20% of the members in CHITOSE GROUP are from Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei). The situation at this moment is one where the main area where large-scale businesses are expanding is in Southeast Asia. So, the feelings from those involved in the hands-on business can only be told from the site in Southeast Asia! I can’t always go there to conduct an interview, so I decided to ask our members who are doing their best at the site to write about it by starting the series “From the sites in Southeast Asia”.
The 1st part is about Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, the production base of “Chitose strawberry”. Kataoka will provide us with information from the site throughout the next 5 months.
＊Author：Yosuke Kataoka（Chitose Agri Laboratory Sdn. Bhd., BioEngineer）
Working in the mountains of Malaysia on Borneo island for 2 years after joining Chitose, and thereafter be in charge of Southeast Asian agriculture project in producing “Chitose strawberry” mainly in Cameron Highlands.
Drinking liquor and being overwhelmed by people
“Yoh, mari sini, minum, minum (Yosuke, come here, drink, drink)”
I went to the restaurant next to the office as I was called by a low threatening voice. A red table cloth which for the Chinese means good luck is laid on the round table, and there were already more than 10 beer bottles that were empty. And in the middle, a 3L brandy is standing there as if to rule the place. Some men, who were only a little younger than my father, around 60, were surrounding the round table and already pretty mellow even though the sun is still out. A glass was handed over to me as soon as I showed up, and whiskey or brandy was poured into it. And we shouted “Yam seng! (Cheers)”
This is Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
Our office is in an area of the Cameron Plateau where Chinese farmers get together. Fortunately, there is a Chinese restaurant beside and when the vegetables are expensive, the economy is good here. So, we often see situations like this on the weekends or during public holidays. But there are no people that are around my age or younger. Every time I get invited by them to drink together, I always realise that I am living in the culture that they have developed. We don’t usually talk about business while drinking, but they are always a reliable helper in terms of business or when I’m having troubles in daily life.
Also, farmers’ breakfast time is an important social place. I show up at breakfast time when I want information, and someone I ask will call out to people who come to the place one by one and a variety of information will gather. There are some unexpected stories in it, but we can know about the farmer or their acquaintance’s experiences and mostly they are worth listening to.
The forever fall season – Cameron Highlands
I joined the strawberry production project at Cameron Highlands in 2017 after finishing the oil palm plantation project. Compared to the rough-natural tropical zone of low-ground-leveled oil palm plantation, Cameron Highlands seems like it is in the middle of autumn. Insects sing beautifully on the cool nights. That is why strawberries can be harvested in the tropical zone, and it is stably produced all year round. The plants creating the atmosphere of Cameron Highlands are different from those of in the tropical zone. It makes my heart calm and nostalgic when I see some kinds of plants that are sometimes seen in the mountains in Japan.
People at the front line of strawberry production.
Our projects in Malaysia are basically divided into the farm team and packing team. The assistants of the farm team are mainly strong men laborers from Bangladesh, and most assistants in the packing team are women with Chinese origins that are deft with their hands.
Most Bangladeshis in the plantation team are Muslims, so they start their day by praying everyday before the sunrise. And after having a quick breakfast, in the cool air with the darkness still in the sky, they harvest the strawberries while getting wet by the evening dew of the strawberry leaves. After awhile, the morning light starts to shine on the strawberries and glitters the drops of dew on the leaves, which is the most beautiful moment.