughed. I took her hand and said “Well now I am going to dance with my favourite number one lady.”
For the next month I focused on the Greensand foundry. The moulding machine was working but I was disappointed with the results. I felt it was the inconsistent nature of the naturally bonded sand we were using. Now we had the sand Muller I decided to change to synthetic sand. I ordered some dry graded silica sand and imported bentonite clay. It was a more expensive mix but I knew we could control the sand properties with far more reliability. I showed Nok the proportions to mix and how to trim the recipe as required. I told him we would eventually buy some scientific sand testing equipment but in the meantime I showed him the time honoured way generations of foundry men have tested the moulding sand. I squeezed a ball of sand in my hand; held it between with thumb and second finger and felt the resistance as it fractured. Nok tried it himself and was confident he would very soon get skilled at determining the best sand consistency from this simple test.
While we were awaiting receipt of the pattern equipment from Chonburi we began making a batch of samples of the Buddha statuettes for the Chinaman in Chaing Mai. We had to scrap and remelt most of them but we were making some albeit slow progress. Sands from SE Asia are quite angular in shape which does not aid compaction so I purchased some bags of sand from Australia which is more rounded to add to the sand mix. I also increased the water additions. The improvement in compaction and surface finish was immediate and most encouraging.
By the third week the improved compaction resulted in some well defined castings. The following week we received the pattern equipment for the bench ends and a batch of sand cores from Andreas in Chonburi. We decided to focus on this. The patterns were beautifully constructed and we were getting very clean mould lifts from the moulding machine. I spent some time instructing Nok on the art of laying the sand cores in the mould explaining the principles involved. I was a little concerned when the first few castings we made we experienced severe surface imperfections called expansion scabs. I explained to Nok it was not the fault of his moulding but a function of silica sand which expand at 520 degrees Celsius. This expansion is around 1.4% which can cause the sand mould to buckle locally allowing molten metal to penetrate the mould surface. It is particularly prevalent on uninterrupted flat surfaces. I had envisaged the flat faces of the bench ends could exhibit this and had a remedy prepared.
I got Nok to increase the bentonite clay content and added a small amount of wood flour to the sand. The wood flour would burn out before the temperature the silica expanded allowing the expansion to occur without buckling the mould. It worked and by the end of the week we were getting some very good results. Nok was resourceful and a very fast learner and during the following week with his two assistants were making 60 moulds a day. We soon accumulated enough upper and lower castings to make 100 sets. I was impressed with the efforts of Nok and his team and happy with the quality of the castings. Once Nok had carefully fettled and finished the castings we sent them back to the UK for Matt to begin work on. Even Chan and Pravat were impressed with Nok’s achievement and showered him with congratulations much to his delight.
With the immediate pressure off the bench project we could concentrate on the work for the Chinaman in earnest. We quickly achieved some good results with the Elephant castings. With the improved compaction we also achieved success with the Buddha castings and found we did not need to add wood flour to make them which helped to give a much crisper definition to the castings. By the time Nok had finished hand dressing them and worked his magic the quality almost matched the results they had previously achieved by the superior lost wax process.
Within the next two weeks we had a sample batch of 100 Elephant and 100 Buddha castings to send to Chaing Mai for approval. A few days later Chan informed me he had spoken to the Chinaman. He had accepted the castings but because they looked slightly different he wanted a 20 % reduction in price. Chan told me he had anticipated this and had negotiated a 5% discount on the first batch. As Chan pointed out the greensand parts were probably half the cost of the lost wax castings to produce so we could live with this. Chan was also enthused that we now had capacity in the lost wax foundry to produce new business particularly the work that was beginning to come from Gerald’s efforts. By the end of the month we were shipping the Chainman’s product to schedule. He had even increased his business with us.
The next day Beverley phoned me from the UK and I congratulated her on the website. She acknowledged my compliment and assured me it was still a work in progress although they had all the links and adwords in place. She also told me she had taken Sir Norman Lunt to Trevor’s factory to see the first benches Matt had assembled and he was delighted with the result. I teased her “And did Sir Norman manage to escape with his trousers intact?” I could hear her laugh as she replied “Only just ….now I expect you to suggest I will require some suitable punishment for my impure thoughts when you return” It was now my turn to chuckle. “Being serious for a moment” she continued “He could see enough material around Trevor’s factory for 100 units and as we still have three weeks before the first 50 are due, he was very pleased.” She added “Oh and he told me he wanted a chat with you when you return, something about a documentary on design and architecture for the BBC. I think he wants to do some filming in Thailand and mentioned Chan’s studio.”
I suspected he just wanted some cheap advice but I did not want to dent her enthusiasm so joked “Well you had better hurry up with your plans to remove Sir Normans underpants before my harem get their hands on him” She gave a grunt but there was still laughter in her voice as she remarked “I am still inquisitive about the huge entourage of beautiful women I saw from your photos and am eager to hear all about them.” I told her I would be returning to the UK soon and would have a good chat over dinner.
That evening Phai booked the local restaurant for a celebratory dinner for the team. It was a substantial party with Chan Pan, Pravat, Phai, Mali, Ratana plus the two long term employees Phanon and Prem and their pleasant wives. In addition were Nok and his two assistants Som and Tik with their pretty young girlfriends who were clearly excited at being invited to a works dinner for the first time. After we had all finished eating I told them all about Beverley’s phone call and that Sir Norman Lunt had been very pleased with the castings we had made. Nok beamed with pride as Ratana pointed him out for congratulations. I also thanked Som and Tik to the obvious delight of their girlfriends.
I had been somewhat in “canine residence” with Phai as my tourist visa was about to expire and I had opted to return to the UK rather than let her take me on a visa run to Laos. But when I told the party about Sir Norman and the possibility of him coming to film she became a quivering wreck of excitement. “Oh….Teeruk when Sir Norman come I shall have to buy a big hat same the ladies I see at Prince Williams wedding on TV.” When I saw the other ladies equally animated about frocks and head wear I realised it would be futile to try and explain the reality. I saw Chan raise his eyebrows so I signalled the door to him.
We stepped into the hot humid evening air and I offered my friend a cigarette. As we lit up he laughed. “It has been a good year my friend”. He took a pull on his cigarette and continued “Since you join our family there is always something new to excite the ladies and keep them happy….even if it only to talk about silly hats.” He laughed as he described how he could imagine Pan and Phai making even Pravat Nok and the boys wear big silly hats in the foundry for the visit of this Sir Norman. I shared his laughter but reminded him that we would also be forced to join in.
At this Ratana came out to see us both laughing uproariously at the image of each other in ladies bonnets. Ratana smiled and said in her idea of a posh upper class English accent “Gentlemen you have been instructed to return as coffee is being served”. Chan patted my back and smiled “duty calls my friend”.
Two days later Phai ferries me to the airport at Udon Thani we say our tender au revoirs and I take the flight to Bangkok. I did not go to the international terminal as I intended one night in Bangkok before becoming blighty bound. I took a taxi to the Nana hotel and checked in. I had an appointment with Wanaporn my Thai solicitor at 1.30 so had an hour to take a shower and make my way to his office on Asoke.
I took a taxi and arrived with ten minutes to spare. Wanaporn greeted me warmly and once settled discussed progress on my projects. He had been happy with the way Mike managed the building projects and so had released stage payments with no problems. The principle purpose of my visit was to explore the alternatives to a tourist Visa for entering the kingdom. I had read about other options on the informative stickman site but sought further advice. He suggested a retirement visa may be suitable, I was over 50 could prove a monthly income over 65,000 baht and had 800,000 baht in a Thai bank account. He would sort it out for me and contact Devin my UK solicitor within the next week or so.
I asked him how his own business was doing. He informed me he was getting quite busy and should really engage more office staff. He explained he was in that difficult predicament where there was too much work for the existing team but not quite enough to engage another person. I told him I knew a lady who would be perfect for him when he was ready to recruit. He told me to get her to contact him sometime and he would keep her on file for future reference. After a further few minutes of friendly chat I took my leave and a taxi back to the Nana.
It was only 3.00 pm and unsure what to do I find my foot turning into the Golden bar. I was happy to see my friend Kae, the little poppet who didn’t go with customer. She was pleased to see me so I paid her bar fine and took her to the Heidelberg for a late lunch. I explained I had been eating Thai food for almost two months and my body was screaming out for a steak. I was not disappointed as the food in this establishment is always exceptional. We chatted about the last time we met and I took her to the Tawandang. She told me she had thoroughly enjoyed the evening and said she had been slowly recovering the self confidence she had lost following her mastectomy. Although we had never been intimate I genuinely cared for Kae, she was intelligent always dressed with class and despite all the iniquities life had heaped upon her, maintained a cheerful disposition.
I mentioned my discussions that morning with Wanaporn and that he may be looking for staff in a few months time. I suggested her previous experience working in the prestigious offices in the city would stand her in good stead. Noticing her reticence I explained Wanaporn was a decent fellow and would make allowances and help her regain her self-assurance. She smiled and promised me she would contact him. I told her all about my enterprises in the Issan and had her laughing at some of my recent misadventures. Before we knew it was the end of her shift and time for her to go. She did not seem in quite a rush to go as usual. She accepted the 2000 baht with a wai and a promise to contact Wanaporn as she made her way to hail a taxi.
I returned to my room took a shower and changed into a decent drinking shirt. A stroll past the Nana car park finds me a motorbike taxi which deposits me at the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy Evening in Soi Cowboy. It is still happy hour in the Tilac so the usual suspects Bill, Harry and Mack are sat in their customary spot. On seeing me they greeted me with the customary welcome “We heard you were in Jail” I took a seat with them and countered “Actually I have been receiving treatment for my Newbie guilt fever and receiving medication for the acute good girl syndrome you diagnosed last December”. I ordered a round of beers and got comfortable
Bill asked “So what have you been up to since we saw you last you old bugger?” I told them “I never thought I would ever say this but I have not had to pay for some of the sex I am having.” I continued “Even back in blighty I have been shagging women including a Chinese an Indian and a Black girl. I have been having so much in Thailand I am thinking of taking a lad on.” Harry piped up “That’s all very fascinating but we were more interested in if you were gainfully employed now” I told them about my ventures in the Issan, the hotel and the foundry. I began to wax lyrical about making bronze statues, the website and my meeting with Sir Norman when Mack interrupts “Boring ….get back to telling us about the shagging again”.
Next morning I woke early and took a taxi to the airport for the mid day Thai airways flight to London. After all the recent excitement I was looking forward to a few days rest. I would land in London at 9.00 pm Saturday night catch the National Express coach to Birmingham and be back at my flat by 1.30 Sunday morning.
I walked out of customs at Heathrow and was flabbergasted to see Beverley my ebony temptress waiting in Arrivals. She looked delectable in a pink T shirt and short denim skirt. “Hello Dr Hall” I said “To what do I owe this pleasure” She gave me a big hug and said “I have booked a hotel in the West End for tonight as I thought tomorrow you could take me to Harrods and in the afternoon see a musical like Les Miserable’s ….or maybe Miss Saigon is more to your taste”. She ignored my open mouthed reaction and continued “We will then have dinner and a quiet evening as we have a meeting on Monday morning in Canary Wharf” With a huge grin on her face she explained “a firm of Property developers saw the website and want to discuss a project that could be worth millions to us.” She paused for effect then said “Oh and by the way Bristol City council have ordered 200 of our benches from Hunt Lunt and Cunningham for a new dockside development. We received the order to supply them this morning. I knew this would please you so you wouldn’t mind me making the arrangements for the weekend and coming to meet you”.
She finally stopped for breath then coyly added “In the meantime I want to confess some impure and improper thoughts and need to discuss appropriate punishment with you tonight”.
Something told me I was not going to have the quiet relaxing week I had envisaged
To be continued