Lee settled into his office chair to begin whittling away at accumulated correspondence and reports. The first order of business was to process items which could easily be settled by his secretary with a few written comments. That was the easy part and he quickly separated the pile to be collected by his secretary with stick on comments to guide her as she dealt with the work. He reflected briefly on how fortunate they were to have secretaries.
Lee’s job required extensive travel. He’d joke to those he knew that he really lived in an aeroplane but came back to the office for a holiday. Unfortunately, the office was not a holiday as jobs needing his attention had a tendency to pile up in spite of availability of email and phone.
There were locations though where email and phone didn’t work. He smiled as he remembered his recent trip to Laos where the only things that arrived with him at his destination in a remote northern area were his laptop and briefcase. His suitcase arrived just in time for him to make the return journey a week later. By then his only clothes had taken on a strange odour and he’d developed the beginnings of a beard.
He placed correspondence in the out tray in order of priority and buzzed his secretary turning to remaining items needing direct intervention. Glancing at each in turn he divided them into priorities with those for urgent attention on top. Then with a sigh he took the top item and began to consider the problem. But in the back of his mind curiosity burned. There was one note titled “Coolies” toward the bottom of the pile.
Now this had been an item of contention for some time. The estate director was constantly being assailed by resident office workers assigned accommodation on the estate who in their spare time believed they had management responsibility over the coolies. Reports were many and varied. The coolies (estate workers) were sleeping on the job, the coolies were supplying outside parties with cuttings from the plant nursery, the coolies were not keeping up with the cutting of grass or watering of gardens and pot plants. The list went on and on.
Lee was inclined to dismiss these reports. It was quite likely some of the reports were accurate but from his frequent walk around the estate it appeared to be very well maintained. The estate director was inclined to be sympathetic to the coolies and that was not because it was his fellow countrymen. What was wrong if they took a nap in the middle of the day? They were entitled to some break from this hot work near the equator in their lunch hour. What was wrong if some cuttings from the plant nursery were given to outsiders. Those same outsiders shared cuttings with the estate so it was a transaction of mutual benefit! So, as the pressure built from bored office workers who’d made up their minds the coolies had to go, the estate director stonewalled.
Lee inspected the pile of work again and sorted until he found the item headed “coolies” to satisfy his curiosity.
He nodded. The problem had gone to a higher authority and this was a note to inform Lee the coolies were being settled with and replaced by a contractor. He shrugged, it was out of his hands now.
The coolies were incensed. They felt they were being unjustly treated even though settlement terms were generous. Some of them had worked on the estate for years and were older. Who would give them a job now at their age?
Later that morning a dispirited estate director presented for the weekly report and introduced the contractor. The contractor was one of those verbose characters who exude confidence and promise the world. Something like a local politician looking for a vote. Lee who’d been in administration for most of his working life gave him a D grade mentally but listened politely and underscored expectations administration had for the job. There was much shaking of hands all around and Lee went back to the pile of work before him.
Now in the East games are played and they are the same games played in every country. But the difference between East and West is in the West all is eventually exposed by a vociferous news media. The East has learned over the millennia silence is golden.
All went well with the contractor for a little while and workers who’d complained bitterly about the work ethic of the coolies sank back into self-satisfaction as they watched from their windows after work. They delighted in watching the contractor lauding it over his men, and that was especially apparent as he noted eyes in those watching windows. He became very zealous when those observations were noted.
But the wheels of justice grind slowly. It came to the notice of the contractor this was the time of year when fertilizer was normally applied to all gardens and flower pots scattered through this large estate. No one can really be sure what possessed the contractor to make his choice, but it was whispered perhaps someone had told him of the administrations preference for pig manure for this restoring process. This of course was the exact opposite to administrations preference. Anything to do with a pig was frowned upon. It was also suggested keeping that preference wet would aid in the rejuvenation of all plant life.
One day after the rejuvenation process was complete complaints began to surface about a strange smell suddenly appearing on the estate. Offices and houses were all air-conditioned, but there was a sudden change of habits on the part of residents. Lingering conversations on estate roads after work were cancelled as people struggled to their homes barely breathing on the hasty journey. Those workers who had their homes in the city made a mad dash for the bus stop after work, and the customary early morning joggers ceased to appear at their appointed time. Those who’d customarily gone home for lunch preferred a sandwich at work. The smell intruded whenever people entered the electronic doors to the office. Misery was everywhere.
Dark mutterings against the contractor began as a trickle and developed as a flood of complaint. The contractor was given a terse directive. Remove the cause of the increasingly intense smell.
The contractor was nonplussed. It would be impossible to remove something which had been carefully worked into the soil. He suspected sabotage, but there was nothing to be done about his suspicion. Realizing it would not be possible to satisfy the window watchers from then on he decided to cut his losses and quit. The crew were gone next day leaving a sampling of their creative work behind to plague the estate for weeks.
As the estate began to be in want of maintenance the estate director suggested he could possibly convince coolies to resume their employment. Some had already departed for other more accepting employers, but he managed to gather up some of the old hands and a few new ones to fill vacant positions.
The old coolies resumed their midday nap and continued to share plant cuttings as they’d done in the past. Not a complaint was registered over these before times unforgivable sins. Peace reigned on the estate once again.
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