It was an early wake up for the group as we prepared for one of the busiest days of the trip. We departed at 8am for the first of three business visits of the day. The first visit was to Begemann Mercury Technology (BMT), located about an hour and a half east of Bangkok in Samut Prakarn. BMT is a mercury (Hg) treatment and recovery center that processes between 1700 and 1900 tons of different forms of mercury waste annually. The waste is either incinerated using a few different techniques, while pure elemental mercury is sold to oil and gas companies and even some for medical usage in hospitals. We were welcomed by a few of the plant’s 40 staff members and given a presentation on the company, beginning with the safety procedures for visitors of the site. We were then walked through the processes of the company, and specifically how mercury is removed from petroleum excavated by large companies in the oil and gas industry. Some of the major clients of BMT include Chevron and Hess, and BMT deals with their operations mainly in the Gulf of Thailand. After the presentation, we were divided into two groups and given a short tour of the site. We each put on a hard helmet, safety glasses and shoe covers and went into the extremely hot facility. The tour was quick due to the heat, and we returned back up to the meeting room for a closing question and answer session.
CEO talking about the mercury treatment process
Mike Botto looking good, ready to tour the factory
The second visit was a short drive to the Philips Lighting Facility. Upon arrival we gathered in the cafeteria for lunch. We were served fried rice with egg and chicken. Following lunch we headed over to one of their fifty factories worldwide where we met the General Manager of Lighting Industrial Operations for Thailand and Vietnam, Cees Algra. He gave us a quick introduction to the Bangpoo location and then passed the presentation to Mr. Kwanchai, the quality and product manager. Mr. Kwanchai gave us an overview of Philips and discussed their main competitor, General Electric. We then watched a ten-minute informative video about the process of making the light bulbs before heading downstairs to take a tour of the factory. We learned about the use of mercury and phosphate, which is used to add the white coating seen in light bulbs we use every day. We also got the chance to see glass being bent into circular bulbs under 700 degree Celsius temperatures. No pictures were allowed in the factory. After the tour we headed back to the conference room for a coffee break and a Q&A session before departing and heading to our third business meeting.
For lunch we had fried rice with chicken.
Our third stop was at a factory for a company called Suniture. They specialize in making high-end outdoor furniture products. They make umbrellas, couches, and beanbags for hotels in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. The company is ten years old and headquartered in Hong Kong. The special thing about Suniture’s outdoor furniture is in the fabric they use. Their fabric is built to withstand the sun and weather that usually damages fabrics and makes them fade in the sun. They do this by adding the color to the to the solution that is then made into the tread that eventually is made into the final product. We first convened in their conference room on the third floor where we were shown a slideshow about the product and two commercial spots they made. They then took us down to the factory where we got to see all the different fabrics and saw workers building custom orders for special outdoor furniture. We concluded with another question and answer session, and then boarded the bus back to Bangkok.
Welsford paying close attention
Botto in awe of the factory
After a long day of great business and factory visits, the group headed back to the Pullman Hotel to wash up for what would be a very interesting dinner at one of Bangkok’s famous restaurants, Cabbages and Condoms. We arrived at the restaurant to see most of the building decorated in colorful condoms. While it seemed disgusting at first, we were able to understand the importance of the restaurant after a presentation by its founder, Dr. Mee Chai. He gave an hour-long presentation about how he has created many of these restaurants in Thailand in attempt of combating the HIV that had once been so common in the country. Mee Chai’s foundation has generated millions of dollars over the last thirty years, and decreased AIDS by an incredible amount. Thailand has also seen its population growth decrease from a staggering 3.3% down to .5% during this time, and the average number of children in a family went from 7 down to 2. Birth control became more widely available, and condoms were distributed at just about every location throughout the country. The World Bank even stated that the foundation has saved about 8 million lives over its time span. Dr. Mee Chai’s presentation made the group very aware of the situation that had once plagued Thailand, but now thanks to this foundation, is now very much under control. After a great dinner at Cabbages and Condoms, the group split up and many went out for a night on the town. It was certainly a very insightful day in Bangkok.
Captain Condom to the rescue!!!! Made of all condoms
– Jay Rosencrans and Todd Merriman