Back at the
office Hai and the director talked in Vietnamese and I imagined it was
to find out more about me and what kind of deal I was good for. I looked
at the glossy company brochure. The picture on the cover showed the
head offices standing in a beautiful forest. "Where is this office?"
I asked, breaking up their huddle. "It's here." Said Hai, gesturing
to the facility, "they superimposed the forest on the photo." "Virtual
forest." I said, Hai nodded and laughed. I flicked through the catalogue
using cues to ask questions. "So how much furniture do you produce?"
"From here we ship thirty to forty large containers every fifteen days."
"So what can you pack in a container?" "Oh, probably one hundred and
fifty of these sets." The director pointed to a garden table, parasol
and a set of four chairs. I tried to do the mental arithmetic but it
wasn't happening with all the stuff going off in my head. I tapped out
80 x 150 and got 12000 on the desk calculator, I had to do it twice
to be sure I wasn't going over the top. "Wow twelve thousand table and
chair sets a month, that's good business." The director looked pleased
at my recognition of the scale of his achievement. "I see that you have
expansion plans." "Yes, we have already doubled in size this year."
"So you're buying your timber from Laos and Malaysia?" "Yes and we use
Vietnamese plantation rubber too."
I was ready
to ask the questions I'd wanted to ask since I'd arrived. "So do you
use any Cambodian timber?" "No, nothing from Cambodia." I changed track,
"My clients only want to buy environmentally sound products. What safeguards
to you have in place to make sure that what you use is sustainable?"
"Everything is FSC certified, so you know it's sustainable. See it's
here in our brochure" I could feel myself going red, 'the fucking liar'
I said in my head but kept cool. "But that can't be. Laos and Vietnam
have no FSC accredited forests and there are only three small ones in
the whole of Malaysia." Now he wasn't sure, I'd set off alarm bells
and definitely pissed him off. "No, everything is sustainable." He was
closing the books and closing our meeting. He was avoiding eye contact
too, "Perhaps you should decide what you want to buy. Then we can talk
some more." He didn't mean it of course but he didn't know if I was
trouble. I hoped I could be. "Of course, I will be in touch." I said,
somehow wanting it to seem like a threat. It was over and Hai walked
me out to the car. I let out a shout inside my head.