Friday, December 17, 2010

More Bricks For the Wall or Tiles for the Roof

Lao Worker Inside of Kiln Preparing to Remove Completed Bricks
After our visit to the Blacksmith Village, Baan Hat Hien, we drove up the road to visit another village known as Baan Xang Hai, "Whiskey Village".  Our trip up to "Whiskey Village" was longer than I expected but well worth the time but that will be the subject of a future blog.  It was on our return drive from Baan Xang Hai that we encountered the subject of today's blog - the brick factory(?).

As we rolled along the paved road leading eventually back to Luang Prabang, I spotted a group of buildings and a couple of squatty brick towers alongside of the road.  I had Duang tell the driver to stop and backup to the industrial site.  From our travels in Northern Vietnam, I recognized this to be a site where bricks were produced.  One reason why we do not take organized tours is our desire to take advantage of unexpected opportunities such as this.  We ended up spending one-half an hour observing, photographing, and speaking with the workers.  I have found many of the workers here in Southeast Asia more than willing to be photographed and to speak about their work along with their life.  My task is made so much easier because Duang speaks the language and has an outgoing personality.  However I always try to communicate on my own with my limited knowledge of Lao and with a great deal of pantomime.  Often our hired driver is able to help out with communicating with the local people or to explain what we are observing.  It makes each trip memorable, personal, and extremely informative.  I guess the local people like most people everywhere like to talk about their work as well as their life.  Sports is not a part of their life so that topic is off of the agenda.  I also make it a point to avoid any political topics or discussions; it is best for me as well as for the local people.

Mining Clay For Making Brick and Tiles

As we got out of our Tuk-Tuk, I noticed several workers, children, and dogs wandering about the site.  I ascertained that we were arriving at the end of the worker's lunch break.  I would hesitate entering a site like this in America but besides the property having no fencing or security guards, the dogs very seldom present a threat.  In my four years here in Southeast Asia and previous two years in Brasil, I have encountered many dogs.  Only once have I have felt threatened by a pack of dogs let alone an individual dog.  In Brasil the dogs all seemed to have a guilty complex.  They would sulk around with their heads lowered with subservient body language.  In Southeast Asia, other than the dog pack of Wat Yai Chom Prasat in Samut Sakhon, the street or village dogs wander about oblivious to people let alone strangers.  We walked onto the brick factory and were completely ignored by the dogs; not even a closer encounter for them to get a more personal sniff of us.

The factory was a series of low sheds; sheds where the bricks and roofing tiles were formed.  The bricks and tiles were also placed on wood racks and the concrete floor of these low sheds to air dry.
The sheds had a roof of corrugated sheet metal and thatch. The natural air flow through the sheds along with the evaporative cooling effect of hundreds if not thousands of moist clay tiles and bricks made the interior of the sheds at least 10 degrees cooler than the outside temperature.

There were other smaller single story buildings where the workers and their families lived.  This is often the case here in Southeast Asia.  When we lived in Vietnam, our neighbor was having a new house built.  The workers lived in tents in his backyard during the construction period.  In Malaysia I visited a facility that painted structural steel.  The facilities workers lived in plywood and sheet metal shacks that they built on the property.  Here in Thailand, construction workers live in temporary sheet metal shacks at the job site.

A Worker Grabs Some Clay To Make Roof Tiles On A Wooden Mold
We first visited a shed where women were producing clay tiles that are used for roofing.  She stood at a heavy wood work bench.  A large pile of red clay was located to her right.  Every so often, another worker came from the clay pit outside of the work shed and placed another large junk of clay on her pile.  The women grabbed a chunk of clay from the large pile and shaped it into a large loaf of bread shape.  The bread shaped chunk of clay was then forcibly slammed onto a wooden mold.  The worker then sliced the compacted clay to the proper thickness using a special saw; an old style i.e. 1880's handsaw with a taut wire rather than toothed blade to cut the clay.  She then carefully peeled the finished tile from the mold and placed it on a wood carrying tray.  To keep the clay from sticking to the molds, the workers periodically would dust the wood mold with a very fine dust; perhaps cement or it may just have been dry clay fines.  When the carrying tray had several completed tiles, the worker would carry them over to the far end of the work shed and lay them out on the floor to dry out in the air.  I was impressed in the strength of these small Lao women.  I believe that I am capable of carrying their completed tray of tiles at least one time.  However I have my doubts that I could carry the heavy trays for 8 to 10 hours a day.

Slicing A Tile

Worker Lays Her Completed Tiles Out to Air Dry

Next to one of the work stations there was the only piece of production machinery that I saw at the factory.  The only piece of production machinery was an extruder for making bricks that have holes running along their long axis.  The machine was idle during our visit.  All other production activities were accomplished by hand.

The "Bucket Brigade" Sends Clay Up to the Production Shed
Just outside of the first production shed that we visited the clay pit was located.  The pit had been excavated by a front end loader to expose the clay seam.  The actual mining of the clay was done by hand.  A man with a wire saw cut large blocks of moist clay out of the exposed face of the seam inside of the pit.  Another worker removed the freshly cut block from the face and passed it to another worker.  The block of clay was passed from worker to worker from the bottom of the pit up to the production bench in the shed.  Men and women worked side by side to form the human conveyor to transport the clay blocks.

A Block of Clay Is Passed From Worker to Worker

Another Block of Clay Is Passed From Worker to Worker
I wandered up the hill to check out one of the kilns.  The kiln was a large structure that was surrounded by a sheet metal roof porch.  The kiln was not in use during our visit but appeared to have recently completed its task of firing some bricks.  At one end of the kiln the wall was partially removed exposing fresh bricks inside.  Some small diameter logs were located on the ground next to the kiln fire boxes awaiting to fuel the next firing.

One of the Kilns With Its Charge of Bricks Partially Exposed

Fire Boxes Beneath the Kiln For Firing Bricks and Tiles
From the large kiln I walked up a slight incline to two more work sheds.  In one of the work sheds, a woman was working with her young son hanging around.  In America some people celebrate "Bring Your Daughter Day" or "Bring Your Son to Work Day" - one day a year.  In Southeast Asia, for some people everyday is bring your children to work day.  Out in the countryside there are not any day care centers.  Even if there were day care centers the local people could not afford to send their children to them.  Besides these two factors, sending your children away to be cared for by strangers is not part of the culture.  Children are cared for by their mother, their older sister, their grandmother, or an aunt who most likely lives next door.  Children often accompany their parents into the fields at the earliest of age.  This is also true for some mothers that work in cottage industries.

While His Momma is Away, This Little Boy Plays

When his mother carried her completed tiles to the far end of the shed to lay them out for drying, the little boy became mischievous.  He started playing with her large block of clay.  He was aware that I was photographing him but did not mind.  I enjoyed watching him.  Once again a local person was using what was available to meet their needs.  He was entertaining himself by poking and scratching the clay block.  I could not help but wonder if Michelangelo got his start in sculpting in the same manner.

Stacking Completed Tiles
Duang had wandered off and soon was calling for me.  A Tuk-Tuk similar to ours had arrived with several workers.  The Tuk-Tuk had stopped alongside of the squatty kiln that had first caught my attention.  The workers had quickly formed a bucket brigade and were transferring completed bricks from the kiln to the Tuk-Tuk.  I had been invited to go into the kiln to see what was going on.  This was an invitation that could only be accepted.

Transferring Bricks from Kiln to Tuk-Tuk For Transport to Town

A Couple Less Bricks To Go

After socializing with the bucket brigade, I walked up and into the kiln for a look and to take a photograph or two.

Lao Worker Inside of the Kiln With Plenty Of Bricks to Remove

Four Bricks On Their way to Town

We had enjoyed our 30 minute visit to the brick factory.  We had the opportunity to see a small glimpse into the work of some of the people that we could have passed by along the road.  By slowing our own lives down just a little, we were enriched in learning a little more about the life of others in our world.

Some More Bricks For the Wall

As we drove down the road Duang told me that she thought that I would dream about bricks that night.  She was correct - once again.  I guess that she knows me too well.

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