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Thai Ping Blogger Aks ‘What Kickin, Chickens?’ At Dirty Gig

January 11th, 2012 · Tags:Sports

My first two weeks in Thailand were NAS-TAY … No, not like The Hangover Part 2, nasty … like filthy, muddy, oily, wildlife killing kind of sludge nasty. That, as you may know from previous blogs, is why I call that part of my career — The Dirty Gig.

In the first Thailand installment of The Dirty Gig, I found myself working with guys that were over-qualified yet threw their hearts into cleaning machines with pressure washers, rags, and steel brushes … even tooth brushes. Normally, on a Dirty G, I supervise day laborers off the street. This time, “my workers” were employees of the factory itself — guys with some of the best jobs in the country … upward mobile, comfortable, well-paid … successful.

For several days, my team and several other teams hustled to just clear furniture and trash and moldy supplies from the aisles of the factory. You name it and the Thai flood waters had deposited it — whatever, wherever.

On about day three — I was tasked with training a team in the expert method and finer points of cleaning the machines … “Well what you do is you point this here spray nozzle away from yourself and toward the machine …” They listen intently … I had a translator and I am sure my sarcasm was lost in the download.

Tom Gestures With Soccer Trophy Plucked From Debris

Tom With Soccer Trophy Plucked From Debris

This turned out to be one of those jobs where the best thing the supervisor could do was stay out of the way of “a machine” — the momentum of these precision workers. They divided up into teams, wired power from a diesel generator and spread out the pressure washers in three areas before I managed to pronounce one of their names correctly.

The work began quickly and for several days it was relentless … difficult … foul.

With any job, morale is something that can rise or fall with the supervisor’s tone. So, when it appeared the guys were working hard, but still a little uptight with their new American pressure washing guru, I decided to cut up with them a little. Motivation? Maybe. Manipulation? More likely … but fun for all … I think.

So, each time we lined up to re-enter the factory after a break, I would teach the guys some “‘Merican.” This was a good team we were building and it needed a good name. We, or rather I , named the team The Dallas Cowboys. (This was before the season went kaput, btw.) As we re-entered the factory we would shout out together, “Go Dallas Cowboys!” I would get fist bumps from most of them, as we walked in. I don’t think their accent was just right, but I think they were shooting for a southern drawl.

Subsequently, each day we started our breaks by lining up and repeating “What time is it?” “Beer time for The Dallas Cowboys.” This was particularly puzzling to my Thai friends at the 10 a.m. break. Ha … I am giving these guys all kinds of misinformation about the American workplace … and I don’t even drink.

But they liked this and picked up on the fact that I don’t drink and started saying, “Beer time for The Dallas Cowboys and milk, for you, Mr. Kent.”

Wiseacres!

Water Level, Above Doors

Water Level, Above Doors

Soon I had learned a few of the multi-syllabic names … but again, trying to create some fun in the workplace and camaraderie, I started doling out nicknames. Hey … it was within my power, after all I am the pressure washing guru. I let them start calling me Ping or Kuhn Ping, instead of Mr. Kent. (See how fun I am …)

So … about these nicknames. One gentleman, shortened his name — a name that had about 10 vowels in it — to Tom. Why Tom? I don’t know … maybe I better do all the nicknames. But Tom was my new translator and a good one, so Tom it was.

Now the guy who really needed my help on his own chose a nickname based on an American term, perhaps emphasizing his prowess. Oh … and to make his new name known, he wrote it on the front of the rubber apron he was wearing to protect his clothing while he cleaned the factory machines.

“Sex Pod,” he had written unabashedly on his chest.
I am going to give him the benefit of a doubt and just guess that he meant “Sex Pot,” (isn’t that actually the term?). I think a sex pod would be something bad, involving a jalapeno pepper, and probably illegal in many states. We let it slide … well for a while … then I tried to help him and started calling him “play-uh.” Not sure he ever understood the upgrade I was trying to give him. (At the end of the job, this “play-uh” showed me his photo on the water stained organizational chart still on the wall.
He was like a ranking electrical engineer at the plant …) I guess he really was a player.

Then, enter the dragon … No wait … “Enter The Dragon” is a Bruce Lee film. One of my workers was named Jacky … and he looked a bit like one of several martial artists, so he instantly became known as “Jacky Chan.” He loved it and probably became my best new buddy out of the bunch … more on Mr. Jacky Chan later.

And who could forget Took!?! I don’t know if that was a nickname or not. I think it might have been one or perhaps the final syllable of one of those long, “family-style, all the vowels you can eat, buffet” Thailand names. But anywho, we renamed him after one of my first Thai words — Tuk-tuk (as in three-wheeled taxi). I wound what he really thought about being called the equivalent of taxi???

Rust Never Sleeps

Rust Never Sleeps

So anyway, we had lots of fun slip sliding in slime and mud and sludge for a couple of weeks while we cleaned huge machines that produced various parts of computer components.
When we had mastered “Beer Time for the Dallas Cowboys,” it was time to turn on Thailand to some really hip American slang. I jest. Since this big idea, I have been daydreaming about this becoming the hottest selling t-shirt in Thailand … and totally taking over the country … because it is really silly and that would be so funny and ironic and absurd.

Ha … I don’t know hip terms. So, in jest, I taught “The Dallas Cowboys” to say, “What’s kickin, chicken?” ( Er … that is 2002 slang for “What’s up?” … in the event that any of you readers are even more whitebread than me.)

Yes. We would stand in formation, and everyone would repeat, “What’s kickin chicken?” Oh you should have seen the puzzled looks from the few guys who spoke a little English.

“Mr. Ping, we don’t understand. What means to kick a chicken?”

“Oh … just trust me … It is funny,” I would console them.

Of course, that is when I taught them the appropriate response to the chicken thing … “It’s all goooood!”

Yes … every day … all day … “Beer Time.” “What’s kickin?” and we added a “Howdy, y’all” toward the end of the gig.

Ha .. not to be outdown by “Sex Pod,” one worker showed up one day, proudly sporting “What’s Kickin, Chicken?” on his rubber apron. I was moved.

This could be huge, Thailand!

This could be huge, Thailand!

Yes, nicknames are always a great way to help any team bond. And if that doesn’t work, there is always self-effacing humor by the “coach.” Hey, I do what it takes, and yes on about day six of this mud wrestling assignment, the floors had finally began to clean up a bit … enough that we were all getting comfortable and perhaps careless in our steps … and less precautions with every step. Then one afternoon, I entered a room that previously had about three inches of dried up mud on the floors. My crack cleaning crew, however, had removed all the sludge … and to my surprise revealed a slick, slick stainless steel floor in one doorway.

NOPE! Didn’t see that coming. I stepped in the room and feet shot up in the air, and I landed on my back, spread eagle like a snow-angel, in lots and lots of soapy water. Drenched … I bounced back up, unhurt physically, and laughed about it. I saw the faces of several of the workers … in shock … “The flawless American pressure washing guru has fallen,” they seemed to have been thinking. They didn’t even crack a smile … More likely they were thinking “dumb-arse Texan … you no Dallas Cowboy!”

Ha … they never said a word about it, then later, I heard from several people working elsewhere in the plant that Mr. Kent had found a new way to clean up the floors.

And on and on it went. But in all seriousness … here’s the thing. These guys were some of the creme de la creme of the plant, working in nasty, menial jobs, trying to save their factory. Our assignment was to clean 10-12 of the various types of machines, — spotless — so the insurance folks and the plant management could determine if the machines were to be repaired or replaced — whichever was most economically feasible.

As we were finishing our last machine one afternoon, I looked around and saw several of the workers just standing around outside the factory door, texting, talking on cell phones, in a driveway. This was quite uncharacteristic. I decided Friday afternoons must be the same everywhere, and the guys had lost their motivation and focus … yes … just biding time until “Beer Time for The Dallas Cowboys.”

I pulled Tom aside. Diplomatically I told him that my bosses and his bosses (the client) would not look favorably on the guys just standing around. We had more work to do. Tom shook his head in agreement, and went and said a few words. The guys slowly went back to work … but soon were hard at it again.

Then Tom pulled me aside. He apologized about four times, and then let me know what was going on. At lunch, the team had overheard someone in their company’s management group say that our work was great … but that the machines were toast … and rather than replacing the machines … the factory would be closing. (I have not confirmed this … and told them I hoped it was only a rumor…)

So, there I was telling engineers and various skilled professionals to keep working … to clean more mud … to no avail, in a job they all thought to be going away. And trust me, it is not a good time to get such news in Thailand, with all of the flooded factories.

Oh my … I was just overcome … that’s all I can say. They ended the day with their heads up … and the last machine looked better than the first we cleaned. And as we lined up to leave, they all repeated …

“Beer Time for the Dallas Cowboys!”

Then they went back to their break area, and my colleagues and I went back to our table under a tree in the courtyard, to do our paperwork.

The guys had also learned that my Dirty Gig at their plant was over. And so several stopped by to shake hands and make a last parting joke.

Then Jacky Chan came over to the picnic table where I was sitting. He sat down and told me he enjoyed working together. We traded e-mail addresses, and then before he left for the last time, he opened a little plastic shopping bag. He had brought me a gift.

Again … I was about to break down. Here was a guy who lived in a country where a few hundred dollars is a monthly salary … where the city was hit with flooding for weeks … where many, many people were already out of work. It is a place where some of my workers had to ask for a day off on the weekend so they could go move out the flood debris from their own homes … In a factory that may be closing its doors … and many jobs might be killed off … In this setting, Jacking Chan brings me a gift.

I prayed that is was nothing expensive. I opened the bag and as often is the case, I think some things were lost in translation. The gift was a hand towel of some sort, embroidered with a little bear. It looked like a gift for a baby shower (back in the States) or something … My sarcastic self wanted to say “What the h… is this?” My emotional side however won this time. I took it out of the bag and just looked at it, wondering what it was.

Jacky Chan motioned that it was a towel to wipe the sweat from my brow when I work hard.

Goodbye Jackie Chan … I will hang on to this … for a long time.

Know what I sayin?