Something I Don’t Get to Do Every Day

Checking out a rubber manufacturing plant in Cambodia (please tell me you haven’t done this…)

On a recent trip to Cambodia, our small group of foreigners got to tour a rubber plant in Kampong Cham province.  Not only was this something one doesn’t get to do every day, but we almost didn’t get to do it that day either.  There were union protests taking place in the capital city of Phnom Penh and the guards at our rubber factory thought we might be coming to incite a riot.  Fortunately our tour organizer was from that province and somehow knew the right things to say. We all paid $1 to get in. This was a very self-guided tour.  This was the full extent of our supervision as we roamed the premises at will.

I'm glad they told us.
I’m glad they told us.

Rubber tree sap is white and really quite beautiful.  It’s collected a little like maple sap used in making maple syrup.  There’s the hole in the tree trunk, a little spigot and a pail.  I’m not sure how they get the sap from the grove to the processing building but once there it’s put in long storage vats and a chemical is added. The sap solidifies. It looks a lot like cheese (mozarella).

the grove in background, (bananas in front)
the grove in background, (bananas in front)
Beautiful, white, rubber sap
Beautiful, white, rubber sap
Sap in vats
Sap in vats
Solidified rubber floats to next step
Solidified rubber floats to next step
Raw, solidified rubber
Raw, solidified rubber

The long flats of raw rubber go into a drying machine where they are chopped up and dried.  I’m actually making this all up because there was no one to tell us what was really happening but we got a pretty good idea just by the looks of things. These are the drying machines.

the dryers
the dryers

The rubber is not as attractive when it is dried – yellow/brown and dense.  It comes from the dryers, still on it’s conveyor belt and drops into a compressor where it’s made into blocks.

into the compressor
into the compressor
compressed block
compressed block
block of rubber on its way to....
block of rubber on its way to….
this guy with the knife who was very busy. I have no idea why he was doing this.
…this guy with the knife who was very busy. I have no idea why he was doing this.
we got samples of rubber to take home
we got samples of rubber to take home

The blocks of rubber are trucked out to other factories where they are made into various rubber things.  Rubber bands?  I don’t know.  This is where our tour ended.  There were about eight of these long open buildings but this was the only one that was in operation at the time.  It appeared to be off-season for rubber.  This is a very warm climate and the buildings are open, as I said, and didn’t have fans – only natural ventilation.  The workers were often shirtless, shoeless and definitely were not wearing hard hats or protective anything around the machinery.  Evidently there aren’t a lot of lawsuits in Cambodia.  We were free to walk around the machinery, through the plant, touching, poking and asking questions without interference.  It was really quite interesting.

What things are still made with real rubber? Do you know?

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