Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Pewter Lady

Two Saturdays ago I found myself in the Royal Selangor pewter factory with my colleagues. Company outing, don't ask me...

There we were in the musty production line, surrounded by the clings and clangs of deft pewter-shaping hands. Suddenly an unassuming bespectacled Indian lady caught my eye.

And so, in the quaintest of ways, this tale begins.

Have you ever seen those pewter cups with tiny dotted textures completely covering the surface? Amazingly, the dots aren't machine-made. They are actually hand-made.

Our jaws dropped in sheer incredulity at seeing this simple Indian lady hammer away at the cylindrical metal sheet, each nimble stroke leaving an impression, dots forming lines, lines forming rows.

Each dot fell perfectly in place, guided by impossibly accurate timing and force. She was far better than any mock-up artist we'd seen in college or office.

"Hey," I snickered to my colleague. "Imagine doing that eight hours a day, five days a week."

We shuddered in mock fear.

Tok tok tok tok tok. She finally finished one cup. It couldn't have taken her more than three minutes.

Quietly she took a new sheet, wrapped it around the tube mould, and repeated the process. Tok tok tok tok tok. No glancing at the clock. No sighing.

"Kak," we asked. "Sudah kerja berapa lama?"

"Dah sepuluh tahun dik."

Our eyebrows shot up.

We stared at her for a couple more minutes, simply mesmerised at how easily her hands moved. "Berapa lama kak belajar buat ini?"

"Setahun baru mahir."

One whole year! I would've given up after a few days.

Strangely, all the other factory workers were also aunties, some looking no younger than 60. All were equally skilled. Our tour guide explained how they'd worked here for ten, twenty, thirty years. Still, you saw smiles on their faces and joy in working. Whatever part of the process they played, they were eager to craft the best pewter masterpieces to sell. That was because, the tour guide explained, the company treated them well. Though they didn't earn a lot, they were given frequent incentives, trips and recognition.

I couldn't stop thinking: How on earth did these people find the desire to wake up everyday? What drove their lives?

Whatever amazing things we think we do in our lives, they eventually become no more than a fine pewter cup textured with dots. The Indian lady might have been praised the first or second time she completed a perfect cup. But from then on, the only thing she could hope for was to not create an imperfect cup.

We all want to be remembered for eternity. The one who was kind and compassionate. The one who was so talented he could get any job he wanted. The charismatic leader who was respected by thousands. The one who was pretty and everybody's darling.

But just like the pewter lady, our glories all end up as a dotted pewter cup. The people who praise us will one day forget and perish as well.

So how do we be remembered for eternity? By seeking praise from the only One who is eternal. Work hard, serve joyfully, and look forward to someday hearing 'Well done, good and faithful servant". It'll be best words of praise you ever hear. =)

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