Page 7 - April 2015
P. 7

of the die cutting factory, we came across an     standards, this was being done carefully and
                                                  conscientiously, and helping to feed families.
ancient press made in China which was set up
                                                  I hesitate to estimate the rate of pay for this tea
for numbering. (Figures 5 & 6). It reminded       bag group. With a policeman or woman in Nepal
                                                  being paid on average 1½ US dollars (about £1)
me of a European letterpress platen I had seen    per hour, I would think that these tea bag fillers

somewhere, but I cannot remember what or                                               were probably
                                                                                       being paid much
where, but perhaps one of our knowledgeable                                            less; there is no
                                                                                       minimum wage in
readers will                                                                           Nepal! Of course,
                                                                                       money stretches
recognise it. The  7                                                                   a lot further in
Chinese are so                                                                         such third-world
                                                                                       economies; it has
good at copying                                                                        to. But whenever
                                                                                       I reach into my
successful                                                                             Twinings box
                                                                                       to make a cup
presses. Note                                                                          of tea, I can’t
                                                                                       help reflect on
that this                                                                              everything I
                                                  saw. I ventured to ask my courier about why
machine was                                       we hadn’t found any working letterpress
                                                  printshops in Kathmandu, still setting type by
at some time                                      hand. Was there nobody, I enquired, doing
                                                  letterpress printing as a hobby, concerned to
mechanised to                                     keep the art of hand printing alive for future
                                                  generations? Pragyan looked at me thoughtfully
run with a belt                                   for several minutes. Silence. Then he came out
                                                  with something so profound: “Hobbies are a
powered by an                                     luxury we cannot afford!” he said quietly. “All
                                                  our waking moments are spent working as
electric motor                                    efficiently as possible, just to survive the day.
                                                  Printers who once used letterpress have gone
but the rest of                                   out of business and starved unless they moved
                                                  to something more cost effective.” I looked
the machine                                       around for a large stone under which to hide.
                                                  As a Westerner in a poverty-stricken country
seemed to                                         suffering under a democratic but corrupt
                                                  government, I suddenly felt ashamed of my
be original.                                      wealth and my small “luxury” printing business
                                                  back home. I had been firmly put in my place.
Answers on a postcard to the Editor, please!      Sobering!

I thought my tour of the die press factory
was over, but then we heard some chattering
and came across a group of Nepalese women
sitting cross-legged at a low table. (Figure 7).
It From a distance, I thought they were on a
tea break, but I was wrong. They were hard
at work making tea breaks possible! Here was
an informal production line making paper tea
pouches and filling them with tea bags! The
die cutters had evidently cut out hundreds of
white tea bag patterns—each printed with the
one word “TEA”—that the ladies were folding,
gluing and filling at a leisurely pace. Back in
the UK, this would all be done by machine at
high speed, minded by an operative with little
to do except to close box lids and stack filled
boxes. Here was possibly a family operation,
employing five women who would otherwise
be unemployed, doing a simple task and
fulfilling orders for the company. Don’t even
think UK H & S and hygiene; by Nepalese

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