30 December 2006

Home Manufacturing

I visited a high school friend's home recently. My son was happy to play with his two children and a nephew. One of the toys the kids played with was basically a mold for making miniature "robots". It was in the shape of a robot standing erect. The big robot's chest served as a chamber where Crayola crayons would be stacked and become melted. The melted crayons would flow down into a mold that served as the lower part of the robot. Supposedly, three whole Crayola crayons would make two miniature robots. The little "crayon oven" made me fondly recall a fun time I had when I was in the refugee camp in Indonesia.

I was a young lad of twelve years of age when I left Viet Nam with my parents and siblings for the open sea. We were known as boat people. Incidentally, the Vietnamese were not the first to be known as boat people. That honor was first bestowed upon the Irish who left their homeland and the devastating Potato Famine, for America. The Vietnamese, being half the world away from the U.S., had to first aim for some neighboring country of Viet Nam, such as Malaysia or Indonesia. In our case, we ended up in Indonesia, probably at some northernmost islands of Indonesia's many islands. In the refugee camp, I helped out around the house, or the hut, to be exact, with chopping logs into fireworks and drawing water from the well, but otherwise had much free time. No TV, no Internet access, no electricity, no telephone, we were mostly removed from civilization. Chinese chess was a popular pastime for many people on the island. In international chess, the pieces are tall cylinders with the upper part shaped to resemble horses, castles, etc. In Chinese chess, the pieces are merely short cylinders, much like checker pieces, with Chinese characters on the top side. Some people got the bright idea of making the pieces from scratch. I think it was more of an activity to pass the time, as there were a few sets of Chinese chess throughout the camp, probably brought from Viet Nam on the outgoing trip. The process of making the chess pieces were ingenious to me back then, and now, too.

The pieces were made out of plastic. We would gather plastic garbage, such as leaky plastic bottles or other types of plastic containers. A large pot would be set up on three bricks and a fire kindled underneath the pot. Into the pot all the plastic pieces went and shortly afterward we had a pot of foul-smelling hot, melted plastic. To make the mold for the chess pieces, someone would cut open soda cans, flattened them out into rectangular sheets, then cut the sheets into thin strips. The strips would be rolled up and somehow held together. I cannot recall how it was done, as we certainly didn't have Crazy Glue at the time. Anyway, molds were laid out and the hot, melted plastic would be poured into them. After some amount of time had passed, the solidified plastic disks were removed from the molds and the Chinese characters were engraved onto them, possibly with a pocket knife. Lastly, toothpaste was used to fill the engraving lines. What I cannot recall is how we distinguish the pieces, as back then we only had white toothpaste and none of the fancy Slime Green or Bubble Gum Pink that are available at the corner pharmacy. Maybe we somehow darkened the toothpaste for one side while the other side's pieces were left as white. All in all, it was a lengthy process, but hey, we had all the time in the world to kill while waiting for a possible sponsor in the U.S. or elsewhere to be contacted, for the sponsoring process to get rolling.

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year. This is one of my New Year Resolutions - to leave comments to your blog entries.
    I enjoyed reading this entry and thanks for sharing a good memory from the refugee camp. I was probably too sick to know what everyone in the family was doing at that time. I always enjoy reading your entries.
    Your big sister